|Seven Billion of Us and Counting|
As the world population approaches seven billion, still many developing countries are struggling to keep pace with the investments that are required to meet the needs of their growing populace. So what are the prospects for the two billion more people that are expected by 2045? Analysis by IPS News.
26th April 2011
13th April 2011 - Thalif Deen, IPS News
As the international community readies to cope with a rising world population of some seven billion people by the middle of this year, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warns that financial assistance for population-related activities has made no visible gains since 2008.
A strong upward trend - with 10.40 billion dollars in 2008 - stalled in 2009, remaining virtually at the same level, registering 10.39 billion dollars.
The 2008 figure was a historic high because it was the first time that population assistance by Western donors had surpassed 10 billion dollars, according to a U.N. report released here.
The funding levels for 2010 have been estimated slightly higher, at 10.5 billion dollars, with a projected figure of 10.8 billion dollars in 2011.
But neither of the two figures is deemed a significant increase in implementing the global population agenda.
In his 18-page report to the U.N. Commission on Population and Development (CPD), whose weeklong session concludes Friday, the secretary-general blames low funding on the global financial crisis. Given the uncertainty of how long the effects of the crisis will last, he predicts "the final figures for 2010 and 2011 may well be below those estimates."
As a result, the Programme of Action adopted at the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD), held in Cairo, is in jeopardy, the secretary-general cautioned last week.
At the same time, he said, even the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which incorporate the ICPD Programme of Action, may fall short of the targets - specifically in reducing maternal mortality and achieving universal access to reproductive health, including family planning.
According to the United Nations, one of the most urgent needs is to close a 24-billion-dollar gap to finance programmes to meet the needs of some 1.8 billion young people and 1.8 billion women of child-bearing age globally.
Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin, the new executive director of the U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA), told IPS that "investing in the health and rights of women and young people is not an expenditure, it is an investment in our future".
He said far too many people continue to face discrimination, coercion and violence in making decisions about reproduction.
Some 215 million women in developing countries, who want to plan and space their births, do not have access to modern contraception.
Each year, he said, neglect of sexual and reproductive health results in an estimated 80 million unintended pregnancies, 22 million unsafe abortions, and 358,000 deaths from maternal causes, including 47,000 deaths from unsafe abortions.
"In a world of seven billion, and counting, we all have to count on each other," he added.
Besides funding from Western donors, the report says developing countries themselves were able to raise about 29.8 billion dollars in 2009, primarily from domestic sources.
But the 2010 and 2011 figures are expected to follow the same pattern, increasing only to about 31 billion dollars in 2010 and about 34 billion dollars in 2011, according to the report.
The population package in need of funding consists of four components: family planning; reproductive health; preventing sexually transmitted diseases and HIV/AIDS; and basic research, data and population and development policy analysis.
Currently, UNFPA is the leading provider of U.N. assistance for population-related activities, supporting some 155 developing countries in 2009.
Since 1995, funding for family planning services has decreased in absolute dollar terms, when UNFPA began monitoring resource flows.
Although funding for reproductive health and basic research activities has increased, HIV/AIDS activities continue to receive by far the most population assistance, according to the report.
In 2009, about 36 percent of all domestic expenditures for population were on the prevention of the spread of HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).
Geographically, sub-Saharan Africa continues to be the largest recipient of assistance, receiving about 70 percent of all aid going to the five regions: Africa, Asia and the Pacific, Latin America and the Caribbean, Western Asia and North Africa and Eastern and Southern Europe.
13th April 2011 - Babatunde Osotimehin, IPS News
World population will soon reach seven billion, and the decisions taken now will have a major impact on life in the 21st century. Our greatest challenge is meeting the needs of current generations without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own.
I just visited Ethiopia, where I made the case to African finance ministers to invest in health and education, especially for young people. Considering that about 70 percent of Africa's population is below the age of 30, theres an urgent need to make sure that they can claim their right to health, education and decent work. This is the only way they can become the powerful force for economic development and positive change that Africa needs.
The case of Ethiopia is a good example of the challenges the poorest countries are facing. Currently, Ethiopia has roughly the same population as Germany, but by mid-century Ethiopias population is projected to nearly double, while Germanys could drop by one seventh. Ethiopia and other developing countries are hard pressed to keep pace with the investments that are required to meet the needs of their growing populations.
