Tune in to our podcast to hear expert speakers on the links between global environmental change, security, development, and health. The Environmental Change and Security Program is a part of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, the living, national memorial to President Wilson established by Congress in 1968 and headquartered in the District of Columbia. It is a nonpartisan institution, supported by public and private funds, engaged in the study of national and world affairs. The Center establishes and maintains a neutral forum for free, open, and informed dialogue. For more information, visit www.wilsoncenter.org/ecsp and www.newsecuritybeat.org.This podcast was formerly titled "Friday Podcasts From ECSP and MHI," and included contributions from the Wilson Center's Maternal Health Initiative (MHI).
Happy World Gorilla Day! A Conversation with Dr. Gladys Kalema-Zikusoka on COVID-19’s Impact on Gorilla Conservation and Public Health in Uganda
“When we started out, people thought it was weird. ‘Why are you integrating people and animals and why are you integrating human health and animal health?’” says Kalema-Zikusoka, founder of Conservation Through Public Health (CTPH), in this week’s New Security Broadcast. Indeed, health infrastructure and conservation have long been organized around distinct silos. “Donors were focusing on single sector funding, and government departments were aligned along single sectors,” says Kalema-Zikusoka. To protect Uganda’s mountain gorillas, however, Kalema-Zikusoka recognized the need to set up an organization that could prevent disease transmission between humans and wildlife. Improving the health and well-being of communities in and around protected areas would help to ensure that they were less likely to have infectious diseases, could enjoy a better quality of life, and would ultimately enable communities to co-exist better with the wildlife. Over the past decade, there has been growing awareness and acceptance of this approach to conservation and public health. Often referred to as “One Health,” it is a multisectoral approach to disease prevention that centers interconnections between wildlife, ecosystem, and human health. Evidence tracing COVID-19’s origins to virus transmission between bats, an intermediate host, and humans only heightened the awareness of the interdependency between wildlife and human health. CTPH’s approach to community health has made them an asset for addressing COVID-19. The Ugandan Ministry of Health requested that the NGOs working with community health workers create village COVID task force committees, says Kilema-Zikusoka. They were worried that mounting infections could easily become severe ones, and there were not enough beds and oxygen, particularly in protected areas, where the lack of resources is more severe than in cities, she says. These action groups—now in 59 villages—are led by the village head and conservation team, and include the Uganda Wildlife Authority, porters at gorilla reserves, women and religious groups, and educational staff members. Such holistic, coordinated One Health efforts are essential for disaster preparedness and response in communities where wildlife and humans share a habitat, says Kalema-Zikusok. Despite this progress, tensions between human and animal health continue to emerge. Last year, hunger and economic desperation caused by the loss of tourism revenue drove a poacher to enter a protected area and kill a member of Uganda’s silverback mountain gorilla population. To prevent further endangerment, CTPH has implemented a range of short and long term measures to tackle pandemic-induced food insecurity—distributing fast growing green seedlings in the community; encouraging sustainable farming as an alternative to poaching; and ensuring gorilla guardians and reform poachers are trained in and benefitting from COVID-19 prevention initiatives. “This is an area we got into because of the pandemic. We started to look at food security more closely as an organization, so we have also grown just like other organizations during this very difficult time,” says Kalema-Zikusoka. There are important lessons learned and insights drawn from the pandemic that we must carry forward in order to realize a safer future for humans and animals alike.
