26 March 2009


26 March 2009
Economic and Social Council
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Background Release



NEW YORK, 26 March (United Nations Population Division) -- Lower population growth and reduction in family size in the least developed countries can contribute to reduce poverty and help achieve the Millennium Development Goals, notes a United Nations report prepared for the forty-second session of the Commission for Population and Development, which will meet at United Nations Headquarters from 30 March to 3 April.

Today, rapid population growth caused by sustained high fertility is associated with higher poverty levels, lower levels of primary education and higher child and maternal mortality.  Thus, high levels of population growth in the least developed countries are a barrier to achieving the Millennium Development Goals, argues the Population Division of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs, in a report to the Commission on Population and Development.

According to the monitoring report on the contribution of the Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) to the internationally-agreed development goals, including the Millennium Development Goals (document E/CN.9/2009/3), the least developed countries, most of which are located in sub-Saharan Africa, have lagged behind in the reduction of fertility and have therefore experienced rapid population growth since the 1960s.  In the least developed countries, fertility is still a high 4.6 children per woman, a small reduction from the 5.7 children per woman estimated for 1990-1995.  In the rest of the developing countries, fertility was already a low 3.1 children per woman in 1990-1995 and has continued to drop, reaching 2.5 in 2005-2010.  Because of high fertility, the population of the least developed countries is still growing at 2.4 per cent per year, almost double the rate of population growth in the rest of the developing countries, at 1.2 per cent per year.

The monitoring report documents how reductions in family size can contribute to reduce poverty by allowing families to save more and invest more in the education and health of each child; how improving access to effective family planning can allow parents to increase the intervals between births, thereby improving the health of mothers and the survival chances of young children; and how moderating the growth of the child population can allow Governments to spend more on the education and health of each child.

The Commission on Population and Development will consider this evidence and develop guidelines on how to accelerate the attainment of universal reproductive health and increase access to effective planning as a way of facilitating the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals, particularly those related to health, education and the empowerment of women.

Three keynote speakers will address the forty-second session.  David Canning, Professor at the Department of Population and International Health of the Harvard School of Public Health, will speak on the implications of population growth and changing age structures for the achievement of the development Goals on 30 March; Jean-Pierre Guengant, Resident Representative of Institut de Recherche pour le Développement in Burkina Faso, will discuss the impacts of population growth on the least developed countries, with emphasis on the role of reproductive health on 31 March; and Zeba Sathar, Country Director of the Population Council in Pakistan, will talk about the interrelations among gender, population and the achievement of the Goals on 1 April.

A press conference on the issues considered by the Commission will be held on 1 April at 1:30 p.m. featuring the three keynote speakers and Hania Zlotnik, Director of the Population Division. 

There is ample evidence showing that reductions in fertility can reduce maternal mortality, improve child survival, promote women’s empowerment and contribute to poverty reduction.  The slow decline in fertility that is prevalent in most countries of sub-Saharan Africa and in many of the least developed countries in other regions is hampering development efforts.  Yet in many of those countries, unmet need for family planning among women of reproductive age who are married or living in a union is high with, on average, one woman out of every four in that group having an unmet need for family planning in Western, Central and Eastern Africa.  At current rates of increase in contraceptive prevalence, it may take as much as 50 years to satisfy current unmet demand for family planning.  Therefore, in order to achieve universal access to reproductive health by 2015, as called for by the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) Programme of Action, political commitment and adequate funding are necessary to reinvigorate efforts to increase access to effective contraception.

An important component of policies to improve health and population outcomes is the promotion of gender equality, equity and the empowerment of women.  An index measuring the degree of gender equality has proven to be a more powerful predictor of advances than gross domestic product (GDP) towards the achievement of the Goals.  In particular, ensuring that girls get an education and promoting the labour force participation of women are crucial in empowering women and making it possible for them and their partners to have the children they desire.

These and other issues presented in the main reports considered by the Commission will be discussed at the press conference.  A summary of the main findings of each report is presented below.

Contribution of ICPD Programme of Action

Countries with high population growth would benefit from a reduction in that growth through a decline in fertility according to the world population monitoring report of the Secretary-General (document E/CN.9/2009/3).  High population growth resulting from sustained fertility imposes increasing demands on existing resources and reduces the capacity of Governments to respond to new challenges.

