The relationship between human welfare and the natural environment is
mediated by ecosystem services. Changes to those services as a
result of changes in the environment affect livelihood. Overlooking
this link, however, human beings jeopardize their survival by
disturbing the environment.
Degradation and pollution are major human induced environmental threats
across the world. Although the latter is yet an emerging challenge,
natural resource degradation remains a concern for least developed
countries (LDCs) such as Ethiopia. Loss of land productivity due to
erosion, deforestation, depletion of nutrients, and deterioration of
soil structure signal the worst state of environmental dilapidation.
So are the subsequent problems of food insecurity, displacement of
people, loss of biodiversity and frequent failures in ecosystem
As the environmental problems worsen, the approaches to rehabilitate
the depleted natural wealth become sophisticated. Modernization and
post-modernist approaches of managing the environment are the most
popular approaches. Modernization identifies farmers as the basic
cause of resource depletion and commends the exclusion of people
from the natural ecosystem as a way out. Yet, it does not account
for the complexity of ecological services.
Post-modernism, on the other hand, claims that farmers are not the only
factors of environmental degradation and advocates for participatory
resource management. With the recent popularity of sustainable
development, the latest such strategy, the whole game has changed
towards reconciling the economic, social and ecological dimensions
of development. But realizing it has never been easy.
Many development actors across the world often fail to address the
three objectives at a time in their practices. No different is the
case in Ethiopia, wherein piecemeal approaches failed short of
enhancing social welfare. All the same, there are pioneers that
managed to realize prospective balance of sustainable development.
Sustaining this achievement, however, demands more than project
execution; it requires a comprehensive effort and strong
coordination of all sector players. Inability to integrate the three
components on the same intervention site definitely hampers success.
So far as the current trend goes, integrating conservation,
healthcare and economic empowerment seems far-off in many regions of
As rare as success remains, some development actors are fighting the
fight with full understanding of what is at stake. In implementing
the population, health and environment (PHE) approach, they wrestle
to ensure holistic and participatory development in their project
sites. As my recent visit to Tigray Regional State proves, an
expanded PHE implementation is resulting in vivid welfare
As pivotal institution, the Relief Society of Tigray (REST) executes
the approach in the region. Capitalizing on its over 30 years of
experience in development activities ranging from humanitarian
assistance to environmental rehabilitation, the society pushes for
inclusive development in the region. Certainly, it has taken its
proper place in the success story of the region including the
restoration of 30pc of the degraded land between 1975 and 2006.
The water and soil conservation practices carried out in the region
have also enabled to repair the ecosystem services not less
agricultural productivity as underground water, soil fertility and
land cultivability have improved.
In a locality known as Balla, for example, land cultivability has
considerably increased with PHE intervention that over 160 farming
households are making a living on 60ha of reclaimed land.
Constructing terraces in the hilly landscapes and building small
check dams along valleys conserved water for small scale irrigation
and protect erosion downstream. All the efforts, however, integrate
family planning and healthcare provision components.
In Wukro area, another locality that I have been to, the society
supports soil and water conservation projects. Apparently, the
intervention facilitated environmental recovery. It has changed the
ecosystem and increased the size of tillable land. It has also
enhanced biomass production, groundwater recharge and prevention of
Accordingly, the health and family planning programs are also bearing
fruits. Societal awareness about optimum family size and healthy
life is improving albeit slowly. So does the attitude towards
balancing resource availability with population size. The use of pit
latrines has also improved dramatically.
Similar stories might exist in other parts of Ethiopia, where PHE
projects have been implemented by other development organizations.
Anecdotal evidences show that projects in southern Ethiopia have
improved gender equality, male involvement in family planning,
number of family planning users, and effectiveness of health
extension. They have also led to better support for family planning
from religious leaders, prevention of early marriage and expanding
income generation windows. Arguably, this all would redress diverse
social ills and increase local participation in decision making.
So long as the pace of these developments could be maintained, the road
ahead for PHE seems well paved. No doubt that it will compel other
actors into the club to realize the comprehensive development agenda
that the country has crafted.
BY G. Michael G. Michael
G. Michael G. Michael is an Editor at the Ethiopian
Radio and Television Agency (ERTA). He can be reached at