UNFPAState of World Population 2002
Back to Main Menu
State of World Population
Characterizing Poverty
Macro-economics, Poverty, Population and Development
Women and Gender Inequality
Health and Poverty
HIV/AIDS and Poverty
Poverty and Education
Population, Poverty and Global Development Goals: the Way Ahead
Sources for Boxes
Graphs and Tables


Population, Development and the Millennium Development Goals
Other Key Issues
How to Meet Poverty Eradication Goals

Population, Development and the Millennium Development Goals

The international community has committed itself to an ambitious goal: cutting in half the number of people living in absolute poverty by 2015. To meet the eight MDGs (see box below), world leaders have adopted a series of specific and detailed targets for life expectancy (a way of measuring health), education, housing, gender equality, openness of trade, and environmental protection.

The new goals recognize that poverty concerns dignity, opportunity and choice as well as income. Escaping poverty is not a purely individual act. It depends on the support of institutions- the family, the state, civil society, the private sector, the local community and cultural organizations-the political, economic and social environment they create, and the support and opportunities they provide.

The most ambitious effort in human history towards human well-being should be an inspiration, but inspiration must be underpinned by some practical understandings.

The first condition for success is respect for national sovereignty: each country will decide its own needs. National culture and history, and decades of experience with international cooperation, will inform and shape action.

Second, the Millennium Development Goals reinforce each other; all are priorities and should be worked on together. They are a selection from the recommendations of the international conferences of the 1990s, whose analyses and action plans remain effective.

Third, action towards the specific goals does not exclude and may require action in other areas. These include debt relief, trade regimes and investment arrangements as well as development assistance.

Finally, success requires commitment from all countries, and from the private as well as the public sector.


Family planning programs and population assistance encourage lower fertility. They accounted for almost one third of the global decline in fertility between 1972 and 1994, over and above the contribution of education, the share of agriculture in the labour force, GDP per capita, the proportion living in urban areas, nutrition levels and time period. The effects of programmes on fertility were particularly strong in Asia (accounting for more than two thirds of the decline), intermediate in Latin America and the Arab States and weak in Africa.

Effects on unwanted fertility are even clearer. In some analyses, population programmes account for 40 to 50 per cent of the change. Programmes reduce unwanted fertility by making reproductive health services accessible, and involving nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and the private sector. Universal access to services would enable women and their partners to have only the children they want; national comparisons indicate that absence of universal access alone makes a difference of up to one third in modern contraceptive use.

Education, information and communication are important for the success of population programmes. Better information makes it possible and acceptable for communities and families to discuss and act on all sorts of issues related to reproductive health: how to reduce maternal, infant and child deaths and prevent unplanned births; how to encourage discussion and mutual decision-making by women and their partners; how to free women for broader social participation; and how to reduce the stigma and confront the threat of HIV/AIDS.

Continued progress depends on continued investment, domestic and international. Since 1969, the nited Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) has been the largest multilateral source of population assistance, providing some $6 billion for population programmes. See Sources

The great series of international conferences in the 1990s developed an agenda for social action against poverty, centred on individual men and women. Key aims were improvements in health and education, both as personal goals and as public goods. In the area of health, the recent World Health Organization (WHO) and World Bank initiative in health and macroeconomics strongly supports this agenda, focusing attention on combating malaria, tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS, as well as other infectious and environmental diseases (5).

In the area of population, the 1994 ICPD endorsed WHO's broad positive definition of health as "not merely the absence of disease or infirmity" but "a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being" (6), and agreed that the human right to health includes reproductive health. The Conference also endorsed the goals of universal education and closing the gender gap in education. The international consensus, before and after the ICPD, explicitly recognizes the importance of demographic trends-population growth, location, movement and age structure, fertility and mortality -on all aspects of development.

Increased attention has been directed to places with large populations of refugees or displaced persons. Natural calamities, conflict and social upheaval have left millions of people beyond the reach of functioning institutions or systems of governance. Emergencies can be short- or long-term. Providing immediate services, lasting development efforts and the means of ultimate resettlement are important contributions to combating poverty. Progress towards the MDGs must include people in such desperate circumstances.