In 2010, the Guttmacher Institute estimated that it would cost $182 million a year to provide modern family planning to every Ethiopian woman who wanted it. Meeting their needs now would result in 1.5 million fewer unintended pregnancies, 340,000 fewer abortions, 75,000 fewer infant deaths and an almost one-third drop in maternal deaths each year.
Yet, despite the many benefits of family planning, globally, 215 million women who would like to avoid or delay their next pregnancy lack access to modern contraception. Every day, 1,000 women in the developing world die from complications of pregnancy and childbirth and their deaths leave a gaping hole in families, diminishing the prospects of surviving children. No woman should die giving life.
When parents become convinced that their children will thrive, they tend to have smaller families. Lower birth rates do not, by themselves, guarantee greater prosperity, but they do make economic gains more attainable. East Asia reaped this demographic bonus during the 1960s, 70s and 80s, and poverty rates dropped dramatically.
A paramount challenge of this century is to ensure the well-being and dignity of seven billion human beings and the two billion more that are expected by 2045 while protecting the intricate balance of nature on which all life depends.
Human activity is affecting every part of the planet, including its climate, and people in developing nations with limited resources are likely to suffer the worst consequences from drought, floods, heat waves and other climate-related disasters. Rising populations, coupled with environmental stress, are testing the limits of food and water security.
Tapping into the leadership of women and young people is our best hope for meeting the worlds most pressing challenges.
Today, young people make up almost half of the worlds population, and 60 percent of the population in least developed countries. They are already having a transformative impact on politics and culture and are leading the way on HIV prevention.
Investing in young people, and especially adolescent girls, is simply the smartest investment a country can make. It starts with each adolescent girl. Educated, healthy and skilled, she will be an active citizen in her community. She will become a mother when she is ready and be able to invest even more in her future childrens health and education. She will be able to contribute fully to her society and break the cycle of poverty.
In many ways, a world of seven billion people is a remarkable achievement. Globally, people are living longer, healthier and wealthier lives. Life expectancy worldwide has increased by 17 years since the early 1960s and the proportion of people living in extreme poverty in developing regions has dropped dramatically.
But the global trends mask wide disparities. High fertility, mortality and deprivation persist in the poorest countries, which struggle to keep pace with the needs of their growing populations.
Now is the time to invest in human capital to bridge these gaps and ensure that every woman, man and child can enjoy a life of health and equal opportunity. In a world of seven billion people, and counting, we all have to count on each other.
Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin is the Executive Director of UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, and an Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations.
12th April 2011 - Lester R. Brown, IPS News
When it comes to population growth, the United Nations has three primary projections. The medium projection, the one most commonly used, has world population reaching 9.2 billion by 2050. The high one reaches 10.5 billion. The low projection, which assumes that the world will quickly move below replacement-level fertility, has population peaking at eight billion in 2042 and then declining.
If the goal is to eradicate poverty, hunger, and illiteracy, then we have little choice but to strive for the lower projection.
Slowing world population growth means ensuring that all women who want to plan their families have access to family planning information and services. Unfortunately, this is currently not the case for 215 million women, 59 percent of whom live in sub-Saharan Africa and the Indian subcontinent.
These women and their families represent roughly one billion of the earth's poorest residents, for whom unintended pregnancies and unwanted births are an enormous burden.
Former U.S. Agency for International Development (AID) official J. Joseph Speidel notes that "if you ask anthropologists who live and work with poor people at the village level...they often say that women live in fear of their next pregnancy. They just do not want to get pregnant."
The United Nations Population Fund and the Guttmacher Institute estimate that meeting the needs of these 215 million women who lack reproductive health care and effective contraception could each year prevent 53 million unwanted pregnancies, 24 million induced abortions, and 1.6 million infant deaths.
Along with the provision of additional condoms needed to prevent HIV and other sexually transmitted infections, a universal family planning and reproductive health programme would cost an additional 21 billion dollars in funding from industrial and developing countries.
Shifting to smaller families brings generous economic dividends. In Bangladesh, for example, analysts concluded that 62 dollars spent by the government to prevent an unwanted birth saved 615 dollars in expenditures on other social services. For donor countries, ensuring that men and women everywhere have access to the services they need would yield strong social returns in improved education and health care.
