Population Matters

Yemen, Population and Failing States

December 30th, 2009

The news this week that the 23-year-old Nigerian man accused of attempting to detonate an explosive on an international flight into Detroit may have had ties to an al Qaeda group operating out of Yemen is generating concern about the growing internationalization of terrorism.   Experts worry that al Qaeda is expanding its operations to Yemen, Somalia and other failing states in the region.

The link between failing states and terrorism is well understood. Less understood is the connection between population growth and failing states.

Most failing nations have high population growth rates. Foreign Policy and the Fund for Peace publish an annual ranking of failed states. All of the top ten countries in the 2009 Failed States Index have total fertility rates (the average number of children born by a woman over her lifetime) substantially higher than the global average (2.6). Six of them had TFRs of 5.0 or higher.  The Population Reference Bureau estimates Somalia’s TFR at 6.7, Afghanistan’s at 5.7, and Pakistan’s at 4.0.

Nations with high fertility rates tend to have a large percentage of young people. Demographers call this a “youth bulge.” Security analysts warn that large numbers of unemployed young men in developing countries can destabilize a poor, developing country.  A few years ago, Gen. Michael V. Hayden, who was the Director of the CIA at the time, gave a speech at Kansas State University, in which he focused on this concern:

Today, there are 6.7 billion people sharing the planet. By mid-century—by mid-century, the best estimates point to a world population of more than 9 billion. That’s a 40 to 45 percent increase—striking enough—but most of that growth is almost certain to occur in countries least able to sustain it, and that will create a situation that will likely fuel instability and extremism—not just in those areas, but beyond them as well.

There are many poor, fragile states where governance is actually difficult today, where populations will grow rapidly: Afghanistan, Liberia, Niger, the Democratic Republic of the Congo. That group—the population is expected to triple by mid-century. The number of people in Ethiopia, Nigeria, and Yemen is likely to more than double. Furthermore—just beyond the raw numbers—all those countries will therefore have, as a result of this, a large concentration of young people. If their basic freedoms and basic needs—food, housing, education, employment—are not met, they could be easily attracted to violence, civil unrest, and extremism.

Yemen, which is grabbing the headlines this week, has a TFR of 5.5.  With a current population estimated at about 23 million people, its population could easily exceed 50 million by 2050.  But will Yemen, which is already one of the poorest and most arid countries in the world, be able to sustain itself?

The Arab Human Development Report 2009, released this year by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), gives a grim assessment of the challenges facing Yemen and other states in the Middle East. Independently authored by Arab scholars, the report concludes that human insecurity in the region:

….is heightened by swift climatic changes, which threaten the livelihoods, income and access to food and water of millions of Arabs in future. It is reflected in the economic vulnerability of one-fifth of the people in some Arab states, and more than half in others, whose lives are impoverished and cut short by hunger and want. Human insecurity is palpable and present in the alienation of the region’s rising cohort of unemployed youth and in the predicaments of its subordinated women, and dispossessed refugees.

The government of Yemen, which is currently fighting a major insurgency in the north, faces perhaps the gravest challenge in the region.  Yemen in recent years has suffered from severe drought; water shortages are acute.  A 2005 report on Yemen’s water problem found that:

Groundwater resources are vital for Yemen’s agriculture. For their recharge they depend mainly on spate running water and rainfall. Runoffs and springs in catchment’s areas are the main sources of groundwater recharges. In Yemen, the estimated groundwater is around 1000MCM, which makes the total renewable water resource sum 2.5 MCM, while the total demand is estimated to be 3,400MCM with 900MCM deficit, which is covered from deep aquifers.

Ground water aquifers decline 1-7 meters annually with very rare recharge. This raises the cost of pumping and causes a deterioration of ground water quality including sea (salt) water intrusion in the coastal plain areas. Some basins have become very dry and some cultivation has been uprooted due to the depletion of the ground water which is highest, up to 6m per year, in the north side of the country (Sa’adh basin). The drillings then went deeper up to 800 m depth.

A World Bank report released earlier this year projects that Sanaa, Yemen’s capital, could run out of water within 15 years.  Conservation measures could postpone the day of reckoning, particularly as about 40 percent of available water is consumed by the cultivation of qat, a narcotic stimulant.  But with climate change, a rapidly growing population and high rates of unemployment, Yemen is a humanitarian disaster in the making.  And Yemen’s problem could quickly become a major problem for neighboring Saudi Arabia and the fight against terror.

Yemen, however, is just one of many failing states in the world whose resources are being outstripped by population growth.  In virtually all these states, the status of women is low and the rate of domestic violence is high.  Unless more attention is given to educating girls, elevating the status of women, and giving them the information and ability to prevent unwanted and unintended pregnancies, these states will remain on an unsustainable and dangerous trajectory.