The international understanding on population has been affirmed and repeated (7) so often that its demographic impact is often taken for granted. Policy makers confidently build demographic assumptions-about declining fertility, for example-into their plans. But good demographic outcomes depend on good policies, based on good data. Successful action depends above all on empowering individuals and couples to make free choices


   Goal 1: Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger
  • Voluntary family planning can help people to have as many or as few children as they want and to decide when they will have them.
  • Fertility reduction opens the "demographic window", an opportunity for accelerated social and economic development.
  • Large families dilute the assets of poorer households. Unwanted births deepen household poverty.
  • Smaller families allow more investment in each child's health and education.
  • Improved data on people and their needs will advance policy development and the targeting of development programmes-and improve accountability.
  • Migration within and between countries can bring benefits and pose challenges in both sending and receiving areas. Policies can help maximize the gains to poor communities and individuals.
  • Better child spacing reduces competition for food within the household and improves children's nutrition.

   Goal 2: Achieve universal primary education

  • Attempts to achieve universal education have left out poor children.
  • Large numbers of children in poor families mean that some children get no education. For others, education may be delayed, interrupted or shortened.

  • In poor families, girls are more likely than boys to be deprived of education.

  • Educational continuation depends on avoidance of unwanted pregnancies. Early initiation of sexual activity increases the risk of school dropout. In sub-Saharan Africa between 8 and 25 per cent of dropout rates are the result of pregnancy.

  • Early marriage interrupts girls' schooling.

   Goal 3: Promote gender equality and empower women

  • Progress towards gender equality starts with the common indicators of literacy and education. It continues with health care, including personal, voluntary control over fertility. It is important that families and societies accept women's wider social participation, and remove obstacles to it.

  • Girls and women need environments where they are safe from gender-based violence, including on the way to, from and in school.

   Goal 4: Reduce child mortallity

  • Infant and child mortality are highest for the youngest mothers and after closely spaced births.
  • High fertility reduces the provision of health care to children.
  • Unwanted children are more likely to die than wanted ones.
  • A mother's death increases the risk that her children will die

   Goal 5: Improve maternal health

  • Care in pregnancy, during and after childbirth, and emergency obstetric care save women's lives.
  • Pregnancy is riskiest earliest in life. Over 100,000 women are at risk of obstetric fistula each year, and over 2 million women have already been injured and stigmatized.
  • A woman's lifetime risk of maternal death and illness depends on the number and safety of her pregnancies.
  • Family planning saves women's lives. It reduces unwanted pregnancy, unsafe abortion and maternal death. Women's empowerment will enable them to address the social conditions that endanger their health and lives.

   Goal 6: Combat HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria and other diseases

  • Half of new HIV infections are among young people. Preventing infection means enabling young people to protect themselves from sexually transmitted diseases. This includes teaching abstinence outside marriage, fidelity within it and responsible behaviour at all times, including the responsible use of condoms.
  • Male and female condoms must be available as needed. Poor countries need systems to guarantee an adequate supply of reproductive health commodities, and support in establishing and supplying the system.

  • Integrated reproductive health programmes that serve a variety of needs through the life cycle will encourage health service use and provide additional opportunities to address health needs holistically. Changing age structures will require long-term adjustments in health systems.

  • The pandemic has serious implications for the attainment of the other goals, particularly 1-5.

   Goal 7: Ensure enviromental sustainability

  • Balancing resource use and ecological requirements will depend critically on population growth, location and movements, on patterns of resource consumption, and management of waste.
  • Rapid growth of poor rural populations puts enormous stress on local environments. Poor people need technologies to mediate their demands on resources. They also need better education and health services, including reproductive health, to improve well-being and bring down fertility. Appropriate policies will reduce urban migration and promote sustainable rural population growth.

  • The sustainable improvement of the lives of slum and shanty dwellers will depend on policies to address high urban growth rates, the result of natural increase and migration.

   Goal 8: Develop a global partnership for development

  • Population and reproductive health programmes have lagged in the least-developed countries, with their high levels of mortality and unwanted fertility. They will benefit most from higher international assistance and debt forgiveness, and domestic resources for health and education-and their effective use. They need affordable prices for essential drugs for treating HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis, and a secure supply of contraceptives.
  • Between 2000 and 2015 nearly 1.5 billion young men and women will join the 20-24 age group. They, and hundreds of millions of teenagers, will be looking for work. If they have jobs they will drive economic growth; if not they will fuel political instability.

 Back to top PreviousNext 
      |      Main Menu      |      Press Kit      |      Charts & Graphs      |      Indicators   |