On this Earth Day Invest in Family Planning

by Alexander Sanger

Last year, I traveled to Bolivia to get a firsthand glimpse of the work of our local Member Association CIES. It’s hard to forget the twenty-minute drive from the airport to La Paz’s city center. Nestled high above Bolivia’s capital city, the airport is located in El Alto, which offers a sweeping view of La Paz below and Bolivia’s dramatic mountains along the horizon. While El Alto was little more than a village sixty years ago, hundreds of thousands have flooded in from the countryside–escaping increasingly erratic weather and difficult agricultural conditions–to find work and opportunity in recent years.

In my week in Bolivia, we traversed high rivers- rivers that have risen in recent years due to unpredictable rainfall- and windy muddy roads with CIES’ mobile health unit to provide contraception and healthcare to those living in remote communities. Woman after woman told me that if it weren’t for CIES, they would have no other access to basic health services and contraception. No other health providers, they explained, were willing to brave the elements.

At the International Planned Parenthood Federation/Western Hemisphere Region(IPPF/WHR), reaching communities affected by climate change- the most remote and in-need populations- is one of our top priorities: In 2013, 77% of our clients were poor, rural or otherwise marginalized.

While reaching remote communities is helping to treat the side effects of climate change, the heart of our work–providing contraception–is tackling the root of climate change.

We’ve said time and again that when you empower individuals and families with the information and services they need to make decisions around reproduction and sexuality, you fundamentality create more a more just and sustainable world.

Over the last few decades, there has been greater acknowledgement of the relationship between population, sustainability, and human rights. And the data clearly shows the environmental benefits of investments in sexual and reproductive health. For example, fulfilling the unmet need for family planning by 2050 could:

– Halt population growth in Latin America and the Caribbean
– Meet up to 29% of the total carbon reduction needed to prevent climate change
– Reduce carbon emissions by 1.4 billion tons per year

It’s not rocket science. Still, the international community has been slow to fully fund and implement family planning programs, programs that have a demonstrated effect on population growth, programs that would help millions of women like Bertha achieve a better standard of living and a happier life.

I met Bertha in Casapa, Bolivia, one of the remote towns reachable only by river crossings and nimble driving. “I am the mother of five children,” said Berta, who had her first child at sixteen. “I had them all in a row. Why? Because I didn’t have the power or the right to say ‘that’s it,’ I didn’t have the power to access contraception.”

Berta says that thanks to the services they receive from CIES and the discussions the communities have begun to have about these issues, this is changing. Today, on Earth Day, these are the changes we should celebrate, the changes that not only impact the lives of individuals but also improve living conditions for the entire world.


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