Sunday, April 5, 2009

Population Growth, Poverty, and Family Planning

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.”


1 comment:

Windy said...

Interesting take on ways to curb energy consumption...less people use less energy.

A recent Time magazine article by Amy Sullivan addressed the growing population of the US, specifically focusing on family planning, etc. being taught in public schools. According to the article, the US has the highest teen birthrate in the developed world (42.5 per 1,000 girls 15 to 19). A growing population that may or may not be energy conscious will not help the US or the world contain energy consumption.

Although birth control methods, educational materials and other forms of information are readily available to most people who seek them out, many people don't seem to be getting the message. Focusing back on energy, it reminds me of attempts (by governments, non-profits, media, private industry, etc.). to inform the public on things like basic energy efficiency techniques and other energy-related matters--the information is there, however many people seem to ignore/not comprehend the bigger picture. I guess the real issue is figuring out how to really connect with people, get the facts out to them, and help them make decisions that result in positive changes.