Friday, March 15, 2013

Birth control: A solution to climate change?

There are two little words that will make all government officials in the Philippines sit up in their chairs and listen; climate change.

Climate change is the top priority in the Philippines, and with good reason. According to the 2013 Global Climate Risk Index, the Philippines placed fourth among more than 190 countries around the world that have suffered the most extreme weather events such as flooding and storms over the past 20 years.

With a developing country so vulnerable to mother nature’s wrath, they are doing everything they can. This year, a series of bills went into action including the Climate Change Act of 2009 that promotes renewable energy, and better energy efficiency, a $24.5 million People’s Survival Fund for local communities, and a $295 million budget to enhance early warning systems, create geohazard maps, and scale up “Eco-towns”. The 2013 target for reforestation is 300,000 hectares, and the plan is to restore 1.5 million hectares by 2016. The Philippines has also successfully implemented clean development mechanism (CDM) projects to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through the use of environmentally sustainable fuel technologies. The country is so good at environmental policies that they are ranked 10th in terms of number of CDM projects, with 59 registered with the United Nations.

“The country’s success in implementing these CDM projects was also the reason why the Environmental Performance Index gave the Philippines a perfect score of 100 percent under the indicator for carbon dioxide per capita,” said Environment Secretary Ramon J. P. Paje of The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).

While all these environmental issues are being addressed, there’s one concern that hasn’t: population growth. The Philippines is a country of some 90 million whose population is growing at a rate of about 2.3% per year. Poor families are growing fastest, where family planning information and resources are not available. The country's poorest residents have an average of six children; but not by choice. Studies have shown that the gap between wanted and actual fertility rates is alarmingly high.  According to the 2006 Family Planning Survey, an average of 44% of pregnancies in the poorest 10% of Filipino women are unwanted.

Within this predominantly Catholic nation, the ban on birth control has been a controversial one. While women say it’s a health and human rights issue, church leaders say it’s a religious issue, there has been little common ground. That was until Albay Representative Edcel Lagman said it’s an environmental issue.

That’s when Congressman Lagman found a platform for his Reproductive Health (RH) law which allows the distribution of birth control pills and condoms in public health clinics. He was able to argue in his keynote address during a forum entitled Establishing the Links between RH, Population and Climate Change, that population growth is an environmental issue. He believes that the absence of a national policy on RH also contributed to the level of devastation and impact of climate change on the lives of people.

“Since a huge population and calamities are fatal partners, the mitigation of the population growth rate as a logical consequence of promoting universal access to reproductive health and family planning, will enhance the Philippines’ positive response to climate change mitigation and adaptation,” said Lagman.

“(The RH law) is truly an effective development tool that will simultaneously aid government in addressing problems relating to population, reproductive health and climate change,” he added.

Compared with the high price tags on most government programs, birth control is an inexpensive solution. The legislator cited a paper published by the London School of Economics (LSE) in August 2009 entitled Reducing Future Carbon Emissions by Investing in Family Planning: A Cost/Benefit Analysis which stated that “family planning is considerably cheaper than many low carbon technologies” and that “family planning is a cost effective tool in reducing carbon emissions.”

When President Benigno Aquino signed the bill into law last month, it appeared to be a victory for health care, human rights, the economy, and the environment, but not everyone is happy with the new law. Catholic groups have already shifted their battle to the courts, questioning the law's constitutionality. Church leaders continue to frame the discussion on birth control in religious terms, as a battle either for or against human life. Archbishop Paciano Aniceto, who chairs the influential Commission on Family and Life for the Catholic Bishop's Conference in the Philippines, calls birth control advocates "propagandists of a culture of death.”

But the congressman wasn’t surprised by the church’s latest tactic. "We have long expected that the opposition will go to the Supreme Court. We have prepared for this eventuality," said Lagman.

Regardless of what one wants to call the issue, it’s clear that a basic need must be met, evidenced by the long lines of women who are lining up for contraceptives in NGO health centers throughout Manila’s many slums.

A timely human interest article which appeared in Agence France-Presse reported on RH law’s passage in an interview with a woman who was reflecting on the new service. Housewife Nerissa Gallo, who at 44 has already had 16 children, broke into tears as she recalled the difficulty she has faced in raising her children, four of whom died after suffering from diarrhea.

For millions of Filipinos like Mrs Gallo, this law has come too late. Children, families, economies have all be negatively impacted by exploding population levels. But perhaps it is still not too late for this law to avoid the environmental disaster that such unchecked growth would undoubtedly incur.

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1 comment:

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