Posted by Robert J. Walker, Executive Vice President

For more information on population and failing states, see our fact sheets page.

Time for the U.S. to Ratify CEDAW

December 18th, 2009

Today is the 30th Anniversary of the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). CEDAW is an international human rights treaty that focuses exclusively on women’s rights and gender equality. The convention sets a global definition for discrimination against women and outlines a plan to end that discrimination. Those states that ratify the convention are required to take, “all appropriate measures, including legislation, to ensure the full development and advancement of women, for the purpose of guaranteeing them the exercise and enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms on a basis of equality with men.”

According to United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) the convention requires:

“Not just overturning discriminatory laws, but also introducing new gender-sensitive laws and policies, changing the attitudes, practices and procedures with Governments, ensuring that private organizations and individual citizens do not discriminate against women, and changing harmful cultural stereotypes. The Convention therefore takes the conditions of women’s actual lives, rather than the wording of laws, as the true measure of whether equality has been achieved.”

By taking that approach, CEDAW has the potential to have a significant impact on the daily lives of women. The convention also singles out access to family planning and decisions on the number and spacing of children as areas that countries are required to pay attention to. Unfortunately, the language requiring access to family planning has led to reluctance in the U.S. Senate to approve CEDAW.

While both President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton have both expressed their support for U.S. ratification of CEDAW, it requires approval by 2/3 of the Senate and has often run into resistance from the anti-abortion movement. This means that while the convention has been reported out of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee with bi-partisan favorable support, it has never been taken up by the full Senate.

The failure of the United States to ratify CEDAW is a glaring blemish on our record of advocacy for human rights around the world and a disservice to the women of the world. The United States is one of only seven countries who have not ratified the convention along with Iran, Sudan, Somalia, Palau, Nauru, and Tonga. Is this the kind of company the United States wants to keep? It is time for the U.S. Senate to think of women around the world and step up to ratify CEDAW.

Afghan Girls Participate in Accelerated Learning Class  Ben Barber/USAID

Afghan Girls Participate in Accelerated Learning Class Ben Barber/USAID

Posted by Jennie Wetter, Program Manager

The Missing “P” Word at Copenhagen

December 16th, 2009

In his “Dot Earth” blog, the New York Times’s Andrew Revkin reports today from Copenhagen on the absence of any mention of population in the draft agreements that are being discussed at the climate conference.  He notes:

If you scan the most recent  drafts of the climate agreement that delegates here are trying to complete, you’ll have a hard time finding the word population. I’m quite sure it’s not there. (Please let me know if you find it.) This is politically unsurprising, given how discussions of population growth inflame those  fearing control measures, those with religious  concerns about contraception and sometimes those  seeing underpopulation where others see a problem.

Later in his post, he describes the simple math of climate change and population:

Overall, it’s clear that in a world heading toward +/- 9 billion people seeking decent lives, both numbers and habits matter enormously. In my  recent chat with Ed Miliband, the lead British climate official here, I mentioned my piece from awhile ago examining how even a  best-case scenario for emissions of carbon dioxide in a world with that many people leads to an enormous buildup of the gas. In that post, I’d picked 10 tons per person per year — Europe’s current emissions level — as the middle ground. Suppose the United States saw emissions drop to 10 and developing countries, with emissions typically 1 to 5 tons a year, rose to that level. You’d have 90 billion tons a year of carbon dioxide produced (emissions are now well over 30 billion tons a year).

With Mr. Miliband, I mused on a world achieving Europe’s planned 2020 target of 6 tons per person per year (which is also where China’s emissions are projected to be around then). At 9 billion people, that’s 54 billion tons a year.

As Revkin and others have made clear, population is far from the only element in the climate change equation–we have to reduce the monstrously over-sized carbon footprint of people living in the U.S. and other developed nations.  But if population is omitted altogether from the climate change equation, it’s going to be very difficult–if not impossible–to balance our climate change aspirations with our desires for a more prosperous and just world.

Educating and empowering women in the world  and helping them avoid unwanted and unintended pregnancies is, whether or not world leaders choose to mention the “P” word in Copenhagen, a good strategy for helping to achieve what seems increasingly impossible:  a climate change agenda that actually works.

Posted by Robert J. Walker, Executive Vice President

Doubling Down on Family Planning and Maternal and Newborn Health

December 10th, 2009

Last week, the Guttmacher Institute and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) released their report (Adding It Up: The Costs and Benefits of Investing in Family Planning and Maternal and Newborn Health) that highlights the need to increase funding for international family planning and maternal and newborn health services.

The report estimates that meeting the needs for family planning and maternal and newborn health services in developing countries would require an investment of $24.6 billion a year, almost twice the $12.8 billion that is currently being spent.

