The Planetary Health Alliance
The post-colonial landscape of sub-Saharan Africa is littered with environmental issues both large and small. In some cases, widespread contamination is a serious impediment to development, largely because (1) it is poorly characterized in extent and severity, (2) scant information is shared with affected communities and/or messaging and community-based research is not well developed, and (3) the approaches and costs for traditional environmental mitigation are too large to be feasibly implemented or sustained. In addition, the victims of much of the environmental contamination live in low-income, often unplanned communities with populations that have been traditionally overlooked and under-represented in governmental decision making.
We are developing and implementing community-based participatory research models in sub-Saharan Africa that fully utilize citizen science in defining, characterizing, and ultimately addressing environmental exposure issues that negatively affect the sustainable development of communities. The foundation for this project is previous and current efforts to develop community-engaged approaches to wide-spread lead (Pb) contamination and exposure issues around Kabwe, Zambia, considered among the top 10 most polluted cities in the world (Time 2007). In this case, poor mining and environmental practices have left entire communities so contaminated with Pb that children are almost universally Pb-poisoned, as are many of the adults. Kabwe is an appropriate initial target for this work because although the general pattern of Pb contamination of soils is known, little work has been done on exposure via air, food, and water. Furthermore, the affected communities have not been engaged in defining the problem or the mitigation options, thus severely limiting the impact and sustainability of mitigation efforts.
Global efforts to reduce deforestation and conserve biodiversity require accurate information about their effectiveness. We investigated whether a Protected Area (PA), a command and control approach, and Payments for Environmental Services (PES), an incentive based mechanism, are complementary actions to reduce forest and habitat loss. Even in an area of weak governance and low conservation commitment, the PA prevented large-scale development and population growth and PES motivated local communities living within and around the PA to reduce logging and to adopt conservation and health promoting behaviors. We conclude that an incentive based mechanism is a complementary action that underlies the effectiveness of a command and control approach.