(Not for release before 3 December 2002)
To reduce poverty in developing countries, urgent action is needed to combat poor reproductive health, help
women avoid unwanted pregnancies, and eliminate illiteracy and gender discrimination, warns The State of
World Population 2002 report from UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund.
The report argues that addressing population concerns is
critical to meeting the Millennium Development Goals of
cutting global poverty and hunger in half by 2015, reducing
maternal and child deaths, curbing HIV/AIDS, advancing
gender equality, and promoting environmentally sustainable
Pointing to a “population effect”
on economic growth, the report cites new data showing
that since 1970, developing countries with lower fertility
and slower population growth have seen higher productivity,
more savings and more productive investment. They have
registered faster economic growth.
Investments in health and education,
and gender equality are vital to this effect. Family
planning programmes and population assistance were responsible
for almost one third of the global decline in fertility
from 1972 to 1994. These social investments attack poverty
directly and empower individuals, especially women.
They enable choice.
Given a real choice, poor people
in developing countries have smaller families than their
parents did. This downturn in fertility at the “micro”
level translates within a generation into potential
economic growth at the “macro” level, in the form of
a large group of working-age people supporting relatively
fewer older and younger dependents.
This “demographic window” opens only once and will
close as populations age and older dependents increase. When
other policies are supportive, the opportunity can allow
dramatic progress. Several countries in East Asia, as well as
Mexico and Brazil, have taken advantage of it. The effect
of declining fertility in Brazil has been equal to economic
growth of 0.7 per cent of GDP per capita each year.
However, the gap between rich and poor continues to
widen and the poorest countries continue to lag behind.
Poverty, poor health and fertility remain highest in the least
developed countries where population has tripled since 1955
and is expected to nearly triple again over the next 50 years.
More social investment is required to promote better
health, allow parents to have the number of children they
wish, encourage further declines in fertility and enable
better education and life choices. The process will hasten
the accumulation of “human capital” needed for accelerated
and sustainable development.
Far more attention from
policy makers and greater international support is needed
for population and reproductive health if countries are
to halve poverty by 2015 and make effective progress towards
the Millennium Development Goals.