Population Matters

What’s Being Said About 7 Billion

October 31st, 2011

Welcome to a world of 7 billion! World population reached its last milestone – 6 billion – in October 1999, so we have added 1 billion more people in 12 years. There will be a lot of stories about 7 billion in the next couple of days trying to answer some key questions: What does 7 billion really mean for people and the planet? What does it mean to add 1 billion people to the planet in 12 years? How large will our population grow? How many people can the planet sustain? What can I do?

Here are some highlights of what is being said about world population reaching 7 billion:

Ban Ki-Moon, Secretary General, United Nations

“Some say our planet is too crowded.  I say we are seven billion strong. In our increasingly interconnected world, we all have something to give and something to gain by working together.  Let us unite, seven billion strong, in the name of the global common good.”

United Nations Population Fund

“With planning and the right investments in people now … our world of 7 billion can have thriving, sustainable cities, productive labor forces that can fuel economic growth, youth populations that contribute to the well-being of economies and societies, and a generation of older people who are healthy and actively engaged in the social and economic affairs of their communities.”

Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin, Executive Director, United Nations Population Fund

“When a young woman goes through at least secondary education, her children survive better, physically they mature, emotionally they mature, and because they have education, they are able to make choices. It is not just their ability to make the choice about family planning. It’s also that they have power of their own, which enables them to live a life of dignity and respect.”

Ted Turner, Founder and Chairman of the United Nations Foundation

“The world’s population has more than tripled since I was born in 1938. On Monday, our world’s population is expected to hit the milestone of 7 billion people — up from 2.5 billion in 1950 — with almost all of the growth expected to happen in the cities of less developed countries. This means that the problems the world faced when I was a child are even more urgent now for my grandchildren.

“One of the best ways to ensure that the 7 billionth child born will live in a safe, healthy and sustainable world is to focus on what women want and need. Researchers at the Guttmacher Institute found there are 215 million women worldwide who want the ability to time and space their pregnancies, but do not have access to effective methods of contraception. Women want to be able to deliver children safely and provide for them.

“Universal access to voluntary family planning is a cross-cutting and cost-effective solution to achieving all of the Millennium Development Goals. In addition to reducing maternal mortality, providing voluntary family planning methods and education enables young women to avoid early pregnancy, allows more girls to attend school longer, makes it possible for women to have fewer, healthier children and helps break the inter-generational cycle of poverty. Additionally, it would reduce HIV transmission, empower women to pursue income-generating activities in their communities, and promote environmental sustainability.”

Jeffrey Sachs, Director, Earth Institute at Columbia University

“So the arrival of the 7 billionth person is cause for profound global concern. It carries a challenge: What will it take to maintain a planet in which each person has a chance for a full, productive and prosperous life, and in which the planet’s resources are sustained for future generations? How, in short, can we enjoy ‘sustainable development’ on a very crowded planet?

“The answer has two parts, and each portends a difficult journey over several decades. The first part requires a change of technologies — in farming, energy, industry, transport and building — so that each of us on average is putting less environmental stress on the planet. We will have to make a worldwide transition, for example, from today’s fossil-fuel era, dependent on coal, oil and gas, to an era powered by low-carbon energies such as the sun and wind. That will require an unprecedented degree of global cooperation.

“The second key to sustainable development is the stabilization of the global population. This is already occurring in high-income and even some middle-income countries, as families choose to have one or two children on average. The reduction of fertility rates should be encouraged in the poorer countries as well. Rapid and wholly voluntary reductions of fertility have been and can be achieved in poor countries. Success at reducing high fertility rates depends on keeping girls in school, ensuring that children survive, and providing access to modern family planning and contraceptives.”

Robert Engelman, Executive Director, Worldwatch Institute

“It is precisely because the human population is so large and is growing so fast that we must care how much we as individuals–and nations–are increasingly out of sync with environmental sustainability. The challenge becomes even more with each generation. Fortunately there are ways to practically and humanely both slow population growth and reduce the impacts associated with the growth that occurs.

“Addressing global population growth is not the same thing as ‘controlling population’.  The most direct and immediate way to lower birth rates is to make sure that as high a proportion as possible of pregnancies are intended, by assuring that women can make their own choices about whether and when to bear a child. Simultaneously, we need to rapidly transform our energy, water, and materials consumption through greater use of conservation, efficiency, and green technologies. We shouldn’t think of these as sequential efforts – dealing with consumption first, then waiting for population dynamics to turn around – but rather as simultaneous tasks on multiple fronts.”

