Early last month, two of my PRB colleagues and I participated in the African Great Lakes Conference (AGLC) in Entebbe, Uganda, organized by The Nature Conservancy (TNC). The theme of the conference was “Conservation and Development in a Changing Climate.” But we were not there to talk about lake conservation; we were there to talk about the role of population dynamics and family planning in conservation and development.

The African Great Lakes region spans 10 countries and includes seven lake basins.  These countries are experiencing rapid population growth (often due to an unmet need for family planning) and the lakes are an important source of water, livelihoods, and sustenance for communities who live in their immediate vicinity and for communities who live miles away. The combination of population growth and heavy reliance on the lakes and lake ecosystems places immense pressure on the well-being of people and sustainability of those environments.

That’s why the Policy, Advocacy, and Communication Enhanced for Population and Reproductive Health (PACE) Project was eager to be the lead convener for a conference track on Population Dynamics, Health, and Environment, in collaboration with USAID and Pathfinder International. We wanted to reach an audience beyond the family planning community and share the latest information and research on the ways that population dynamics and population health can affect conservation efforts, especially in lake basin communities. We also took this opportunity to explain the ways that family planning can play a critical role in improving human health while alleviating the pressures on the lakes and on the water systems that feed them.

Many of the presentations and posters at the conference focused on specific Population, Health, and Environment projects. Others made connections between population dynamics and climate change, adaptation, or resilience. In total, there were eight poster presentations and nine panel presentations in the Population Dynamics theme, and an additional two presentations in other conference themes that discussed population dynamics and family planning in the context of climate change and/or lake conservation.

It was exciting to see that even in conference themes outside of the Population Dynamics track, presenters were talking about concepts that typically fall outside of environment and conservation, including women’s empowerment and youth engagement.

The Population Dynamics, Health, and Environment track culminated with a riveting plenary presentation delivered by Doreen Othero to roughly 275 conference participants. Othero, the regional PHE program coordinator with the Lake Victoria Basin Commission, an intergovernmental institution of the East African Community, summarized key takeaways from the conference track, including challenges related to population dynamics, health, and the environment and their connections. She shared information about the ways that family planning can address people’s needs, improve the health and wellness of communities, and enable greater uptake of sustainable environmental practices and natural resource management. Her presentation was received with great applause and was a highlight of the conference.

At the end of the three-day conference, several conference resolutions were adopted. Particularly exciting for PACE was seeing that five of the identified “solutions” touched upon topics relevant to PHE and other sectors, such as:

  • Family planning as a human right and a strategy for climate change adaptation.
  • Multisectoral community-based development approaches and tools.
  • Empowerment of girls and women.

To build on the conference momentum and ensure the longevity of the conference resolutions, the PACE Project will continue to engage with select conference participants in sharing their research and projects that focus on the ways that population dynamics, health, and the environment interact with one another. It’s important to make the connections between the work people are doing on the ground and the implications for policies in their respective countries. Information sharing about the African Great Lakes will continue after the conference through the new African Great Lakes Information Platform, supported by TNC. In addition, the MacArthur Foundation gave TNC $500,000 to create the African Great Lakes Conservation Fund, which was launched during the conference. The fund will support the formation of an African Great Lakes network as well as follow up on key elements of the conference resolutions.

To learn more about the conference, including the full set of resolutions, check out the AGLC website: www.greatlakesofafrica.org/.