In the Sahel, one of the most food-stressed regions of the world, “women bear the brunt in terms of coping mechanisms that are employed at the community level,” says Sylvia Cabus, gender advisor for USAID’s Bureau for Food Security, in this week’s podcast.
Women are the traditional guardians of family health and nutrition. But because of this responsibility, they often reduce their own food intake and make unimaginable sacrifices, including selling personal assets and even engaging in sexual bartering to pay for food. They may also take their children out of school or encourage early marriages in order to reduce household size and receive an injection of assets from bridal dowries.
“We are operating in a context of scarcity,” says Cabus, as rapid population growth stresses resources and the region has borne several major droughts.
The most common coping mechanism among males – to migrate in search of work – may actually hurt households as “the flow of remittances is often irregular or nonexistent,” says Cabus. World Bank data shows that sub-Saharan Africa (including Sahel countries) receives the lowest amount of remittances worldwide, while being the costliest region from which to send them. Male out-migration also puts women in a difficult position as they frequently become the de facto heads of household without the same rights to own property and manage resources that men have.
It’s a “very patriarchal culture where women and girls have low status” and “very limited decision-making,” Cabus says. Of the 10 worst countries to be a mother or a child, four – Mali, Niger, The Gambia, and Chad – are located in the Sahel, according to Save the Children’s latest State of the World’s Mothers report.
Still, Cabus maintains a positive attitude. “The Sahel is a very lucky region in the sense that it’s been studied and over-studied over decades now,” she says. But “it’s important to ask the right questions.” In one instance, a USAID program in Mali distributed an improved type of millet seed. When asked for feedback, women said the new millet took significantly longer to cook. At the household level, this simple change can mean a lot. More time over the fire means more firewood and more exposure to smoke. It also means higher costs for fuel and more time spent by women and girls traveling to further places for fuel, which can be dangerous.
New development strategies to diversify rural economies are working to create new livelihood pathways for women. For example, Cabus and her USAID team visited a group of women in Burkina Faso who saw a niche market for parsley and began growing it their rural community to sell in the capital, Ouagadougou. And men can help too. In Niger, the UN Population Fund began “Ecole des Maris,” or “husband’s schools,” that bring together groups of men to discuss reproductive health matters and promote the empowerment of women at the community level.
In the Sahel, as elsewhere, the status of women, their health, and household food security are deeply intertwined. “We know that agricultural production is highly gendered,” says Cabus. “We help farmers…and their husbands.”
The world is changing quickly thanks to a convergence of megatrends, says Singularity University’s Banning Garrett in this week’s podcast, but urbanization could be the most critical. “If we get it right in cities, we can solve a lot of big problems,” he says.
“Virtually all population growth will be in cities,” says Garrett. As early as 2050, 70 percent of the world’s estimated 9.6 billion people will live in urban areas, equivalent to 100 more Jakartas in the world. Sustaining these populations will be difficult. “There are about one billion people in slums today. It could be two billion by 2030,” he says.
However, cities can play an essential role in sustainable development. “The great thing about cities is that everybody is there,” says Garrett. Concentrations of people living together allows for economies of scale and better efficiency in the delivery of goods and services. Garrett cites a study that found GDP per capita increases disproportionately as cities expand, while relative resource use declines. “Cities can be far more efficient as well as more productive,” he says.
Agents of Innovation?
Cities are also creating new markets of their own. “Smart city” technologies have attracted new investment in transportation, health care, and communications, and the arrow appears to be pointing up. “It’s going to be a humongous market,” says Garrett, “we’re talking $90 trillion in infrastructure.” Other technologies such as vertical farmingand 3-D printing could mean goods are produced at the point of consumption within cities, rather than shipped from afar, reducing transportation and production costs while minimizing carbon footprint.
Gearing a city’s infrastructure for the future is crucial given the staying power of these investments. Garrett pointed out that a coal-fired power plant built in 1949 outside Alexandria, Virginia, was in operation until three years ago, burning an estimated 88 million tons of coal and emitting 233 million tons of carbon dioxide over its 63-year lifetime.