Introducing New Security Broadcast
“To inform the most pressing issues of our time, to bring new voices to the policy space, and to help our audience better understand these complex connections and where we can be most effective in our responses, we bring you the New Security Broadcast,” says Lauren Risi, Director of the Wilson Center’s Environmental Change and Security Program (ECSP), in today’s launch of ECSP’s new podcast series, New Security Broadcast. New Security Broadcast serves as the successor to ECSP’s long-running podcast series, Friday Podcasts. Since 2010, Friday Podcasts has spotlighted leading experts diving deep into topics around environmental security and peacebuilding, biodiversity conservation, climate security and migration, population-health-environment connections, and demographic security. It also hosted two special series, Water Stories and Backdraft, which featured experts from around the world on 21st century water challenges, and how to avoid unintended—yet potentially devastating—consequences from climate adaptation and mitigation efforts that lack a conflict-sensitive lens. “The evidence has never been stronger. Environmental change, global health, demographic trends, gender dynamics, and security all intersect in ways that influence foreign policy, national security, and global stability,” says Risi. For over 25 years ECSP has brought together scholars, policymakers, and practitioners to better understand how these issues influence one another, how they drive insecurity, and where there are opportunities to respond more effectively, she says. To build upon this history, New Security Broadcast aims to share new research and policy responses, continue to feature ECSP insights, showcase the Wilson Center’s regional and thematic programs, and highlight cutting-edge researchers, experts on the ground, and policymakers who are grappling with today’s biggest issues. “You don’t need to look beyond today’s headlines to see that the issues ECSP has researched and analyzed for decades have only become more acute, and the need to address them more urgent,” says Risi. Tune in to the New Security Broadcast to stay up to date and learn more.
The Water Defenders: How Ordinary People Saved a Country from Corporate Greed: A Conversation with Co-authors Robin Broad and John Cavanagh
“Many people have watched fights between communities and big corporations around the world. The corporations usually win so those are the Goliath. The Davids usually lose,” says John Cavanagh, co-author of The Water Defenders: How Ordinary People Saved a Country from Corporate Greed. In this week’s episode of Friday Podcasts, Cavanagh and co-author Robin Broad recount how local activists mobilized a global coalition of religious leaders, labor unions, and environmental activists to block an international corporation from opening a gold mine that threatened El Salvador’s fragile water supply. “We had no choice but to begin the book with the horrifying realization that murder can be the cost of protecting the environment in many countries around the world,” said Broad. In 2009, three months before Cavanagh’s organization, Institute for Policy Studies, was preparing to present its prestigious annual Human Rights Award to a group of El Salvadoran water defenders, they received news that one of the awardees, teacher and cultural worker, Marcelo Rivera, had been assassinated, his tortured body left at the bottom of a deep dry well. The Water Defenders tells the story of ordinary people coming together across national and political boundaries to resist powerful corporate interests. In the early 2000s, mineral prices were on the rise and the Pacific Rim mining company sought to set up new mining operations to tap into El Salvador’s gold reserves, promising new jobs and one percent of their profits to the local government. While assurances of prosperity and profit by the mining company initially sounded inviting to Marcelo and the local community, “they visited a big mine in Honduras, and there they saw the horrible environmental damage that comes from the fact that gold is mined on a large scale, using cyanide to separate the gold from the rock [which is] highly toxic and very hard to contain,” says Cavanagh. In Honduras, cyanide-laced water flowed through the rivers, killing fish and causing skin diseases. The water defenders decided “that short term financial rewards for the few would be way offset by the environmental harms to the broader community,” says Cavanagh. To expand their coalition of support and raise awareness of the dangers of mining, “they did some of the most creative education and organizing that we've ever seen,” says Cavanagh. Marcelo organized with humor, leading marches of laughter where people wore clown noses and involved local community radio stations who performed skits on water. The water defenders expanded their coalition to the global level, creating