In the late 1980s, conservation organisations and practitioners began to realise the benefits of improving the quality of life for people by managing biodiversity and natural resources.
These projects were initially referred to as integrated conservation and development projects (ICDP) and addressed a wide variety of community development needs. As the 1990s drew to a close, it was widely believed that the ICDPs were not achieving conservation or development goals as successfully as anticipated. This was because the scope of these projects was often too broad. One of the lessons learned from these attempts was that the success of ICDPs largely depended on the ability to focus on key interventions and avoid excessive complexity. Through the lessons learned from earlier initiatives, the conservation sector decided to adopt the ‘population, health and the environment’ approach, with a new generation of integrated projects.
Programme designers began to realise that efforts to conserve biodiversity in developing countries were far more successful when locals perceived their efforts as serving their economic and cultural interests. This culminated in the integrated development approach. In order to achieve success, these projects had to consider the link between conservation and development objectives in every unique sphere that they were implemented.
It is believed that humans and the environment are inextricably linked. Factors such as population size and age; fertility; mobility; settlement patterns; and resource availability and consumption determine the impact that humans have on the environment. Dealing with the complex challenges that we face today demands a better understanding of how these elements impact the environment. We must also recognise how environmental change impacts our health and wellbeing and what can be done to address these issues.
Population, health and the environment (PHE) is an approach to human development that integrates family planning and health with conservation efforts to seek synergistic successes for stronger conservation and human welfare outcomes. Issues pertaining to population, health and the environment are interconnected. These challenges are not only related to each other but are also linked to other important concerns.
Climate change has affected the people and the environment of Pakistan in different ways. Although Pakistan is a relatively small emitter of greenhouse gases as compared with other countries, the country will, however, be greatly affected by the negative impacts of climate change. According to the Pakistan Economic Survey of 2016-17, the “increase in frequency and intensity of extreme weather events coupled with erratic monsoon rains” are the most prominent problems that Pakistan will face due to climate change. The survey concluded that the change in weather patterns has destroyed infrastructure, taken many lives and produced devastating impacts on the agricultural sector. This has, in turn, affected Pakistan’s economy.
A majority of Pakistan’s industrial sectors – such as fishing and agriculture that account for more than one-fourth of the output and two-fifths of employment in Pakistan – are heavily dependent on the country’s natural resources. In order to sustain economic growth, there is a high demand on already scarce natural resources. However, it is ironic that what the country depends on for its growth is also what threatens the future welfare and success of the country.
According to the World Bank, 70 percent of Pakistan’s population live in rural areas and are already stricken by high poverty levels. These people depend on natural resources to provide income and tend to overuse these resources. This leads to the further degradation of the environment and subsequently increases poverty. This has led to what the World Bank refers to as a “vicious downward spiral of impoverishment and environmental degradation”.
According to the BBC Climate Asia report, a majority of Pakistanis who were surveyed claimed that climate change has adversely impacted their lives as floods and droughts have become frequent occurrences. More importantly, climate change has affected the availability of resources, such as energy and water. Around 53 percent of Pakistanis felt that their lives had become far more challenging than they were five years ago. Although the effects of climate change are evident, the survey found that a majority of the people were unaware of the implications of climate change and “ascribed changes in climate and extreme weather events to the will of God”.
Pakistan’s diverse land and climatic conditions is prone to different forms of natural disasters, including earthquakes, floods, tsunamis, droughts, cyclones and hurricanes. A disaster management report claims that Gilgit-Baltistan (GB), Balochistan and AJK are vulnerable seismic regions and are highly susceptible to earthquakes. Meanwhile, Sindh and Punjab constantly suffer from floods because they are low-lying areas.
Other environmental issues in Pakistan include deforestation, air pollution, water pollution, noise pollution, climate change, pesticide misuse, soil erosion, natural disasters and desertification. These are serious environmental problems and there is a strong likelihood that they will be exacerbated as the country’s economy expands and the population grows.
However, little is being done to tackle these issues because the goals of achieving economic growth and tackling terrorism within the country supersede the goals of environmental preservation. Although NGOs and government departments have taken initiatives to stop environmental degradation, Pakistan’s environmental issues still remain.
The environment in which we live strongly impacts our health. Household, workplace, outdoor and transportation environments all pose health risks in a number of ways. The poor quality of air, which many people breathe, coupled with the hazards related to unsafe water, poor sanitation and hygiene. It is estimated that 24 percent of the global disease burden and 23 percent of all deaths can be attributed to environmental factors. About 36 percent of this burden affects people who are below the age of 14.
According to estimates from the WHO Global Health Observatory, about 200 deaths per 100,000 population are attributable to environmental factors in Pakistan. The World Bank estimates that Pakistan’s annual burden of disease due to outdoor air pollution accounts for 22 000 premature adult deaths. Meanwhile, indoor pollution accounts for 40 million cases of acute respiratory infections and results in 28 000 deaths per year. The WHO Global Health Observatory estimates that about 30 deaths per 100,000 population can be attributed to indoor air pollution while about 25 deaths per 100,000 are an outcome of outdoor air pollution.
There is a dire need to increase awareness among decision-makers and professionals about population, health and environmental issues as well as the need to find integrated solutions to these problems. We should strengthen our leadership and capacity to work on and communicate about population, health and the environment. Regional networks should be developed to share information and focus on collaborative ventures. There is a strong need to strengthen reportage on population, health and environmental issues.
Improving evidence-based policies will result in greater protection from environmental changes. Such policies will also raise awareness about how people can adapt to environment changes and specify mitigation measures they should adopt. We need technical support to strengthen our institutional capacities and promote the engagement of locals by enhancing their capacities to effectively monitor the quality of water sources that are affected by climate-related extreme events.
It is critical to build the institutional capacity of the health sector (at the provincial, district and local levels) in relation to environmental hazards to reinforce surveillance as well as the early detection of infectious diseases. It is equally important to ensure that the provincial authorities are capable of generating and gathering intelligence, establishing early warning systems for environmentally-sensitive diseases and integrating such intelligence into the existing health information management systems.
The writer is a freelance journalist and is associated with the development sector.