At a June 8 discussion hosted by the Environmental Change and Security Project, Congressman Nereus Acosta, one of the youngest members of the Philippines' House of Representatives, spoke about his government's response to problems linking population and the environment. Joan Regina L. Castro and Leona Ann D'Agnes of the Integrated Population and Coastal Resource Management (IPOPCoRM) Initiative followed his speech with an overview of their program to educate Filipinos about the environment, population, and food security.

In the Philippines, the environment is "a very pressing problem, very real," according to Acosta. But he stressed that environmental concerns should not be viewed in a vacuum; they must be considered alongside population, poverty, politics, and sexual health. These issues are also major sites of contestation in the Filipino government: "There is strong institutional resistance to even talking about these issues," said Acosta.

Acosta described an Environmental Sustainability Index created by Yale University that ranks countries based on several factors, including health of environmental systems, levels of human stresses, global stewardship, environmental vulnerability, and social and institutional capacity. In 1999, the Philippines ranked 59 out of 60 countries on this index, barely beating Zimbabwe. Since then, the Philippines have gradually risen in the ranking; however, environmental concerns are still ignored by many sectors of society.

Acosta proposed that dialogue between sectors would help address the Philippines' environmental degradation and rapidly growing population. Deep analysis, competent leadership, and sensible policies are required to solve these problems, but Acosta feels that the Filipino government currently lacks these key skills. In addition to these changes at the national level, Acosta argued that, "programs need to be initiated at the level of communities, where decisions are made and where decisions really matter."

Reproductive Health, Biodiversity Conservation, and Food Security: Integrated Initiatives in Philippine Coastal Areas

Joan Regina Castro and Leona Ann D'Agnes of IPOPCoRM, an initiative of PATH Foundation Philippines, Inc., showed a short film called "Youth Eco-Heros, Cuyo Island, Philippines" that highlighted the dangers of fishing with cyanide and dynamite, rapid population growth, over-fishing, and mangrove destruction. To combat these threats, IPOPCoRM mobilizes youth to educate their communities through musical and theatrical performances. IPOPCoRM also helps entrepreneurs find alternative sources of income (such as raising pigs or harvesting seaweed) by providing micro-credit loans and training.

IPOPCoRM integrates issues of population and sexual health into its work on livelihoods: "The purpose of IPOPCoRM is to mainstream reproductive health and family planning into fishery and coastal resource management plans at the municipal and baranguary [village] levels," said Castro. The organization has institutionalized responses to population and environmental challenges by incorporating their projects into local governments' annual development plans. IPOPCoRM has successfully introduced these strategies into 76 local government plans and increased the number of contraceptive retailers in 105 coastal island "hotspots" by 6,000.

Drafted by Amy Brisson.