(April 2006) Linking population, health, and environment (PHE) issues is of increasing importance to developing countries such as the Philippines, where natural resources and public health and well-being are compromised by factors such as population pressures and poverty. To this end, more than 350 international representatives from government, civil society, and the private sector gathered for three days in Cebu City, the Philippines, for the Second National Conference on Population, Health, and Environment Linkages.

The conference—convened by the Population Reference Bureau and local partners with funding from the David and Lucile Packard Foundation—was a landmark event in terms of building leadership skills, highlighting how data could be used for policymaking, and helping new actors understand and appreciate the value of exploring the PHE dimensions of pressing development priorities.

Building Leadership Skills

Conference participants learned about cutting-edge approaches to PHE program implementation, advocacy, and research in a variety of skills building sessions. Many of these sessions used case studies that provided lessons learned from successful PHE projects. One case synthesized many of the challenges and obstacles that two development NGOs faced in mobilizing women to address PHE issues in the Muslim municipality of Tawi Tawi, one of the poorest areas in the Philippines.

Through the Tawi Tawi case, participants examined and considered different strategies to link reproductive health and environment issues while respecting the core values of a conservative society—in this case the religious values of a Muslim community. Participants agreed that the case provided lessons that could be applied to a number of situations in any country where project implementers need to work closely with communities to realize its goals of improving the health and well-being of community members.

Using Data for Decisionmaking

At the conference, PRB officially released and widely disseminated a new datasheet—Making the Link in the Philippines—with national, regional, and provincial data for 15 indicators that highlight the connections among population trends, natural resource use, and the health and well-being of Filipinos. (For more information, see Making the Link in the Philippines: A New PRB Datasheet.) It is the first time that a national datasheet has been produced that links these indicators.

Ms. Margartia Songco, deputy director general of the Philippines’ National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA), said of Making the Link in the Philippines: “It is important that this data be utilized by our policymakers and program implementers at the national and sub-national levels to formulate sound policies, doable plans, and high impact programs/projects to achieve our development goals.”

Reaching Out to New Constituents

The 2006 conference built on the achievements of the initial National Conference in 2004—whose Antipolo Declaration urged people from all sectors to “make the PHE link” and was signed by close to 100,000 Filipinos. Attendees to the 2006 conference pledged to collaborate in “The 2006 Philippine PHE Action Plan”—otherwise known as the Cebu Accord—which stipulates strategies for implementing PHE programs and policies through policy development, information, education, communication, and research.

A number of U.S. activists from the Izaak Walton League, Sierra Club, National Wildlife Federation, and Audubon also attended the conference and visited PHE projects in the Philippines, learning how they could integrate local practices into their PHE programs in the United States.

Next Steps

Overall, participants felt that the conference allowed them to develop leadership skills that would permit them to implement PHE, reproductive health, and poverty alleviation programs. They also said that they gained new insights into strategies for advancing PHE and reproductive health approaches in their own work. A number of the case studies and methods shared at the conference will be refined and disseminated later this year for use by program managers, university professors, and development specialists.

Several policymakers from NEDA and the Philippines’ Department of Environment and Natural Resources are already using Making the Link in the Philippines to help create a “PHE cluster” within the president’s cabinet in the coming months. The intent is to form a caucus of decisionmakers who will examine population, health, and environment data and links and work toward supporting policies and programs that use a linked approach to address development priorities such as disaster mitigation and poverty alleviation.

In addition, PRB will be working with local partners in the Philippines to support a global PHE network that will serve as a center of excellence and training in using integrated approaches for improving the well-being of communities and the environment. Concrete action plans developed under the Cebu Accord will also be monitored and implemented in the next two years leading up to a third PHE conference in 2008.


Roger-Mark De Souza is technical director of the Population, Health, and Environment at the Population Reference Bureau.