Slowing population growth brings with it what economists call the demographic bonus. When countries move quickly to smaller families, growth in the number of young dependents - those who need nurturing and educating - declines relative to the number of working adults.
At the individual level, removing the financial burden of large families allows more people to escape from poverty. At the national level, the demographic bonus causes savings and investment to climb, productivity to surge, and economic growth to accelerate.
Japan, which cut its population growth in half between 1951 and 1958, was one of the first countries to benefit from the demographic bonus. South Korea and Taiwan followed, and more recently China, Thailand, and Viet Nam have been helped by earlier sharp reductions in birth rates.
Although this effect lasts for only a few decades, it is usually enough to launch a country into the modern era. Indeed, except for a few oil-rich countries, no developing country has successfully modernized without slowing population growth.
Though many developing countries in Asia, Africa, and Latin America were successful in quickly reducing their fertility within a generation or so after public health and medical gains lowered their mortality rates, many others did not follow this path and have been caught in the demographic trap - including Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, and Yemen.
(Large families are a greater financial burden on both parents and governments, and more impoverished people and societies tend to produce larger families. Thus they become "trapped" in a cycle of poverty and high fertility.)
Countries that do not succeed in reducing fertility early on face the compounding of three percent growth per year or 20- fold per century. Such rapid population growth can easily strain limited land and water resources. With large "youth bulges" outrunning job creation, the growing number of unemployed young men increases the risk of conflict. This also raises the odds of becoming a failing state.
Put simply, the costs to society of not filling the family planning gap may be greater than we can afford.
The good news is that governments can help couples reduce family size very quickly when they commit to doing so. My colleague Janet Larsen writes that in just one decade Iran dropped its near-record population growth rate to one of the lowest in the developing world.
When Ayatollah Khomeini assumed leadership in Iran in 1979 and launched the Islamic revolution, he immediately dismantled the well-established family planning programmes and instead advocated large families. At war with Iraq between 1980 and 1988, Khomeini wanted to increase the ranks of soldiers for Islam. His goal was an army of 20 million.
Fertility levels climbed in response to his pleas, pushing Iran's annual population growth to a peak of 4.2 percent in the early 1980s, a level approaching the biological maximum. As this enormous growth began to burden the economy and the environment, the country's leaders realised that overcrowding, environmental degradation, and unemployment were undermining Iran's future.
In 1989 the government did an about-face and restored its family planning programme. In May 1993, a national family planning law was passed. The resources of several government ministries, including education, culture, and health, were mobilised to encourage smaller families.
Iran Broadcasting was given responsibility for raising awareness of population issues and of the availability of family planning services. Television was used to disseminate information on family planning throughout the country, taking advantage of the 70 percent of rural households with TV sets. Religious leaders were directly involved in what amounted to a crusade for smaller families.
Some 15,000 "health houses" or clinics were established to provide rural populations with health and family planning services. Iran introduced a full panoply of contraceptive measures, including the option of vasectomy - a first among Muslim countries. All forms of birth control, including the pill and sterilisation, were free of charge. Iran even became the only country to require couples to take a course on modern contraception before receiving a marriage license.
In addition to the direct health care interventions, Iran also launched a broad-based effort to raise female literacy, boosting it from 25 percent in 1970 to more than 70 percent in 2000. Female school enrollment increased from 60 to 90 percent. Women and girls with more schooling are likely to have fewer children, making their education a smart investment.
As a result of this initiative, family size in Iran dropped from seven children to fewer than three. From 1987 to 1994, Iran cut its population growth rate by half, an impressive achievement.
The bad news is that in July 2010 Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad declared the country's family planning programme ungodly and announced a new pronatalist policy. The government would pay couples to have children, depositing money in each child's bank account until age 18. The effect of this new programme on Iran's population growth remains to be seen.
Nevertheless, Iran's history shows how a full-scale mobilisation of society that incorporates public outreach, access to family planning resources, and gender equality in education can accelerate the shift to smaller families.
Lester R. Brown is founder and president of the Earth Policy Institute. This article is adapted from Chapter 11, "Eradicating Poverty, Stabilizing Population, and Rescuing Failing States" in Lester R. Brown, World on the Edge: How to Prevent Environmental and Economic Collapse (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2011), available online at www.earth- policy.org/books/wote.
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