“Cities have long outlived states,” says Garrett, “they will still be there when the particular state may be long gone.” While some national governments are “paralyzed,” Garrett says urban areas have been serving as laboratories for new ways to organize society and use advanced technologies. Mayors now play a role as global actors in their own right. Thousands of city delegations travel the globe sharing best practices and promoting city-to-city learning.
“Cities are where this game is going to play out,” he says, “where governance is either going to take place, or not, and where good governance is going to have to contain this sustainability that we’ve all been talking about.”
“You’ve got to look long term….where would we like to go and what decisions do we have to make to get there?”’
One of the biggest challenges to improving health care in developing countries is that it’s not necessarily a great job. Midwives and other auxiliary health workers often face very difficult working conditions with little training, poor pay, and no hope of advancement. This can translate to poor results and even abuse of patients.
Midwives need “a purpose that’s bigger than themselves,” says Barbara Stilwell, senior director of health workforce solutions at the NGO Intrahealth International, in this week’s podcast. “Self-actualization is a basic need for people,” she says, “but when we look at health care, one of the things we do is we task shift.”
Task shifting is a concept being explored in many low resource settings whereby certain treatments that previously only doctors were allowed to perform are delegated to auxiliary health workers. The idea is to make up for the lack of doctors by making each one go further. But in practice, this can be demeaning to health workers, Stilwell says. “We give you a task: you can give injections. But heaven forbid that you should ever know what the injections are for, or you should ever be able to tell me that I’ve told you something wrong, or you should ever bring an idea to me about that.”
Instead of task shifting, Stilwell suggests giving greater purpose to health care jobs. “There is now some idea in my world…that we need to be coming up with big ideas that are going to change the way we look at these issues in a way that is much more profound than this.”
Autonomy and having independent success in one’s work has been shown to increase investment in health care jobs, says Stilwell. In Karnataka, India, Intrahealth International implemented a program where skilled nurses were trained to become mentors. “What we found was not only have the nurse midwives become much better at giving care, but they’ve also shown initiative,” she says. For example, some noticed broken radiant warmers – which are similar to infant incubators –and took steps to fix them on their own. Stilwell points out that taking this initiative not only showed independence, it also brought more value to the job itself.
Mastery brings two major benefits: it encourages people to deepen their skills and creates a ladder for those who want to pursue a career in health. Stilwell cites the 2014 State of the World’s Midwifery Report that projects 87 percent of all needed and essential care for mothers and newborns could be completed by midwives if they received the right education.
Ascribing health care to a larger purpose also gives providers more incentive and motivation to improve – especially when they see data that shows quality of care makes a difference in their patients’ lives. “There have been some fine examples about the midwives who are connected to communities and get feedback from the communities,” says Stilwell. “That’s their motivation.”
“Even though small-island nation states generally are responsible for less than one percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, small islands are already expending scare resources on strategies to adapt to growing climate threats and to also repair themselves after they have hit,” says Maxine Burkett, associate professor of law at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, in this week’s podcast.
The rise in climate-related disasters such as Cyclone Pam, which devastated the archipelago of Vanuatu in March, has elevated concern over the vulnerability of islands. “Island nations are seeing the development they’ve experienced in the last few years being wiped out in a day in some cases,” Burkett says.
Sea-level rise is the obvious major threat. In Micronesia, more than half of communities surveyed for one study confirmed having adopted adaptation measures to prevent coastal erosion, but 92 percent reported having experienced continued adverse effects. The collapse of fisheries due to acidification is also a concern, as is “climate departure,” where the lowest average temperature becomes higher than the highest average temperature recorded during normal years. Tropical regions and islands are expected to experience this change first, perhaps as soon as mid-century, Burkett says.
In Burkett’s home state of Hawaii, a recent heat wave caused classroom temperatures to peak at 101 degrees Fahrenheit. “I have two young children and I was sort of imagining what the lost opportunity is here when you have children that are attempting to learn under these circumstances,” she says.
When Adaptation Is No Longer Possible
In some cases damage may prove so great that mitigation and adaptation measures simply cannot cope. “We’re finding that we need to look at insurance, risk transfer mechanisms, and the possibility of compensation for those things that are completely lost,” Burkett says. The conversation around this in the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change process is referred to as “loss and damage.”
