Friday, July 10, 2015

World Population Day

Twenty-six years ago the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) designated July 11th as World Population Day. At the time of the first World Population Day in 1989, world population was 5.2 billion. Today it is 7.3 billion and projected to rise to 9.6 billion by 2050. On World Population Day, the United Nations is fighting a virtually losing battle against growing humanitarian emergencies triggered mostly by military conflicts that are displacing people by the millions – and rendering them either homeless or reducing them to the status of refugees. The number of people requiring critical relief has more than doubled since 2004, to over 100 million today, over and above the 60 million displaced people.

Joseph Chamie, former director of the United Nations Population Division, told IPS “Governments and electorates are increasingly loath to accept large numbers of people who are in great need, ethnically different and may pose threats to social stability.” Chamie said economic uncertainties, record government deficits, high unemployment and concerns about national and cultural identity are contributing to growing anti-immigrant sentiment.

The UN estimates that there are 225 million women in the developing world today who want to avoid a pregnancy, but who are not using a modern method of contraception. About the same number as a decade ago. The U.S. House Appropriations Committee recently vote to slash annual funding for international family planning from $610 million to $461 million, a cut of nearly $150 million. If Congress is concerned about hunger or poverty or "failing states," it makes no sense, whatsoever, to slash support for contraceptive services.

U.S. foreign assistance for family planning prevents an estimated 2.4 million abortions every year, while also saving the lives of 12,000 women. Contraceptives services, both at home and abroad, more than pay for themselves by reducing the demand for other taxpayer-funded health care services. Looking more broadly, family planning services overseas generate enormous collateral benefits. Rapid population growth in developing countries is a challenge multiplier, making it vastly more difficult for governments to make progress in reducing maternal and infant mortality, alleviating hunger, eliminating poverty, managing water scarcity, slowing deforestation, and even preventing conflict.

The House Appropriations Committee has voted to eliminate all funding for Title X, the federal program that has been providing family planning services to low-income households in this country for nearly half a century. Title X has helped tens of millions of women avoid unintended pregnancies, and prevented, as a consequence, millions of abortions, but this nominally "pro-life" Congress really does not care. Congress is also preparing to slash support for sex education programs of proven effectiveness, even though the U.S. teen pregnancy rate remains unacceptably high compared to other industrialized nations.

The House Appropriations Committee has also voted to eliminate funding for the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), an organization that is providing vitally needed maternal and reproductive health care services in some of the most strife-ridden countries in the world, including Syria. Women are often rape targets in war zones. As a consequence, they desperately need access to contraception and maternal health services, but Congress is 'declaring victory' and cutting off all funding for these programs.

Where is the sense in all this? There is none.

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