Managing population growth is key to environmental conservation and water management in Africa's Lake Victoria and Lake Chilwa basins, participants heard at a recent event at Washington, DC-based think tank the Wilson Center.
At the event, "From Victoria to Chilwa: Integrated Development in Two African Lake Basins,” speakers Doreen Othero of the Lake Victoria Basin Commission and Deepa Pullanikkatil of Leadership for Environment and Development (LEAD) in Malawi explained the need for integrating population, health and environmental issues rather than keeping them in separate "silos."
Othero said the population in the Lake Victoria Basin had been low in 1960, but by 2015 the basin will be one of most densely populated areas in the world. Family planning access is good in Rwanda, but other countries are lagging behind, Othero said.
The challenges in the region include pollution, water and sanitation provision, population growth and sexual and reproductive health. Child and infant mortality are high, as is maternal mortality in some areas. HIV prevalence in local fishing communities is 26 percent.
Othero said there had been a lot of donor funding for projects in the basin, but the projects were vertical, with "a lot of actors that are uncoordinated" and a minimal impact on beneficiaries. This is because they excluded issues of population, she said.
The LVBC and the US Agency for International Development (USAID) designed an integrated population, health and environment (PHE) program. The main questions it sought to answer were: "Does integration work?" and "Can sectors work together?" The answer, she said, was "yes," but partnerships were key.
Othero said that in this case, a "top-down" approach had worked best. The project succeeded because it started by introducing PHE among ministers and presidents in five LVBC five countries. Now, the regional East African Community Parliament has adopted PHE.
In the future, Othero said the LVBC aimed to develop a regional PHE curriculum for universities and secondary schools.
Population growth is also an obstacle to sustainable development in the Lake Chilwa Basin in Malawi, Pullanikkatil said.
Deforestation, climate variability, and sand mining and riverbank cultivation on rivers feeding into the lake have impacted water quality in the basin. The amount of per capita arable land is declining, as is per capita water availability, which is expected to drop to 300 cubic meters per person by 2032.
The lake attracts a population of migrant fishermen, who live on floating huts with no sanitation facilities and dump their waste directly into the lake.
With funding from the Norwegian government, LEAD implemented the Lake Chilwa Basin Climate Change Adaptation Program (2010-2014), which trained community bason organizations on cliamte change, assisted meterological services departments in establishing weather monitoring stations and developed new technologies, like solar fish driers, which are more efficient and better for the environment than fish-smoking kilns.
Most villagers were previously unable to participate in climate change programs bcause of sickness, particularly the parasitic disease bilharzia (schistosomiasis), Pullanikkatil said. The high prevalence of bilharzia was traced to irrigation systems.
Women were also unable to participate in climate change programs because they had to look after too many children, Pullanikkatil added. The unmet need for family planning in Malawi is 27 percent in Malawi.
Although LEAD is an environmental organization, it now advocates including population issues in climate change policy, she said.