TOPICS:UN predicts 12 billion if FP falters

The UN commemorated World Population Day Friday in the shadow of a staggering array of grim statistics: an estimated 200 million women worldwide want to delay or avoid pregnancy but are not using safe and effective family planning. The world’s current population of 6.4 billion people is expected to rise to over 7.0 billion by 2012 — and could reach 12 billion by 2050, if contraceptive use does not increase.

The UN Population Fund (UNFPA) points out that 190 million women become pregnant every year, and nearly 50 million resort to abortion. Meanwhile, unsafe abortions kill an estimated 68,000 women every year, and millions more suffer from long-term disability. As the UN focused on family planning this year, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warned Friday: “The rate of death for women as they give birth remains the starkest indicator of the disparity between rich and poor, both within and among countries.”

He said the benefits of family planning remain out of reach for many, especially for those who often have the hardest time getting the information and services they need to plan their families. Demand will only increase, he said, as more than one billion people ages 15-24 enter their reproductive years.

UNFPA Executive Director Thoraya Ahmed Obaid says that maternal deaths and disability could be reduced dramatically if every woman had access to health services throughout her life, especially during pregnancy and childbirth. “Today millions of women lack access to health services, which puts their lives at risk,” she pointed out.

“Urgent action is needed because the goal to improve maternal health is generating the least resources and lagging the furthest behind,” Obaid said. The lack of resources to prevent maternal mortality comes at a time when the administration of US President George W Bush has consistently withheld funds for UNFPA — most recently last week — primarily for domestic political reasons. Asked how funding cuts will impact on family planning and reproductive health in developing nations, Tamara Kreinin, executive director of Women and Population at the UN Foundation, said: “The impact of the US withholding funding from UNFPA for the past seven years has had serious implications for women and girls around

the world.” She said the $34 million that the US has withheld each year is close to 10% of UNFPA’s regular income.

“This income could have helped UNFPA prevent 2 million unintended pregnancies, 800,000 abortions, 4,700 mothers’ deaths, and more than 77,000 infant and child deaths,” Kreinin said. The money could have also helped meet the current shortfall in family planning funding, which stands at $550 million, less than half of today’s needed amount.

She also pointed out that approximately 181 industrialised and developing countries, including all the countries in sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America, contribute to UNFPA to express their solidarity. — IPS