Population growth is obviously a major concern facing our world. The world population is expected to reach nine billion by 2050, greatly exacerbating the current strain on global resources and the environment. Many people are wearily looking into the future, a future of increased energy demand and consumption with drastic consequences to climate, land use, air and water quality, and biodiversity.
Most of this growth is expected in developing countries. At the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development, 179 countries agreed that “meeting needs for education and health, including reproductive health, is a prerequisite for sustainable development over the longer term.” This recognizes the strong positive correlation between poverty and fertility rate. Fortunately, there’s a strong negative correlation between education level of the mother and the number of children she has. So how do we increase girls’ education and job opportunities for women? How do we increase access to family planning and contraception? How do we do change attitudes and behaviors while being respectful of cultures and traditions? The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) is one international humanitarian effort taking on these questions. UNFPA aims to promote gender equality, increase access to reproductive health services, and reduce maternal mortality during pregnancy and childbirth for the world’s poorest women in the world’s poorest countries.
The NY Times articles “Family Planning and the Path to Progress” and “U.N. Agency on Population Blames U.S. for Cutbacks” highlight US involvement in this issue. In 2002, the US Congress approved a $34 million contribution to UNFPA. However, the Bush administration refused to release this contribution. A spokesman for UNFPA said that this $34 million loss, 13 percent of the agency’s budget, “could mean 2 million unwanted pregnancies, 800,000 induced abortions, 4,700 maternal deaths and 77,000 infant and child deaths.” Shortly after his inauguration, President Obama reversed this decision, pledging to restore that money to UNFPA .
I think Obama’s decision shows that the US, one of the 181 countries that contribute to UNFPA, recognizes that reproductive issues affect the world as a whole. Prevention is much easier and cheaper than treatment, and we should be looking for more ways to tackle the origins of the energy crisis. We can help address a source of population growth through the education and empowerment of women. As Jane Roberts, a proponent of UNFPA, likes to say, “when the world takes care of women, women take care of the world.”