Shared concerns among small islands and low lying coastal countries have led a group to establish the Alliance of Small Island States. This organization represents 47 members and acts as a voting bloc within the United Nations, advocating for an effective loss and damages mechanism that would include disaster risk management, risk transfers through insurance, and compensation.
The threat to small islands may be more visible today, but Burkett emphasizes that these proposals are not new. The Alliance of Small Island States has called for a loss and damages policy for nearly 25 years after Vanuatu introduced the concept in the early 1990s. Despite discussions at the Conferences of Parties throughout the years, the UN has failed to adopt such a policy given significant costs and the difficult political problem of claiming responsibility for climate-related damages.
Small-island states are mobilizing to advance their agenda once again at this year’s meetings in Paris with the goal to include finance-specific language for a loss and damage policy in what’s expected to be a landmark treaty. “There is a desire to not have to go around with a begging bowl,” Burkett says, “a desire to have more sophisticated responses to [this] 21st century type of disaster.”
Maxine Burkett spoke at the Wilson Center on March 25 at the “Island as Champions of Resilience” event.
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“Advancing reproductive health and family planning can positively influence and advance a number of sustainable development priorities,” says Director of USAID’s Office of Population and Reproductive Health Ellen Starbird in this week’s podcast.
The Sustainable Development Goals, up for adoption later this year, are meant to improve upon the Millennium Development Goals, which have guided international development for the last decade and a half. They will recognize the environment as a more integral part of global development and have goals applicable to all countries, not just the poorest.
Sexual and reproductive health and rights is not among the 17 top-level goals, but “there are really none of these SDGs that can be moved along as fast as they could be if we don’t also take this issue into account,” says Starbird.
There are at least 222 million women in developing countries that want to space or limit births but are not using modern contraception. “They want to control their fertility, and often lack the means, the access, the agency to do that,” says Starbird.
Making universal access – and the agency to exercise that access – a priority has significant health benefits for women and families, she says. It reduces maternal mortality and morbidity, reduces infant and child mortality, reduces abortion, and contributes to lower HIV transmission.
“People can understand that you don’t want women and kids to die,” Starbirds says, but there are other knock-on effects that are not as intuitive. “On the more social and economic side, the ability to choose when you’re going to have your children and how many you’re going to have allows women to stay in school, to participate in the workforce, [and] for families to spend more of their resources on the quality of their children.”
The phenomenon known as the “demographic dividend” has allowed some countries to boost economic productivity, but is not possible without lower fertility rates. And there are myriad environmental and social effects that come with lower population growth.
What’s in a Measurement?
Empowerment, not control, is the objective, Starbird says. “Underneath all that, there has to be a guiding principle around voluntarism and informed choice that puts the responsibility and the opportunity to take action in the hands of the woman and not in the hands of the state or some higher order entity.”
USAID’s proposed indicator for measuring family planning is a reflection of this focus on the individual. Starbird says the agency is proposing the SDGs measure the percentage of sexually active women of reproductive age who do not want to become pregnant, with a goal of reaching 75 percent in all countries by 2030. This is “ambitious but achievable,” she says, while keeping the focus on unmet demand and encouraging countries to satisfy that demand across wealth, age, residence, and other demographic factors.
The rate of increase in modern contraceptive users is slower than what’s needed to reach the goals of the FP2020 Initiative, a major effort by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and many development agencies launched in 2012. Current projections fall 53 million users short of the initiative’s 2020 targets, Starbird says. The SDGs then are a chance to reiterate international commitment.
“Universal access to family planning is not the singular route to any of this,” Starbird says, “but without addressing family planning and population issues, the impact and effectiveness of what the other SDGs are trying to accomplish is going to be much less.”
Ellen Starbird spoke at the Wilson Center on March 18 as part the “Managing Our Planet” seminar series.
Friday Podcasts are also available for download on iTunes.
“The thing that is most gripping about the SDGs is their desire to be much more transformative in terms of what they mean for the planet,” says Manish Bapna, executive vice president and managing director of the World Resources Institute, in this week’s podcast.
