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POPULATION: UN Predicts 12 Billion if Family Planning Falters

Thalif Deen

UNITED NATIONS, Jul 11 2008 (IPS) - The United Nations commemorated World Population Day Friday in the shadow of a staggering array of grim statistics: an estimated 200 million women worldwide want to delay or avoid pregnancy but are not using safe and effective family planning.

The world’s current population of 6.4 billion people is expected to rise to over 7.0 billion by 2012 – and could reach 12 billion by 2050, if contraceptive use does not increase.

The U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA) points out that 190 million women become pregnant every year, and nearly 50 million resort to abortion. Meanwhile, unsafe abortions kill an estimated 68,000 women every year, and millions more suffer from long-term disability.

As the United Nations focused on family planning this year, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warned Friday: “The rate of death for women as they give birth remains the starkest indicator of the disparity between rich and poor, both within and among countries.”

He said the benefits of family planning remain out of reach for many, especially for those who often have the hardest time getting the information and services they need to plan their families.

Demand will only increase, he said, as more than one billion people ages 15-24 enter their reproductive years.

UNFPA Executive Director Thoraya Ahmed Obaid says that maternal deaths and disability could be reduced dramatically if every woman had access to health services throughout her life, especially during pregnancy and childbirth.

“Today millions of women lack access to health services, which puts their lives at risk,” she pointed out.

“Urgent action is needed because the goal to improve maternal health is generating the least resources and lagging the furthest behind,” Obaid told IPS.

The lack of resources to prevent maternal mortality comes at a time when the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush has consistently withheld funds for UNFPA – most recently last week – primarily for domestic political reasons.

Asked how funding cuts will impact on family planning and reproductive health in developing nations, Tamara Kreinin, executive director of Women and Population at the United Nations Foundation, said: “The impact of the U.S. withholding funding from UNFPA for the past seven years has had serious implications for women and girls around the world.”

She said the 34 million dollars that the United States has withheld each year is close to 10 percent of UNFPA’s regular income.

“This income could have helped UNFPA prevent 2 million unintended pregnancies, 800,000 abortions, 4,700 mothers’ deaths, and more than 77,000 infant and child deaths,” Kreinin told IPS.

The money could have also helped meet the current shortfall in family planning funding, which stands at 550 million dollars, less than half of today’s needed amount.

She also pointed out that approximately 181 industrialised and developing countries, including all the countries in sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America, contribute to UNFPA to express their solidarity.

“By once again not funding the leading voice for women needing reproductive health care and family planning, the U.S. is significantly crippling efforts to improve women’s lives across the globe.”

The decision sends the message that the United States – the most powerful nation on earth – is abdicating its crucial global leadership role when it comes to the well-being of women and girls.

“That’s a stance that we cannot afford to take,” Kreinin added.

The top 10 donors for UNFPA in 2007 were: the Netherlands, Sweden, Norway, Britain, Japan, Denmark, Germany, Finland, Spain and Canada.

Since 2002, the Bush administration has withheld a total of 235 million dollars from UNFPA, including 40 million dollars which was held back last week, and that had already been allocated by the U.S. Congress.

And the administration has consistently cited UNFPA’s programme in China, falsely accusing the agency of providing “financial and technical resources” for coercive abortions and sterilisations in that country. The UNFPA has denied the charges.

Asked about funding under a future U.S. administration, Anika Rahman, president of Americans for UNFPA, says: “We are already well on our way to ensuring that our next president is knowledgeable about the importance of global women’s health.”

“Together, with the many supporters at Americans for UNFPA, we stand a good chance of ending the stunning disregard our government has shown the world’s women. Americans for UNFPA is poised to rally our supporters and urge the next administration to not only fund UNFPA, but also begin to make up for the 235 million dollars withheld since 2002,” Rahman added.

“We are hopeful that moving forward, both the Republican and Democratic parties will take leadership on these issues.”

She also said that efforts are already underway to ensure that the 2009 State Foreign Operations Appropriations in the U.S. budget includes restored support for UNFPA.

Asked whether universal access to reproductive health could be reached by the U.N.’s targeted date of 2015, Kreinin of the United Nations Foundation told IPS that the United Nations established the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) as an internationally agreed upon framework to reduce poverty and improve the well-being of the world’s population by 2015.

While progress has been made to cut extreme poverty in half, advancement has stalled on MDG5, which aims to improve maternal health, including reproductive health.

Better maternal health and universal access to reproductive health by 2015 is unlikely because of the decreasing level of funding for family planning and reproductive health care and the increasing demand for these services, she added.

Kreinin said that demand for contraceptives is expected to grow by 40 percent during the next 15 years.

“To make MDG5 a reality, the U.N. Foundation calls on all nations, including the U.S., to make investing in the health of our mothers, wives, daughters and sisters a global priority,” she added.

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