Population, Health, and Environment in the Philippines

Report from the 2nd National Conference in Cebu City

Mar 31, 2006

More than 300 international representatives from government, civil society, and the private sector gathered in the Philippines' Cebu City from March 14-17, 2006, to explore the linkages among population, health, and environment (PHE) on the ground, and in the water. The attendees at the 2nd National Conference on Population, Health, and Environment, including ECSP Director Geoff Dabelko and new Program Associate Gib Clarke, dove into case studies, innovative simulation exercises, and site visits to the country's rapidly growing coastal communities—and its amazing coral reefs. The conference was sponsored by the David and Lucile Packard Foundation and convened by the Population Reference Bureau (PRB) together with a national PHE network that PRB helped form.

Building on 2004's 1st National Conference—whose Antipolo Declaration urges people from all sectors to "make the PHE link," since "the earth's natural resources and systems and its human populations are inherently connected"—the 2nd conference hosted plenary discussions examining policy advocacy and research, resource mobilization, and PHE's relevance to the Millennium Development Goals. Many key international and Filipino analysts, congresspeople, researchers, and program managers presented their experiences with PHE programs and policies. John Pielemeier presented findings from his assessment of PHE projects in the Philippines and Madagascar (funded by USAID and the Packard Foundation), which found that such integrated programs added significant value to both family planning and natural resource management components. Discussions of case studies from around the world focused on issues such as community mobilization, PHE and women's lives, and the role of the private sector. Workshops built skills on political mapping, Geographic Information Systems (GIS), and monitoring and evaluation.

ECSP Simulation: PHE Dimensions of Security

ECSP led a simulation exercise to help attendees identify links between PHE and security. Using a scenario loosely based on the Philippines and neighboring countries, the 30 participants placed themselves in the fictitious nation of Arborlind, suffering from rapid population growth and depleted natural resources four years after the end of a decade-long civil war. The participants were assigned to small groups representing the government, military, civil society, and international donors—each to a different sector than their own. With a potential relapse into civil war looming over Arborlind, the groups negotiated to protect their sector's interests while attempting to maintain the fragile peace. Participants were overwhelmingly positive about the simulation, pleased to "learn by doing"—and not from another PowerPoint presentation. Suggestions for improvement included introducing more conflict and breaking down the groups even further (for example, including teams representing the official military and the rebels).

Gilutongan Island Site Visit

On tiny Gilutongan Island, not far from Cebu City, in the Philippines, PATH Foundation Philippines, Inc. (PFPI) and Coastal Conservation and Education Foundation, Inc. (CCEF) are nearing the three-year point of their Integrated Population and Coastal Resource Management (IPOPCORM) project. In this community of 1,300 people, IPOPCORM protects and manages reefs, provides family planning education and access to contraceptives, and encourages fisherfolk to pursue other livelihoods—such as tourism and seaweed farming—by providing training and access to micro-credit.

The tiny outrigger boats delivering conference attendees to the island for the site visit were greeted by a raucous band of youths dancing and playing trumpets and drums. These community peer educators sing songs and stage plays about food shortages' connection to overfishing and large families (women in the Philippines average 3.5 children, although in coastal communities like this one, the rate rises to between four and five children). Next, attendees visited small convenience shops—called sari-sari ("thing-thing") stores—where, in addition to selling contraceptives provided by the project at a discounted price, the owners also educate the community about family planning.

Residents proudly showed off their new clean-water distribution system and their new health clinic, which is visited by a doctor once every two months and a midwife every day. Visitors also met fisherfolk who had quit or reduced fishing in favor of farming seaweed, a livelihood activity supported by the project's micro-credit program. Tied into a global economy that demands seaweed, the new farmers are now making more pesos in the same amount of time they once spent fishing.

At the Gilutongan Marine Sanctuary, the conference attendees enjoyed the fruits of the community's labors: a snorkeling trip on the edge of the marine sanctuary revealed bountiful schools of brightly colored fish darting through impressive stands of regenerated coral. The marine sanctuary has flourished because the project has successfully changed community behavior by providing alternative livelihoods. Fishermen have stopped using dynamite and cyanide—now they volunteer to patrol the 15-hectare sanctuary. The fish catch just outside the sanctuary has improved and live coral coverage has increased to 55 percent. And local communities are reaping the benefits from tourists, who pay $1 to take the plunge into this colorful underwater world—an experience worth at least ten times that.

(To read more about this site visit, see Geoff Dabelko's post in Grist.)

USAID Cooperating Agencies: Preliminary Conference

Prior to the main conference in Cebu City, PRB convened a two-day conference for PHE experts and USAID cooperating agencies (CAs) working with the Office of Population and Reproductive Health, including Conservation International, Jane Goodall Institute, MEASURE-Evaluation, Save the Children, and World Wildlife Fund. Held in Antipolo, just outside of Manila, the conference addressed technical topics including monitoring and evaluation, USAID reporting systems, and communication strategies. The attendees also discussed new and better ways to collaborate, raise funds, share information, and sharpen messages.

In Paranaque City, a large slum on the south side of Manila, CA representatives visited Save the Children's Pampalusog Bata Project, an integrated PHE project that addresses a wide array of urban issues, including waste disposal; access to clean water and hygienic education; screening and treatment for parasites; sexual and reproductive health education; and access to contraceptives. Although adults are included, the project focuses on the local youth, training students at the Masville School as community outreach volunteers. It also trains youth and parents in behavior-centered communication and community mobilization, so they can serve as health-environment promoters and reference points within the community.

Conclusion

PHE programs in the 17 countries highlighted at these recent events in the Philippines have found that since people live integrated lives, they need—and ask for—integrated programs. ECSP Director Geoff Dabelko's experiences in the Philippines have reinforced his belief that "our responses to these challenges must embrace that complexity, not run away from it."

Drafted by Gib Clarke (with Geoff Dabelko)

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