The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are set to succeed the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), an initiative commissioned by the United Nations in 2000 to tackle extreme poverty in the developing world.
Much has changed in the years since the MDG’s initial conception. “As we look at eradicating extreme poverty moving forward, we’re working in more difficult political and environmental contexts than may have been the case in the last 15 years,” says Bapna. Environmental change, migration, and instability have also made the distinction between developed and developing countries less relevant.
“The Millennium Development Goals were largely about how the rich world can pay for things to improve the condition in the developing world,” he says. “There has been a real seismic shift in moving towards an agenda that would speak to all countries…We want an agenda that is universal, that not only speaks to poverty or depravation in the developing world, but poverty and depravation in all countries.”
The sheer complexity of that challenge has led to a more multidisciplinary approach. An intergovernmental body, called the Open Working Group, has been working to draft new goals since 2012 and at last count had reached 17 goals and 169 targets.
The SDGs are more comprehensive in scope than the MDGs, particularly in regards to the environment. MDG 7 – “ensure environmental sustainability” – was “largely an afterthought,” says Bapna. “Now there is no shortage of goals that speak to different dimensions of sustainability, whether it is around natural resources, whether it is around climate change, whether it’s around food-energy- water.”
This was not an accident but a reflection of how important the environment is to development and wellbeing in many parts of the world. “There was a much greater effort in the design of the Sustainable Development Goals to identify targets or pieces of these goals that spoke to each other,” says Bapna. “Climate and development are inextricably linked…We can’t really solve and eradicate extreme poverty if we have four degrees of warming.”
A Critical Nine Months
The MDGs expire at the end of this year and the SDGs are expected to be introduced this September in New York. There’s also an important financing for development conference in Addis Ababa in July and one of the most highly anticipated climate summits in Paris this fall. “We’re now at a critical point,” says Bapna. “You have in this very short six-month span this once in a generation moment when all these three incredibly important summits are going to be taking place together.”
Political sensitivities will be high, and on the SDGs, there’s a risk that governments will “open up a ‘Pandora’s box’ and everything else will have to be completely renegotiated,” he says. “Do we take what we have with some small incremental change or do we do something more significant but take the risk of opening up the entire political process?”
“This is voluntary normative framework,” Bapna says, “it only works if people truly, truly embrace it and integrate it into what they do.” The agenda must be meaningful for the poorest countries; emerging middle income countries, like China, India, and Brazil; and the United States and the rest of the developed world.
“You all know the business school literature – 60 to 90 percent of corporations fail not because they have the wrong strategy, they just didn’t execute well,” he says. Countries like Sweden, Colombia, Costa Rica, Switzerland, and Rwanda have demonstrated how to integrate the MDGs into their national planning. “We need to see more of that and we need to support that, because at the end of the day it’s the actual practice that will mobilize and inspire others.”
Manish Bapna spoke at the Wilson Center on March 18 as part the “Managing Our Planet” seminar series.
Friday Podcasts are also available for download on iTunes.
When it comes to international development, a resilience framework is key, says Tom Staal, acting assistant administrator of the Bureau of Democracy, Conflict, and Humanitarian Assistance at USAID, in this week’s podcast.
“You need an approach that looks at everything from climate change, natural resource management, conflict issues, the sort of social dynamics of the country, as well as your long-term development approach to that group of people and the resources they have,” Staal says. “That put together, to me, is building resilience.”
Although it is sometimes considered a nebulous term, Staal, who has worked in humanitarian assistance for USAID since the 1980s, says the core idea of resilience is evaluating problems in a multidisciplinary manner. Understanding how environmental changes can have consequences for health and conflict, for example, or how gender dynamics dampen efforts to relieve poverty.
This issue is particularly important in fragile states.
“They’re very vulnerable to a variety of problems,” said Staal. “They’re vulnerable to climate shocks, to climate change. They’re vulnerable to conflict over resources, but even things like conflict over water sources. And then that gets exacerbated when there is a drought.”