a network of “international allies” and appealing to the two million Salvadoran diaspora in the United States, and environmental groups like the Sierra Club and the Global International Trade Union Confederation, says Cavanagh. Against all odds, the diverse coalition of actors succeeded in helping to convince the El Salvador legislature to institute the world’s first ban on metal mining and influenced the World Bank’s International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes to rule in favor of El Salvador in a lawsuit brought by the Pacific Rim mining corporation. Part of their success was the fact that even as their international support expanded, “the anchor was always the frontline communities. They were the ones who took the lead, and they were the ones who set the goals,” says Broad. They also framed their message around a positive goal. They didn't call themselves anti-miners; they called themselves the water defenders, says Broad. “This is a story about redefining progress in a way that hopefully works to the benefit of the majority of the population of the world, rather than just to an elite few,” says Broad. By sharing this unlikely success story, Broad and Cavanagh offer a practical playbook on effective grassroots, coalition-building to redefine development and to protect the environment in th
Engaging Marginalized Groups is Essential to Achieving Universal Health Coverage
Too often, many in my community are excluded from sexual and reproductive health services, said Ruth Morgan Thomas, co-founder and Global Coordinator of the Global Network of Sex Work Projects, in today’s episode of Friday Podcasts. This episode features highlights from a recent Wilson Center and UNFPA event where Thomas and Zandile Simelane, an HIV Youth Advocate from Eswatini, address the barriers that their respective communities—sex workers and HIV positive youth—face in accessing sexual and reproductive health (SRH) services and universal health coverage (UHC). Leaving marginalized individuals out of conversations about SRH and UHC heightens the chance that social protections will not fully accommodate their health needs. For individuals engaged in sex work, access to SRH services is an occupational health issue, said Thomas. “It isn’t just sexual and reproductive health. It’s actually about our work and keeping us safe in our work.” Nevertheless, because many governments do not formally recognize sex work, it is excluded from typical social protections, she said. This lack of protection is compounded by the active criminalization of marginalized groups, including sex workers, LGBTQ+ individuals, and individuals who inject drugs, said Thomas. Criminalization “underpins and exacerbates” the stigma and discrimination that these groups already face, creating barriers that prevent them from accessing other essential health services. The impacts of criminalization are especially damaging because those causing harm – including governments, law enforcement, and health care providers – are often the very individuals and institutions tasked with protecting and caring for marginalized communities, she said. Adolescents and young people are another key population often left out of conversations about SRH and UHC. Due to cultural norms and individual morals surrounding sexuality, providers are often not welcoming of young people seeking SRH care and may even scold them for engaging in sexual activity, said Simelane. This treatment discourages youth from seeking needed services. As a young Swazi woman, you are treated as a child, even at the health center, she said. Family planning terminology and the vastness of services under the family planning umbrella can also create barriers for young people. Family planning translates differently to a 16-year-old who isn’t planning for a family and who might need information on HIV testing, but doesn’t know where to access that information, said Simelane. This confusion and lack of youth directed services often “filters” young people out and results in them not seeking needed care, she said. Social media is a powerful tool to include communities directly in service planning and provision. “Ten years ago, when I tested positive, it dawned upon me that young people are actually on social media,” trying to engage with each other, said Simelane. “So why not bring the information that they need to them on these social media streets?” Nevertheless, there are huge disparities in access to digital services, particularly for marginalized groups, said Thomas. COVID-19 is exacerbating the effects of this digital divide. Because of this, social media efforts must be paired with on-the-ground work, she said. Whether it’s in the digital or physical space, marginalized and criminalized communities worldwide need to be part of our health response, including sexual and reproductive health, to make universal health coverage a reality, she said.
