A Global Concern

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As the European Population Forum in Geneva draws to a close, coming
to grips with high fertility rates remains a daunting international challenge,
particularly in the poorest countries of the world where population growth
continues to outstrip resources, place pressure on the environment, and
exacerbate social disintegration.

Despite encouraging recent reports from the United Nations, human growth remains an issue that requires priority attention around the globe if
there is to be realistic hope for achieving sustainable development.
Only three years ago, the United Nations estimated that by
mid-century the planet's human population would have risen from about 6.2 billion to 9.3 billion. More recent figures project the 2050 population to be 400 million less than the previous estimate.
When the numbers are examined more closely, however, we find that the
population of the industrialized countries is estimated to remain constant through 2050 at about 1.2 billion. Virtually all human growth will occur in
the developing world, where the population is expected to increase from the
current 5.1 billion people to 7.7 billion.
Considering that developing countries bear the brunt of the earth's grinding poverty, desperate hunger, disease, illiteracy and unemployment,
the recent downward revision of demographic figures does not warrant celebration. In fact, some developing countries, including Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger, Somalia and Yemen, are likely to quadruple their population by
mid-century.
Over the past 40 to 45 years, the world's population has doubled. But annual population growth has been decreasing since the 1990's, from a high
approaching 90 million to less than 80 million. These declines have spawned a pervasive myth that population growth is no longer a matter of global magnitude - a myth that is spread, unsurprisingly, by the same crowd that 10, 15 and 20 years earlier insisted that population growth was never a problem in the first place: religious extremists and reactionary political ideologues.
The irony of the myth is that this year marks the 10th anniversary of the
International Conference on Population and Development. That meeting, in
Cairo, established important quantitative goals for the next 20 years, including efforts to ensure that every pregnancy is intended; to protect women from unsafe abortion; to promote education for all and to close the
gender gap in education; to combat AIDS, and to bring women into the mainstream of development.
A key concern, however, is that expenditures for implementing family planning and reproductive health programs have fallen well short of the $17
billion that the Cairo meeting estimated would be required by 2000.
Industrialized countries were expected to come up with one-third of that
total, or $5.7 billion, but by 2001 had contributed only $2.5 billion. Developing countries and private sources, expected to spend $11.3 billion on
population activities by 2000, had contributed only $7 billion by 2001.
Global goals for drastically reducing poverty, maternal and child mortality, illiteracy and hunger will be mere wishful thinking unless and until population growth is substantially lowered. For this to happen, the international community must clearly understand that to achieve an improved quality of life for all, now is the time to accelerate population stabilization efforts, rather than retreat from them.

This opinion piece by Population Institute President Werner Fornos was published 14 january 2003 in the International Herald Tribune.

The writer is president of the Population Institute in Washington. He was the 2003 United Nations Population Laureate.

Link to this article: http://www.iht.com/articles/124839.html

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