 Posted by Jennie Wetter, Program Manager


7 Billion: the Comic

October 26th, 2011

On October 31st, Halloween, the world’s population will reach 7 billion people. In the coming week there will be an onslaught of stories in the news around the world that will range from “the end is nigh” to “here’s to 7 billion more” and everything in between. With so many stories to read saying so many different things it may be hard to get a clear grasp on what 7 billion really means and why you should care.

Luckily Grist, the popular on-line environmental magazine, has found a fun and informative way to break down what 7 billion really means without being overly simplistic. “7 Billion, Unpacked—A Comic”  does a masterful job of laying out why the 7 billion milestone is important and what needs to be done. By focusing on both the population growth expected in the developing world and the much larger impact of population growth in the developed world, the Grist comic talks about population and consumption in a balanced and insightful way.

While recognizing the challenge posed by population growth, it focuses primarily on the successes of the past and the benefits of continuing to expand family planning options for women.  It notes that fertility rates fell from 5 children per woman in 1950 to 2.5 per woman today because of the smart investments that were made in girls’ education, family planning, reproductive health care, and the economic empowerment of women.

The comic notes that birth rates will continue to fall if we make the right investments. First, we must make sure that the 215 million women in the developing world who don’t want to get pregnant—and who are not using a modern method of birth control—get the family planning services and information they need.  Second we must work to reduce unintended pregnancies in the U.S., where nearly half of all pregnancies are unintended.  The comic says we can so by reducing the price of prescription birth control and providing comprehensive sex education, rather than abstinence-only instruction. If we make these investments we will produce smaller and healthier families…and help to save the planet at the same time.

Best of all, the comic tells the reader what he or she can do:

  1. Push your leaders to support family planning and abroad. (You can start by signing our Million for a Billion petition to tell Congress and world leaders to boost support for international family planning.)
  2. Be conscientious in deciding how many kids to have—no decision you’ll ever make has larger environmental implications.
  3. Don’t pressure other people to have kids. Give everyone the space to decide what is right for them.
  4. Push for better sex education in schools, and be frank with teens about sex and birth control.
  5. Don’t be afraid to talk about population. It’s time to bust through that taboo. (One place to do that is Population 7 Billion, It’s Time to Talk.)

So check out the great comic and then take action!

Posted by Jennie Wetter, Program Manager

A Bleak World Food Day

October 18th, 2011

October 16 was World Food Day, and with the famine spreading in the Horn of Africa, it was a bleak one.

This year, even setting aside that crisis for a moment, there is nothing to celebrate on World Food Day. With food prices just below record highs it is estimated that there are near 1 billion people around the world who are hungry. This means that tonight 1 in 7 people will be going to bed hungry.

The faces of the hunger crisis tend to be women and children. While women make up just over 50 percent of the world’s population they represent over 60 percent of the world’s hungry.  Nearly 150 million children in the developing world are underweight as a result of chronic hunger. According to UNICEF, 5 million children under the age of 5 die each year from under-nutrition.

High food prices are also impoverishing; the World Bank reports that rising food costs over the past year have pushed nearly 70 million people into extreme poverty.

The FAO is circulating an online petition on global hunger calling on people to get angry at the fact that around a billion people suffer from hunger.   Over 3 million people have signed the petition, but that public anger has yet to translate into public action on the kind of scale that’s needed to eradicate world hunger. Far too little is being done.

Unfortunately, the World Food Day the story is even bleaker than normal because of the famine in the Horn of Africa. The Horn of Africa is experiencing its worst drought in 60 years affecting more than 13.3 million people in Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, and Somalia and killing tens of thousands. Djibouti, Ethiopia, and Kenya are expected to recover once the rainy season comes this fall into December, but the situation in Somalia is bleak. The UN is warning that 750,000 people could die in the coming months. Currently a child dies in Somalia every 6 minutes.

Somalia is not only suffering from the worst drought in 60 years, but it is also dealing with decades of war and tribal conflict. According to USAID:

“Twenty ungoverned years have left the Somali people facing a daily reality of insecurity and conflict. This historic drought has pushed them beyond their capacity to cope, as degradation of agricultural and pastoral livelihoods, high food prices, violence, and control of resources by armed groups prevent millions from obtaining sufficient food and clean water. Even before the drought, over half a million Somalis had been living in refugee camps in the Horn, including in Kenya, where the world’s largest refugee camp has been expanding over the past 20 years.”

This intersection of drought and war has created a massive famine. The One Campaign has a great new video called “The F Word: Famine is the Real Obscenity” that makes this point that drought is an act of nature, but famine is man-made and it is time to put an end to famine. Sign the One Campaign’s petition to make sure the United States does it’s part to end famine by fully funding Feed the Future.

