Environmental Health Environmental Health A photo of 2 African boys

Population, Health and Environment (PHE)

What is Population, Health and Environment?

Population, health and environment (PHE) projects acknowledge and address the complex connections between humans, their health, and their environment.  The key objective of these projects is to simultaneously improve access to health services while also helping communities manage their natural resources in ways that improve their health and livelihoods and conserve
the critical ecosystems they depend upon.

Roughly one-sixth of the world’s population – approaching 1.1 billion people – live in ecological hotspots.  These are the planet’s land areas that are richest in biodiversity – and most threatened by human activity.  While these hotspots comprise just 12 percent of the planet’s land surface, they hold nearly 20 percent of its human population, with little access to basic government services like health and education.  And that hotspot-based population is growing nearly 40 percent faster than that of the world as a whole.
Father and daughter in Madagascar

USAID supports integrated population, health, and environment programs in regions critically important to the conservation of biologically diverse ecosystems.  Additional information on USAID population, health and environment activities can also be found on the USAID website. These programs assume that addressing and programming based on synergies between health, family planning, and the environment will yield better results in terms of efficiency and sustainability, than will similar programs pursued separately.

These projects operate in remote and sensitive landscapes where communities have little access to health services, particularly family planning, and poor access to improved water sources and sanitation. Ironically, unmet demand for family planning is often highest in those remote rural areas where the richest and most unique arrays of plants and animals are clinging to a precarious and threatened existence.  

When family planning information and services are widely available and accessible, couples are better able to achieve their desired family size. This not only directly impacts the well being of families, but also contributes to better management and conservation of natural resources.  By additionally addressing the basic health care problems in these remote communities, who often have limited to no access to health services, these projects can also meet communities’ felt needs and improve their commitment to well managed natural resources.

Integrated PHE programs may include a wide variety of interventions, depending on community needs and local capacity. Some examples include:

  • sustainable agriculture for improved child nutrition and food security,
  • community credit groups or community health insurance schemes,
  • community-based distribution of family planning commodities
  • malaria prevention through bio-environmental controls and promotion of insecticide-treated bednets,
  • reduction of indoor air pollution and logging through promotion of fuel-efficient stoves,
  • improved access to safe water for household use
  • improved access to appropriate latrines and promotion of other hygiene behaviors
  • Improved management of protected areas

For those working in the health field, this approach increases access to remote, underserved communities where women have expressed a need for family planning and basic health services that governments cannot meet.  By partnering with environmental organizations, which have on-going projects and established relationships with these communities, integrated programs can reach these underserved populations in a more effective manner.

Environments benefit as well.  When family planning is widely available and accessible, couples are better able to achieve their desired family size.  This not only impacts families’ health and wellbeing, but contributes to better management and conservation of natural resources and eases population pressures on local ecosystems.  Offering basic health services can dramatically reduce community morbidity and mortality and reduce dependence on natural resources for livelihood.   On another, more immediate level, providing family planning and meeting basic health needs like improving access to water and sanitation help environmental organizations build goodwill in communities by responding to their needs in a holistic fashion.

Population growth in biodiversity areas
SOURCE: Population Action International