The Petén region, located in the northern part of Guatemala, is a population-environment hot spot. Covering a third of the country, the area suffers from high rates of deforestation and increasing migration. ProPetén, an environmental and social organization working in the region, spearheaded an effort to add data on environment to USAID's Demographic and Health Survey (DHS). Liza Grandia, president of the Board of Directors of ProPetén, discussed the initiative at an October 12 Environmental Change and Security Project meeting.

After noticing the impact of increasing demographic pressures on the environment, ProPetén incorporated reproductive health services into their programs. At the time, no other entity was providing family planning in Petén. To design effective programs, ProPetén needed baseline data; however, the two national surveys conducted in 1985 and 1987 bypassed the Petén region. According to Grandia, a dedicated USAID/Washington officer set aside funding for a survey in Petén with a special module on natural resources and migration. This effort to examine population, environment, and development linkages "piggybacked" on Guatemala's 1998 interim DHS, which surveyed the region in March-April of 1999.

Even though it had to deal with budgetary issues, communication barriers, and tensions between USAID departments, ProPetén was able to help develop new environmental modules for the general household questionnaire in six main focus areas: land extension and tenure; migration; agriculture; population perceptions; conservation and environmental knowledge and opinions; and wage labor and non-timber forest products.

After the report was released in Spanish, the Petén governor's council passed a resolution recommending that all the mayors and government representatives use it as a basis for municipal project and development planning. (Note: an English version was completed in 2002 but is not yet published; the data set is available from ORC Macro.)

The DHS played a critical role in planning interventions and identifying targets for action, and Petén has undergone some dramatic shifts since the report's release. For example, extension workers have been trained in agricultural and health education, and the Ministry of Health stocked all of Petén's clinics with contraceptives. The 2002 DHS shows that following these efforts, birth rates across the region have declined from 6.8 to 5.8 children per woman.

The DHS report became the "secret hit of Petén," sparking policy change within USAID and the Guatemalan government. ProPetén's experience shows how a little money can go a long way in Guatemala's rural areas. Surveys are crucial tools for successful development initiatives, since they reveal fruitful possibilities for future efforts and policymakers pay attention to the results. Liza Grandia was able to draw on her own personal experience to demonstrate the need for integrated surveys:

Today, this morning, thousands of poor settlers got up in the dark in Petén and with homemade kerosene candles began their day. Women patted out their tortillas and likely as not the family ate a breakfast of chile and salt because there might not have been other food to eat. A man might have just spent his last savings this morning to go and wait in line at the hospital to find out that his wife has cancer, probably from the pesticides exported from the U.S. Somewhere a child is sick with malaria from mosquitoes associated with increased deforestation and settlement….There are thousands of interrelated little tragedies every day….Having spent the better half of my first professional decade waking up in villages like this, I know from my gut that these reports and projects do matter, and probably in ways that we will never be able to measure or valuate. But people's lives are integrated and attempting to do research in an integrated way is a step in the right direction.

Grandia, Liza, Norman Schwartz, Amilcar Corzo, Oscar Obando, & Luis H.
Ochoa. (2001, Noviembre). "Salud, Migración y Recursos Naturales en Petén: Resultados del Módulo Ambiental de la Encuesta de Salud Materno Infantil 1999."
Guatemala City: Instituo Nacional de Estadística, USAID, y Measure/DHS (Macro International, Inc.). 176 pages.


For lecture notes, please contact Liza Grandia at

For information on the report on the migration and resource module, please contact Luis Ochoa of ORC/Macro at

Drafted by Alyssa Edwards.