Teamwork needed for sustainable development


People on Ipanema Beach on the final day of the Rio+20 conference on June 22, 2012 in Rio de Janiero, Brazil. The Rio+20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development or ‘Earth Summit’ saw over 100 heads of state and tens of thousands of participants and protesters descend on Rio. Host Brazil was caught up in its own dilemma between accelerated growth and environmental preservation.


Mario Tama

RIO DE JANEIRO — At the Rio+20 UN Sustainable Development Conference last week, where the theme was "The Future We Want," we learned that the global development community cannot achieve its goals by working in silos.

It was clear in the discussions that food and nutrition security, global health, women's rights and climate change adaptation and mitigation must all be addressed as part of an integrated, coherent strategy.

The future that the Public Health Institute (PHI) is working toward is one in which poverty is eradicated, public health is improved, gender equality is advanced, and billions of people are not only fed, but nourished through a sustainable and climate-resilient food system.

At the Rio conference we argued that a successful strategy for achieving global food and nutrition security integrates efforts to combat and adapt to climate change, advance women’s empowerment and protect public health. It starts with recognizing these critical issues are all interconnected.

How so?

Climate change has a significant impact on food and nutrition security and health for millions, especially women and children living in rural areas of developing countries. For example, droughts, made more frequent by climate change, lead to food shortages and malnutrition. The crisis in the Sahel is just the most recent example.

In the developing world, women comprise 43 percent of agricultural labor and produce 60 to 80 percent of the food consumed at the household level. Yet 60 percent of the chronically hungry are women and children. This is in part due to a lack of economic and land rights for women to be able to access land, credit, training, seeds, fertilizers, and other resources. Women also face challenges related to nutrition security, such as limited household food access and inadequate education about and access to maternal and child health care.

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At the same time, rural women can play a critical and leading role in adapting to climate change, enhancing agricultural and rural development, and improving food and nutrition security. According to the FAO, giving women equal access to productive agricultural resources would increase women's farm productivity by 20 to 30 percent and the countries' total agricultural output would increase by 2.5 to 4.0 percent. An estimated 100 to 150 million fewer people would be hungry. Health outcomes and rates of poverty would dramatically improve as a result.

Despite this, women and women's interests are poorly represented in consultation and decision-making processes for the development of climate change adaptation strategies — at the local, national and global levels.

Similarly, protection and promotion of nutrition security and health are essential components of climate-resilient and sustainable development, but nutrition has been largely absent in the climate agenda.

Instead, the issues of climate change adaptation, global health, women's empowerment, nutrition and food security continue to be addressed separately, as if in individual silos.

At the Rio+20 Partnerships Forum, and in this policy brief, PHI and its partners presented a set of key messages and principles, which included:

• Ensuring that health and food and nutrition security are seen as essential components of poverty eradication and climate-resilient sustainable development. To be effective, this requires a gender-responsive and rights-based approach.

• Eradicating hunger and ensuring food and nutrition security requires a focus on the rural and urban poor.

• Understanding that health is a pre-condition for, as well as an outcome of, all three dimensions of sustainable development — environmental, social and economic.

• Gender equality and equity are fundamental to achieving climate-resilient sustainable development.

• Multi-sectorial and multi-stakeholder partnerships are critical to promoting synergies and reaching common goals on food and nutrition security, health and climate change in the context of Rio+20 and the post-2015 Millennium Development Goals framework.

The development challenges we face are complex and interconnected; the solutions must be as well. We can't continue to operate in issue silos if we are to achieve the future we want — and the future that millions of women, men and children around the world deserve.

Dr. Cristina Tirado is the Director of PHI’s Center for Public Health and Climate Change and an international expert on issues of health, nutrition and gender sensitive climate change adaptation strategies. Dr. Suzanne Petroni is Vice President of Global Health at PHI. She has extensive experience leading philanthropic efforts to advance international reproductive and adolescent health and rights.

The Public Health Institute is an independent, nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting health, well being and quality of life for people throughout California, across the nation and around the world.  

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