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DEVELOPMENT: U.N. Triples Allotment for Population

Thalif Deen

UNITED NATIONS, Apr 8 2009 (IPS) - The 1994 landmark International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD), held in the Egyptian capital of Cairo, fixed a target of 20.5 billion dollars for investments in population programmes worldwide for the year 2010.

But, in a significantly major revision last week, the U.N. Commission on Population and Development (CPD) recommended that the ICPD figure be scaled up: to a hefty 64.7 billion dollars.

The revision was made against the backdrop of a falling U.S. dollar, skyrocketing health care costs and a spreading global financial crisis.

One-third of the proposed figure, about 21.6 billion dollars, is expected to come from international donors, while the remaining two-thirds will be from domestic investments by developing nations themselves.

This is the first time in 15 years that the Cairo Programme of Action – one of the most comprehensive in the area of population and family planning – has been reviewed and revised.

“The new estimates more accurately reflect current needs and are more in line with the investments required to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) [with their 2015 deadline],” says Thoraya Ahmed Obaid, executive director of the U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA), who welcomed the revised figure.

The cost estimates cover sexual/reproductive health, family planning, maternal health, and basic research and policy analysis.

According to the revised estimates, global financial needs and proposed investments will increase from 48.9 billion in 2009 to 64.7 billion dollars in 2010 – the year most countries will prepare for nation-wide census.

The projected estimates will continue to rise over the years – reaching 69.8 billion dollars in 2015, the deadline for MDGs.

Asked whether this money will be available in the context of the current financial crisis, Stan Bernstein, UNFPA’s Senior Policy Adviser told IPS: “We are encouraged that the U.N. Member States have welcomed the revised cost estimates.”

It is clear that the original ICPD estimates – based on experiences as of 1993 – are not meeting current needs and costs.

“Because countries have recognised the urgent need for resources for ICPD, we are hopeful that donors and developing countries will mobilise adequate funds to meet today’s needs,” Bernstein said.

He also pointed out that a number of countries have already expressed their willingness to increase funding in this area, and an increasing number of them are starting to commit their domestic resources as well.

Katherine C. Hall, deputy director of the U.N. Foundation’s Women and Population Programme, however, was cautious in her expectations. Even on previous occasions, she said, more modest donor targets for ICPD have not been met.

“Thus, it is extremely difficult to be certain that the new targets will be met in the current climate. But our hope is that the careful job done in revising these estimates will be a wake-up call to the donor community that much greater investment in the ICPD goals – particularly family planning and maternal health – is needed,” Hall told IPS.

She said the U.S. government’s inadequate investment in this category of ICPD investment over the past decade needs to be increased most urgently. “This is the time for the U.S. to reassert its leadership,” she added.

Asked about the possible economic and social consequences if these investment targets are not met, UNFPA’s Bernstein said: “If the amount is not reached, progress on the most lagging MDG – improving maternal health – will continue to be insufficient and damaging.”

As countries have said, reducing maternal death and providing universal access to reproductive health are central to development. Without these investments, there will continue to be unacceptably high levels of preventable maternal, infant and child mortality, Bernstein said.

Young women will face health and life risks from early childbirth, he explained. Women will face more difficult tradeoffs between their productive and reproductive lives, and their fuller social empowerment will be hampered.

In addition, Bernstein warned, it would be harder for poor families to escape the poverty trap – they would be less able to translate their desires to limit or space their children in an effective family planning practice.

Without the needed resources, unnecessary suffering will continue, especially among the poor, he added.

Hall told IPS that “women and their children pay with their health and their lives.” More than 200 million women lack access to reproductive health care services, including family planning.

“Quite simply, eradicating extreme poverty and achieving the Millennium Development Goals are not possible if investment in the ICPD agenda does not increase.” As costs continue to increase and the largest youth generation in history reaches reproductive age, she argued, this unmet need for family planning will not disappear, but will, in fact, further increase.

“The new estimates need to be taken seriously to begin to close the needed gap,” she declared.

Meanwhile, in a study released to coincide with the weeklong session of the CPD last week, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warned that the financial targets set by the ICPD do not meet the current needs that have grown dramatically over the last decade.

The target of 20.5 billion dollars for 2010 was described as “simply not sufficient to meet the current needs of developing countries in the area of family planning, reproductive health, STD/HIV/AIDS and basic research, data and population and development policy analysis.”

The HIV/AIDS crisis is far worse than anticipated, while infant, child and maternal mortality remain unacceptably high in many parts of the world. Additionally, said the study, the value of the U.S. dollar today is far lower than it was at the time of the ICPD in 1994.

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