John Scanlon on the Case for Criminalizing Wildlife Trafficking under International Law
“The world is still feeling the full brunt of the COVID-19 pandemic which most likely had its origins in a wild animal,” says John Scanlon AO, Former Secretary-General of CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) and Chair of the Global Initiative to End Wildlife Crime, in this week’s Friday Podcast. Scanlon spoke at a recent Wilson Center event on the connections between wildlife crime, human health, and security. “We need to recalibrate our relationship with nature for many compelling interrelated reasons, including to protect biodiversity, combat climate change, and to prevent future pandemics,” says Scanlon. “This is going to require profound changes in how we regulate the taking, trade, and consumption of wildlife, how we combat wildlife crime, and how we manage and finance the protection of wildlife at its source.” Currently, there is no global agreement for combatting wildlife crime. CITES, a 50-year-old global agreement that exists to regulate international trade in wildlife only considers biological risks to a species’ survival and does not take into account the risks to human or animal health. We need to adopt a One Health approach to regulating wildlife trade that considers the biological impacts on human and animal health, says Scanlon. However, CITES member states remain wary of expanding the treaty’s mandate to include human and animal health criteria. Another approach, proposed by the global health community, is to include legally binding commitments in an international pandemics treaty to prevent the spillover of viruses and other pathogens from wild animals to people. Not only does wildlife crime endanger health, but it also comes at a financial cost. The World Bank estimates that illicit wildlife trafficking and the impacts of these crimes on ecosystems cost the global economy a staggering $1-2 trillion a year. Scanlon says that a new international agreement is needed to criminalize wildlife trafficking. “It would apply to any species of wild fauna and flora, including fish and timber species, that is protected under any international or importantly, any national law.” Such an agreement would perform needed functions including, “setting out the conduct that should be criminalized, committing states to make it a criminal offence to import any wildlife it is being acquired in contravention of the national laws at the source country, and on the exchange of critically important information.” An international agreement on wildlife trafficking has been publicly endorsed by the presidents of Costa Rica and Gabon and, if adopted, would be the first time that a crime significantly impacting the environment is embedded into the international criminal law framework, says Scanlon. “If we get it right, the local communities living amongst wildlife and the governments of source countries, as well as our global biodiversity, climate health and security will all be beneficiaries.” “We’re struggling to combat climate change and staring down the loss of a million species. Given the scale of the risk to people and planet, we must ratchet up both our national and global response,” says Scanlon. By promoting changes to the existing international legal framework, we can change how states commit to working with each other to help avoid future pandemics and to end wildlife crime in a manner that delivers multiple local and global benefits.
The Cost of Care: How the COVID-19 Pandemic Has Exacerbated the Baby Bust
The decision to have a child usually requires a feeling of stability and confidence in the future, says Natascha Braumann, Director of Global Government and Public Affairs for Fertility at EMD Serono, on this week’s episode of Friday Podcasts. But with COVID-19, especially in the first months of the pandemic, there was no feeling of stability. “No one knew what was going to happen.”The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated decades of slow population growth in many high-income countries. Many factors have led to the decline in birth rates. One positive factor is the advancement of women in society. “For the past few decades, women have spent more time in education,” says Braumann. “They’ve spent more time climbing the ladder at work, so to speak.” Progress on gender equity and access to modern contraception contribute to this decline. Yet women don’t necessarily want fewer children. Evidence shows that people generally have fewer children than they say is ideal, says Braumann. Financial struggles are part of the equation. In high-income countries, families often must rely on income from both parents to live, particularly in urban areas. Childcare costs also factor into these decisions. When taken in aggregate, shifting roles for women, financial stress, and high costs of care influence individuals’ choice to delay childbearing, which then leads to lower fertility rates, says Braumann. Policies tend to favor government-funded care for the old rather than the young, because voting populations in democracies are increasingly old. To increase birth rates, policymakers must consider factors like the cost of caregiving. If you look at those countries like France, where the gap between the ideal number of children and the actual number of children is fairly low, you see countries that have a very robust and well-funded government system of providing day care, says Braumann.The discussion about a pandemic baby bust fails to acknowledge how intentional delays in childbearing are occurring only in high-income countries, says Braumann, where women have reproductive choices available to them and can delay childbearing in times of uncertainty. In low- and middle-income countries, the COVID-19 pandemic has closed clinics, delayed services, and reduced access to contraception, which has increased rates of unintended pregnancies. “And that is a backsliding of huge progress that’s been made over the last years,” says Braumann, “and a really tragic and distressing side effect of the COVID pandemic and the lockdowns that happened.” The COVID-19 pandemic made clear what many families around the world already knew: having children is expensive and challenging. “Everyone saw the very fragile construct of many modern families come crashing down in a very short amount of time,” says Braumann. People with children will think more critically about having more, and people without children who saw the misery that those families went through, will also think long and hard about having children in the future, she says. That goes double for women who were torn between all the different responsibilities that often fell on their shoulders, says Braumann. “And I think there's no easy solution to that. But it's going to linger over the next years.”