Guttmacher projects, however, that the payoff would be dramatic:

  • “Unintended pregnancies would drop by more than two-thirds, from 75 million in 2008 to 22 million per year.
  • Seventy percent of maternal deaths would be averted—a decline from 550,000 to 160,000.
  • Forty-four percent of newborn deaths would be averted—a decline from 3.5 million to 1.9 million.
  • Unsafe abortions would decline by 73%, from 20 million to 5.5 million (assuming no change in abortion laws), and the number of women needing medical care for complications from unsafe procedures would decline from 8.5 million to two million.
  • The healthy years of life lost due to disability and premature death among women and their newborns would be reduced by 60%.”

Those are just the direct health benefits from investing in family planning and maternal and newborn health. The report also looks at some of the indirect benefits:

  • “The improvements in health systems that would provide lifesaving care to women and their newborns would strengthen heath systems’ responses to other urgent medical needs.
  • Greater use of condoms for contraception would reduce the transmission of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections, thereby helping to curb the AIDS pandemic.
  • Reducing unplanned births and family size would save on public-sector spending for health, water, sanitation and social services and reduce pressure on scarce natural resources, making social and economic development goals easier to achieve.
  • Reducing unintended pregnancies, particularly among adolescents, would improve educational opportunities for women, which would in turn contribute to improving the status of women, increasing family savings, reducing poverty, and spurring economic growth.
  • Environmental benefits also accrue for future generations when couples have smaller families, lowering population growth and related consumption of natural resources.”

Looking at all of the benefits that would come from a doubling of international support for family planning and maternal and newborn health it is hard to understand why this investment is not being made.  Measured by the reduction of disability-adjusted life years (DALYs), investments in family planning and maternal and newborn health services are far more cost-effective than many other health care interventions, including cholera immunization and oral rehydration therapy.

The benefits of expanding family planning services are particularly worth noting.  The study reports that it would cost an additional $3.6 billion to cover the costs of providing family planning services to all women in developing countries who need them.  Doing so, however, would reduce the cost of providing maternal and newborn care to all who need them by $5.1 billion–a net savings of $1.5 billion.

Congress, of course, is still debating how much to spend on international family planning assistance in 2010.  A final vote is expected soon. Let’s hope they read this report before they vote.

Posted by Jennie Wetter, Program Manager

HIV/AIDS: Education, not Discrimination, is the Best Prevention

December 1st, 2009

Today is World AIDS Day.  Observed every year on the first of December, it is an international day to raise awareness about HIV and AIDS around the world. The first World AIDS Day was celebrated twenty-one years ago. The theme of this year’s observance is “human rights and access to treatment.”  Unfortunately, discrimination against people living with HIV is on the rise in many developing countries.  Human Rights Watch reports that:

Since 2005, 14 countries in Africa have passed HIV-specific laws that potentially criminalize all sexual behavior among HIV-positive individuals, including those who use condoms, regardless of disclosure and actual risk of transmission. In a number of countries, maternal-to-child HIV transmission is a criminal offense, even where antiretroviral treatment may not be available. In Uganda, the draft legislation exempts HIV transmission before or during birth but allows for the prosecution of women whose infants acquire HIV from breast milk.

Meanwhile, the number of people living with HIV continues to grow, principally because increased availability of treatment is helping AIDS victims live longer.  In its recent annual AIDS Epidemic Update, the World Health Organization reported that 33.4 million people, including 2.1 million children, were living with HIV in 2008, up slightly from 2007. There is hope, however, as the total number of new infections has dropped 17 percent over the past eight years. The number of children newly infected with HIV in 2008 was roughly 18% lower than in 2001.

Despite the drop in infections, there is no reason for complacency.  AIDS remains a deadly killer and the need for prevention is as important as ever.  On a recent trip to Ethiopia, I had the opportunity to meet with the staff of the Population Media Center in Ethiopia and learn more about how they are using entertainment media to help prevent the spread of AIDS.

For the past several years PMC Ethiopia has been producing radio serial dramas, or soap operas, to educate listeners about issues such as family planning, prevention of HIV/AIDS, and violence against women. Their radio programs reach about half of Ethiopia’s 77 million people and have achieved notable success. Using the Sabido methodology, the script writers develop plot lines with positive, negative, and transitional characters that serve to educate and inform listeners about the value of positive behaviors.  The results are impressive. With respect to HIV/AIDS in Ethiopia, surveys at public health clinics have shown that male listeners sought HIV testing at four times the rate of non-listeners; women sought testing at three times the rate of non-listeners.

Until such times as there are vaccines for the prevention of HIV and cures for AIDS, we need to be investing more resources in programs like these.  Education, along with expanded treatment, continues to be an important tool in the fight against AIDS.  Discrimination and punitive laws, like those being passed in many developing nations today, are not helpful. They are counterproductive.

Posted by Robert J. Walker, Executive Vice President