Staal worked in one pastoral community in southern Ethiopia that faced natural resource strain because of bad wells, with some wells producing no water at all. When drought hit, pastoralists were forced to move their cattle elsewhere. This then caused conflict between the displaced pastoralists and the communities already living in the spaces they arrived in. “How do we build [capacities] to give people the ability to withstand the shock, to rebound from it, and to move ahead?” Staal asked.
In a previous era, USAID probably would have responded by using humanitarian assistance money to truck in water, a hugely expensive endeavor, he says. Instead, in concert with the agency’s new resilience framework, designed to better address recurring crises, they repaired the pastoralists’ wells. This not only helped the communities manage their natural resources, but will hopefully curb the shock of drought and the potential for conflict in the future.
It may seem simple, but breaking down the topical siloes that have traditionally defined development and aid is a slow process. Merging humanitarian assistance and development projects has led USAID to also set up a “Resilience Leadership Team” and secretariat within the agency where staff from different bureaus and projects can discuss best practices and lessons. This allows for more cross-cutting solutions, which is really the heart of the approach, Staal says.
“Resilience is not a special initiative. It’s really a much more holistic way of looking at what we’re trying to accomplish.”
“I firmly believe that U.S. global leadership depends on our ocean leadership,” says Sherri Goodman in this week’s podcast.
Goodman, perhaps best known among the climate community for her work with the CNA Military Advisory Board, recently moved on from CNA to become CEO of the Consortium for Ocean Leadership. The non-profit represents more than 100 major research and education organizations in the United States in Washington, DC, advocating for “sound ocean policy.”
Although she is leaving the influential climate security work she helped found and lead at CNA, she still sees national security as an argument for strong environmental policy. “Our security, our stability, our global leadership depend very mightily on the fact that we are a landmass positioned between the two mighty Atlantic and Pacific Oceans,” Goodman says. “From forward presence to freedom of navigation, it all depends on being able to preserve the sanctity and security of our ocean heritage and maintain this even as the oceans around us are indeed changing.”
Goodman says given the magnitude of the oceans’ effects on society, there should be greater investment in scientific research and monitoring.
“No region of the planet is changing more rapidly than the Arctic today,” she says. “As ice cover decreases…ocean warming will accelerate and we’ll likely see these effects in sea-level rise, release of methane gas that contributes to a warming climate, loss of habitat, and livelihoods.”
“Our ability to…develop an Arctic future that is safe for the coming both exploration and exploitation of its vast resources, from fishing to energy to mining, depends critically on our understanding better how the Arctic is changing. That’s why the science we need to advance now on the circulation of the Arctic, on ocean ice interactions, and on real-time observations are all really critical.”
Sea-level rise threatens not only the destruction of major cities and the displacement of millions, but the spoiling of food-producing regions and higher storm surges. The extent and speed of sea-level rise, however, is unclear and may vary from place to place. “Monitoring sea-level requires an expanded system of advanced water level measurements and sustained satellite measurements as well,” Goodman says.
The oceans also serve as the primary source of protein for billions. Coral bleaching – the dying of coral formations due to higher water temperatures – is increasing, Goodman says, and “warming oceans are moving fish species toward the polls, away from Africa and Asia where the largest population growth and higher demand for food is indeed happening.”
“We need to invest in the scientific observations if we’re going to be able to more accurately predict the future conditions of the ocean,” Goodman says, “and enable us to build a more resilient society as our weather and climate system are changing more rapidly.”
Sherri Goodman spoke at the Wilson Center on February 25 as part the “Managing Our Planet” seminar series.
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“After Ukraine, ISIS, terrorism…there are a lot of distractions in 2015,” says Nick Mabey, founder and chief executive of the environmental NGO E3G, in this week’s podcast. “Short term issues are important, but they’re not everything,”
Climate change is a massive, long-term national security issue, he says, and what happens at this year’s UN climate summit in Paris will be tremendously consequential. Climate experts have seen how quickly their predictions and worse-case scenarios can take place. In 2008, as E3G was looking at climate security, they were discussing if and how climate change would affect things like trade balance, energy security, and resentment between countries, says Mabey. In 2015, those scenarios are now the reality; “this is the world we live in.”
