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HOME: STATE OF WORLD POPULATION 2004: Population and Poverty
State of World Population
Population and Poverty
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Gender Equality and Women's Empowerment
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Population and Poverty

Millennium Development Goals
Reproductive Health and the MDGs
Economic Impact of Population Dynamics
HIV/AIDS and Poverty
Ageing Populations
National Action to Reduce Poverty

A central premise of the 1994 Cairo conference was the notion that the size, growth, age structure and ruralurban distribution of a country’s population have a critical impact on its development prospects, and specifically on prospects for raising the living standards of the poor. Reflecting this understanding, the ICPD called on countries to “fully integrate population concerns into development strategies, planning, decision-making and resource allocation at all levels”.

Among the key population-development concerns the Programme of Action addressed were: population and poverty; the environment (see Chapter 3); health, morbidity and mortality (Chapters 6, 7 and 8); and population distribution, urbanization and internal and international migration (Chapter 4).

Poverty perpetuates poor health, gender inequality and rapid population growth. The ICPD recognized that empowering individual women and men with education, equal opportunity and the means to determine the number and spacing of their children is critical to breaking this vicious cycle.

In 1994 there was already solid evidence, based on two generations of experience, that developing countries with lower fertility and slower population growth have higher productivity, more savings and more productive investment, resulting in faster economic growth.

Analysis of more recent data confirms that countries that have reduced fertility and mortality by investing in health and education have prospered as a result.

As the international community strives to focus development efforts more effectively to achieve the Millennium Development Goals for eradicating poverty and improving people’s well-being, the ICPD’s rights-based agenda for addressing the interdependence of population and poverty deserves the highest priority.

Millennium Development Goals

In the decade since the ICPD, policies shaping international development assistance have changed. The amount of assistance has stagnated at around $60 billion per year, a result of both donor fatigue and economic uncertainty. At the same time, donors have become more critical of how assistance has been used (with blame falling on both donor and recipient governments).

To increase the impact of development assistance, donors have made governance an important criterion for its allocation, and strengthened the overall focus on alleviating poverty as the main rationale for assistance.

The aim of focusing development assistance more effectively shaped the Millennium Summit at UN Headquarters in 2000 and its identification of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and associated targets for reducing global poverty by 2015:

  1. Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger. By 2015, halve the proportion of people living on less than a dollar a day and those who suffer from hunger.

  2. Achieve universal primary education. By 2015, ensure that all boys and girls complete primary school.

  3. Promote gender equality and empower women. Eliminate gender disparities in primary and secondary education preferably by 2005 and at all levels by 2015.

  4. Reduce child mortality. By 2015, reduce by two thirds the mortality rate among children under 5.

  5. Improve maternal health. By 2015, reduce by three quarters the ratio of women dying in childbirth.

  6. Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases. By 2015, halt and begin to reverse the spread of HIV/AIDS and the incidence of malaria and other major diseases.

  7. Ensure environmental sustainability. Integrate the principles of sustainable development into country policies and programmes and reverse the loss of environmental resources. By 2015, reduce by half the proportion of people without access to safe drinking water. By 2020, achieve significant improvement in the lives of at least 100 million slum dwellers.

  8. Develop a global partnership for development. Develop further an open trading and financial system that includes a commitment to good governance, development and poverty reduction— nationally and internationally. Address the least-developed countries’ special needs, and the special needs of landlocked and small island developing states. Deal comprehensively with developing countries’ debt problems. Develop decent and productive work for youth. In cooperation with pharmaceutical companies, provide access to affordable essential drugs in developing countries. In cooperation with the private sector, make available the benefits of new technologies—especially information and communications technologies.

In many ways, the goals and targets set at the ICPD (see Box 3) anticipated the MDGs.


The ICPD adopted the following mutually supportive goals:

  • Gender equality in education. Eliminate the gender gap in primary and secondary education by 2005, and complete access to primary school or the equivalent by girls and boys as quickly as possible and in any case before 2015;
  • Infant, child and maternal mortality. Reduce infant and under-5 mortality rates by at least one third, to no more than 50 and 70 per 1,000 live births, respectively, by 2000, and to below 35 and 45, respectively, by 2015; reduce maternal mortality to half the 1990 levels by 2000 and by a further one half by 2015 (specifically, in countries with the highest mortality, to below 60 per 100,000 live births);
  • Reproductive health services.Provide universal access to a full range of safe and reliable family-planning methods and to related reproductive and sexual health services by 2015.

Reviewing the first five years of implementing the Programme of Action, the United Nations in 1999 took note of the worsening crisis of HIV/AIDS and the vulnerability of young people and adopted specific numerical targets to evaluate programme implementation:

  • Education. Halve the 1990 illiteracy rate for women and girls by 2005; ensure that by 2010 at least 90 per cent of children of both sexes are enrolled in primary school;
  • Reproductive health services. Provide a wide range of family planning methods, essential obstetric care, and prevention and management of reproductive tract infections in 60 per cent of primary health care facilities by 2005; in 80 per cent by 2010, and in all by 2015;
  • Maternal mortality. Where maternal mortality is very high, ensure that at least 40 per cent of all births are assisted by skilled attendants by 2005, 50 per cent by 2010 and 60 per cent by 2015; globally, 80 per cent of births should be attended by 2005, 85 per cent by 2010 and 90 per cent by 2015;
  • Unmet need for family planning. Reduce by half by 2005 any gap between the proportions of individuals using contraceptives and those expressing a desire to space or limit their families, by 75 per cent by 2010, and completely by 2015. Recruitment targets or quotas should not be used to reach this goal.
  • HIV/AIDS. Ensure that by 2005 at least 90 per cent, and by 2010 95 per cent, of young men and women 15-24 have access to HIV/AIDS prevention methods such as female and male condoms, and voluntary testing, counselling and followup; reduce HIV infection rates in this age group by 25 per cent in the most-affected countries by 2005, and by 25 per cent globally by 2010. See Sources

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