To keep up with projected population growth, the developing world will need to double its food production by 2050, and it will have to do so despite rising energy prices, climate change, and a growing shortage of arable land making it that much harder to fight famine. With this in mind let’s hope that we have more to celebrate on the next World Food Day.

Posted by Jennie Wetter, Program Manager

The Next Round in the War on Women

October 6th, 2011

The war on women marches on with assaults on both domestic and international fronts. The attacks this year on women’s health have been relentless, but in the last two weeks there has been a sharp escalation in the assaults.

Last week the House leadership released a proposed Fiscal Year 2012 appropriations bill for Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education that would:

  • Eliminate funding for the Title X Family Planning Program. Title X provides funding for birth control and other preventative health services, including breast and cervical cancer screening, annual exams, and testing and treatment for sexually transmitted diseases. Eliminating Title X services would not just hurt the more than five million low income people who depend on them, it would also cost taxpayers more in the long run.  Research by the Guttmacher Institute indicates that every dollar invested in family planning services saves taxpayers almost $4 in Medicaid costs.
  • Cut the Teen Pregnancy Prevention Initiative from $104.79 million to $40 million. Not only does it cut the funding by $64.79 million, it also requires that $20 million of the total $40 million be spent on abstinence only education, which has proved ineffective. This makes no sense whatsoever when the United States has the highest teen pregnancy rate in the industrialized world.
  • Prevent the implementation of Affordable Care Act, the health care reform law passed by Congress last year.  In doing so, it would eliminate the requirement, scheduled to go into effect next year, that most health care insurers provide family planning and other preventative care benefits without a co-pay requirement.  The “no co-pay” requirement, which was originally proposed by the Institute of Medicine , would include coverage of longer acting birth control methods, such as  implants or IUDs.
  • Defund Planned Parenthood clinics  unless it met a set of new requirements.. According to a statement released by Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), the bill would prohibit:

“…any funding under the bill from going to any Planned Parenthood affiliate unless the organization promises not to perform abortions with non-federal funds. Remarkably, these particular health care providers—and the patients they serve—would be denied federal funding for any purpose unless they agree to stop providing a lawful medical service using funds from patients and other non-federal sources. The main effect would probably be to prohibit Medicaid patients from choosing to receive services such as contraception and cancer screenings from Planned Parenthood clinics.”

During the recent House deliberations, Planned Parenthood has come under strong political assault.  Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-FL, who serves on the House Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, demanded an audit of Planned Parenthood asking for records back to 1998, requiring the records be produced in two weeks. This politically motivated audit is a waste of taxpayer’s money; it’s just an attempt to harass and intimidate Planned Parenthood, which is regularly audited by the HHS Inspector General and state Medicaid programs.

The war on women also has an international component: in late July the House State-Foreign Operations Appropriations Subcommittee approved a 25% cut in international family planning assistance for FY2012. Along with the cut in funding, the Subcommittee also voted for two policy-related restrictions: a ban on any support for the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), and reinstatement of the global “gag rule” that President Obama repealed by executive order during his first month in office.

In late September the Senate Appropriations Committee fired back with their response and approved a State Department and Foreign Operations Appropriations bill for fiscal year 2012 that would provide $700 million for international family planning assistance, including $40 million for the United Nations Population Fund.  The Senate action would boost funding by $85 million over this year’s appropriation level ($615 million).  The Committee rejected the House’s position on the gag rule, and voted to make President Obama’s repeal of the gag rule permanent.

It’s too early to say how much success the House will have in its campaign to slash funding for international family planning, but if the House Subcommittee’s version prevails, the Guttmacher Institute warns that a 25 percent cut in funding would result in:

  • 9.4 million fewer women and couples receiving contraceptive services
  • Almost 3 million more unintended pregnancies
  • 1.3 million more abortions (mostly unsafe)
  • 1.3 million more unplanned births
  • 7,700 more maternal deaths

Meanwhile, the House Foreign Affairs Committee yesterday voted 23-17 on a straight party line vote to defund the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).   UNFPA’s mission is to “support countries in using population data for policies and programmes to reduce poverty and to ensure that every pregnancy is wanted, every birth is safe, every young person is free of HIV, and every girl and woman is treated with dignity and respect.”  The defunding of UNFPA would have a devastating impact on the lives of women around the world. According to UNFPA,  a $50 million U.S. appropriation would  prevent 7,000 maternal and newborn deaths, provide surgeries to 10,000 women afflicted by an obstetric fistula, and offer contraception to about 1 million couples who otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford it.

It’s time to halt the assault on women’s health, before it starts costing lives.

Posted by Jennie Wetter, Program Manager