Population, Development and the Environment

11 July 2001

Billions of ordinary people share the same aspirations: a secure life, a place to live, economic opportunity for themselves, education and health care for their children. Modest goals—yet half the world go their whole lives without even coming close.

The great challenge of the 21st century is to enable everyone to live a life of dignity. It can be done – the world has never seen such wealth. It must be done, because over-consumption, waste and poverty are combining to destroy the environment that supports us all. Global warming is a fact, with rising sea levels and unpredictable climate change. Rapid population growth is a fact, with the poorest countries and the poorest areas asked to bear the biggest increases. Species destruction is a fact, with more and more people depending on a shrinking base of natural resources. Stress on food and water resources are facts, with the severest stresses in the most needy areas.

We have limited time to correct these imbalances that imperil our world. Whoever we are, wherever we live, each one of us has a responsibility.

The most important steps are the most basic. Human security and well-being start with education and health care for all. These are human rights, but they also empower women and men. They are the basic equipment to exercise responsibility in the modern world.

The goals of universal education and health care are agreed. They are within reach. Meeting them would cost a fraction of today's expenditure on less important things – arms for example. Universal education and health care would also have multiple benefits, especially for women, who lag behind in both areas.

Reproductive rights are part of the right to health. Better reproductive health is important for men, but it is vital for women: one woman every minute dies of causes related to pregnancy, and four women every minute catch the infection that leads to AIDS. Better reproductive health means fewer unwanted pregnancies and fewer HIV infections. The AIDS pandemic will end when there are no more new infections.

Reproductive health is integrally linked to sustainable development. Women who can choose have smaller families; and that means slower population growth—a little more time to meet basic needs and make vital decisions.

All this was agreed nearly seven years ago, at the International Conference on Population and Development 1994. It was reaffirmed two years ago at the ICPD five-year review. This World Population Day, we must renew our commitment to ICPD goals. We must accept our responsibilities to ourselves and to each other. We must find the balance that will renew our world and enable all of its people to meet their aspirations.

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