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DEVELOPMENT: Soaring Population May Swamp Anti-Poverty Goals

Thalif Deen

UNITED NATIONS, Aug 17 2009 (IPS) - The U.N.’s Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), already undermined by the global financial crisis, are expected to take another hit – this time from rising population growth.

Mothers and children at a mobile clinic in Khemisset Province, Morocco. Credit: UN Photo/John Isaac

Mothers and children at a mobile clinic in Khemisset Province, Morocco. Credit: UN Photo/John Isaac

The goal of halving the number of people living in extreme poverty and hunger by 2015 could be jeopardised by soaring population growth, mostly in the developing world.

World population is expected to reach seven billion by 2011, a year earlier than expected, according to the latest figures released by the Population Research Bureau last week.

“The population will hit seven billion in the second half of 2011,” predicts Jose Miguel Guzman, chief of the Population and Development Branch at the U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA).

Since 1975, he said, world population has been increasing by about a billion every 12 years.

“Given that the six billion mark was reached in 1999, the attainment of seven billion seems to be more or less on track,” Guzman told IPS.

Of the growth between 1999 and 2011, he said, 95 percent is in the developing world.

Asked how the rise in population growth will impact on developing nations reaching their MDGs by 2015, Guzman said that many developing, and particularly the least developed countries (LDCs), will face a continuous increase in the demand for services, specifically in education and health.

That means there will be an increasing need for social investment just to catch up with population growth, giving fewer opportunities to increase the quality of services, which is needed to generate the changes requested to attain the MDGs, he added.

The MDGs include a 50 percent reduction in extreme poverty and hunger; universal primary education; promotion of gender equality; reduction of child mortality by two-thirds; cutbacks in maternal mortality by three-quarters; combating the spread of HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases; ensuring environmental sustainability; and developing a North-South global partnership for development.

A summit meeting of 189 world leaders in September 2000 pledged to meet all of these goals by the year 2015.

But their implementation has been jeopardised by several factors, including a decline in development aid, and more recently, the global financial meltdown.

In a report detailing the implementation of the declaration adopted at the 1995 World Summit on Social Development in Copenhagen, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the global financial and economic crises, volatile food and energy prices, and climate change pose threats to advances made in social development in recent years.

While most developed economies are expected to be in deep recession in 2009, a vast majority of developing countries are experiencing a sharp reversal in the robust growth registered from 2002 to 2007.

“This situation threatens to reverse progress towards the internationally-agreed development goals, including the MDGs,” Ban warned in the study released last month.

Tamara Kreinin, executive director of the United Nations Foundation’s (UNF) Women and Population Programme, told IPS, “We can’t be sure about the population growth, but what we do know is that there are 201 million women who would like access to education and services for voluntary family planning and do not have them.”

She said these women tend to live in developing countries. “We also know that universal access to voluntary family planning would help us make huge progress toward reaching the MDG, particularly [goal] number five – which is least likely to be reached,” she explained.

“We at UNF hope that our government and others will step up to the plate and provide full funding for comprehensive high quality services that offer women respectful, culturally sensitive education and services – rather than long lines or closed clinics,” Kreinin added.

Karen Hardee, vice president of Population Action International (PAI), told IPS that rapid population growth can affect the achievement of the MDGs in a number of ways.

She said MDGs 1 and 7 (Eradicating Poverty and Hunger, and Ensuring Environmental Sustainability) could be most affected.

Without increases in agricultural productivity, rapid population growth means more people competing for limited agricultural land. This in turn implies less food per capita and increased food insecurity.

And rapid population growth, she pointed out, often leads to increasing rates of deforestation and increased carbon emissions.

On MDG 2 (Achieving Universal Primary Education), said that with rapid population growth comes a higher number of children at school age.

“If this growth outpaces governments’ abilities to provide schools – which is the case in many developing countries – educational quality diminishes, fewer have access to education and opportunities for employment,” Hardee said.

Additionally, when parents can only afford to send one child to school, priority is overwhelmingly given to boys, she noted.

Since educated girls and their children have better life outcomes, including delayed fertility, lack of access to education can help to perpetuate high population growth rates.

On MDGs 4 and 5 (Reducing Child Mortality and Improving Maternal Health), she said that universal access to reproductive health is a target under MDG5. However, access to reproductive health services in the developing world has been hampered by reduced funding, including by the United States.

Adjusted for inflation, U.S. bilateral funding for family planning and reproductive health programmes is 35 percent less in 2009 than in 1995 despite the increase of 300 million women of reproductive age.

Less funding for reproductive health services means more unintended pregnancies and increased maternal mortality, Hardee declared.

Meanwhile, Dr. Christine Kirunga Tashobya, principal medical officer in the Quality Assurance Department at the Ministry of Health in Kampala, told IPS that Uganda is one of the developing countries with a number of challenges in the area of population and reproductive Health.

She said Uganda has a population of about 30 million, with a gross domestic product (GDP) of about 300 dollars per capita and annual growth rate of six percent. The country’s health outcome indicators are maternal mortality ratio, 435 per 100,000 live births, infant mortality rate, 76 per 1,000 live births, and child mortality rate at 137 per 1,000 live births.

The total fertility rate at 6.7 translates into a population growth rate of 3.2 percent.

Current estimates indicate that 31 percent of the population lives below the poverty line of a dollar a day.

While a number of efforts continue to be made by the government, international partners and non-governmental organizations, the magnitude of the challenge, coupled with the diffused nature of the inequities highlighted, require more efforts by all the stakeholders to ensure that services reach the whole population appropriately, she said.

A major factor that needs more effort is the functionality of the health system.

Currently there are efforts by the government and its partners but they still fall far short of what is required, said Tashobya, who was in New York to participate in a U.N. seminar last month.

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