“The Mediterranean is full of refugees driven by conflict exacerbated by drought, and Arctic politics continue to grow,” he says. “We’re seeing a massive growth of government repression of anti-coal activism, including in India but also in places like Poland and Turkey and our democratic friends…We’re seeing a global fossil divestment campaign look like the anti-apartheid movement.”
The United States is the most climate-vulnerable OECD country. Over the last three decades, the United States has experienced 37 percent of all global damage, by value, from major weather events, says Mabey. A recent poll shows 41 percent of U.S. experts believe climate change is a top foreign policy issue. But politics still makes climate change a hot potato. While President Obama and Secretary Kerry have emphasized the issue, Mabey says it is hard to take action once they leave the room. In addition, there is concern that Congressional Republicans could threaten the U.S. role in Paris in their efforts to counter the president.
The lack of engagement and urgency from policymakers, not only in the United States but around the world, is worrying, says Mabey. “Unless you have a gut feeling of how much risk you’re going to take, you will not prioritize to reduce that risk.”
While we have the ability to adapt to and mitigate climate change, top officials across the Atlantic are not having the conversations necessary to get people to understand it is a risk worth avoiding, Mabey says. Building political consensus is difficult not only because of distracting security factors like ISIS and terrorism, but because certain governments are not listening to their citizens’ calls for change.
But popular movements are gathering steam. In 2009, 40,000 people marched at the climate rally in Copenhagen. Last year, 400,000 marched in New York City and were joined by an additional 200,000 around the world. Mabey says even more protestors are expected to turn out in Paris at the start of December’s climate talks.
The public pressure will hopefully drive more official discourse in this high-stakes year for climate negotiations, he says. “The world is fragile, the climate system is fragile, it’s like an egg…and so the question is…how much climate risk do you take? How much do you want to poke that egg?”
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“Adaptation is very theoretical. When you talk about ‘resilience,’ you draw these Venn diagrams and you draw these really complex issues, but at least at the IPCC level, we didn’t spend a lot of time thinking about what people were actually doing,” says Eric Chu in this week’s podcast.
Chu, a contributor to Working Group II of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Fifth Assessment Report, says the ways high-level concepts about adaptation translate to action are very important and not well understood.
“How do city governments in developing countries understand the impacts of climate change?” he asks, “how do they translate those mandates into what they’re [currently] doing?” In his dissertation, which he adapted for the Fifth Annual Graduate Student Urban Poverty Paper Competition, Chu explores these questions in three Indian cities. Each faces unique climate stressors – Surat is dealing with extreme flooding, Indore has been strained by chronic water scarcity, and Bhubaneswar has experienced more frequent cyclones. But they all share long-term relationships with external NGOs and donor agencies concerned with climate adaptation.
Chu found in each, officials and civil society groups are already working to help people adapt to climate change. The main impact of external groups was to “add to the vocabulary” of existing efforts. In some instances, the introduction of new concepts was extremely helpful. For example, a women’s water management group in Indore was better able to organize and plan their work after they understood climate change was driving much of the long-term water stress they experienced.
But on the whole, said Chu, local groups did not absorb the idea of adaptation that external groups attached to their support, choosing instead to frame their work around issues they were already addressing. City governments also struggled to gain support for efforts labeled as “adaptation,” both among citizens and public officials.
“Cities are finding it very difficult to understand how [a conception of] adaptation this broad and cross-sectoral translates into line items on a budget,” he said. “They do have budget cycles, they do have electoral cycles, where climate change doesn’t fit in.”
Outsiders’ best hope to elevate climate adaptation, then, may be to take a more grassroots approach, focusing less on how local governments can mainstream adaptation into their agendas, and more on how to build high-level mandates and incentives around existing local priorities, said Chu.
“It really needs to be internal; to have internal champions and institutional leaders, but also the policy instruments behind it to continue when [external organizations] actually leave.”
Eric Chu spoke at the Wilson Center on January 26. He is one of three winning authors of the Fifth Annual Graduate Student Urban Poverty Paper Competition who presented their work at a seminar sponsored by the Wilson Center in collaboration with USAID, the International Housing Coalition, World Bank, and Cities Alliance. Download the winning papers to learn more.
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