Fertility decline reduces the proportion of dependants in a population, leading to a period where demographic change can boost economic growth if supported by measures to build human capital, generate jobs, increase savings and improve income distribution.  Families with fewer children can invest more on the health, nutrition and education of each child, and slower growth in the number of children makes it easier to achieve universal primary education.

Policies to address the effects of food price shocks should give priority to the immediate protection of the most vulnerable, including women and children.  Longer-term responses should incorporate population policy as part of a coordinated response to promote sustainable livelihoods for all by helping households avoid the intergenerational reproduction of poverty.

Pregnancies in adolescent and older women and closely spaced births put children at increased risk of death.  In order to accelerate the reduction of child mortality, particularly in low-income countries with high fertility, expanded access to family planning combined with reinvigorated efforts to improve child health is required.

The reduction of maternal mortality depends on ensuring that women have access to antenatal care during pregnancy, to trained health attendants during delivery and to emergency obstetric care if complications arise.  Access to family planning, by allowing women to avoid mistimed and unwanted pregnancies, reduces their lifetime risk of maternal mortality.

There are 106 million married women in developing countries that have an unmet need for family planning.  Yet, funding for family planning has not kept pace with increasing demand.  Between 1996 and 2005, per capita donor assistance devoted to family planning dropped in most regions.  Substantial increases in both domestic and external funding for family planning are necessary if reproductive health for all is to be assured by 2015.

Antenatal care and family planning services should include the provision of information and counselling on HIV/AIDS as well as voluntary testing to identify women in need of treatment and to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV.

Achieving gender equality, equity and the empowerment of women is important in meeting the Millennium Development Goals.  Delaying marriage and the onset of childbearing helps to ensure that girls and young women remain in school and gain the skills necessary to improve their labour market prospects.

Maintaining adequate access to water for a growing world population is a challenge.  Because population growth increases the demand for water in all sectors of the economy, moderating that growth will make it easier to conserve water, make the investments necessary to make water accessible to more people and expand the coverage of sanitation to meet the target set under Millennium Development Goal 7.

World Demographic Trends

In 2009, the world population reached 6.8 billion, according to the report of the Secretary-General on world demographic trends (document E/CN.9/2009/6).  The population is expected to surpass 9 billion by 2050, provided fertility continues to decline in developing countries.  Population growth is expected to decline in most countries, but it is expected to be high in the least developed countries, moderate in most of the rest of the developing countries, and almost negligible in the developed countries.  Population growth is expected to be particularly high in Africa.  Between 2009 and 2050, the population of Africa is projected almost to double, passing from 1 billion in 2009 to 2 billion in 2050.

Total fertility in the less developed regions has continued to decline, reaching 2.7 children per woman in 2005-2010.  At the same time, contraceptive prevalence has been increasing, rising from 56 per cent in 1993 to 63 per cent in 2003 at the global level, and there are currently 38 developing countries with below-replacement fertility.  However, contraceptive prevalence remains very low in most of the least developed countries, at 24 per cent, and in Africa at 28 per cent.  As a consequence, 27 developing countries, most of which are least developed countries, still have very high fertility -- five children or more per woman.

Slow population growth brought about by reductions in fertility leads to population ageing, that is, it produces populations where the proportion of older persons increases, while that of younger persons decreases.  In the more developed regions, where fertility has been below replacement level for more than three decades, 22 per cent of the population is already aged 60 years or over and that proportion is projected to reach 33 per cent in 2050.  In the more developed regions, the number of older persons has already surpassed the number of children (persons under age 15).

Population ageing is less advanced in developing countries.  Nevertheless, the populations of a majority of them are poised to enter a period of rapid population ageing.  Between 2009 and 2050, the population aged 60 or over is expected to increase from 9 per cent to 20 per cent.

Although the population of all countries is expected to age over the foreseeable future, the population will remain relatively young in countries where fertility is still high, many of which are experiencing very rapid population growth.  Between 2010 and 2050, the populations of 31 countries, the majority of which are least developed, will double or more.  Among them, the populations of Afghanistan, Burkina Faso, Niger, Somalia, Timor-Leste and Uganda are projected to increase by 150 per cent or more.

In 2008, the number of urban dwellers surpassed that of rural inhabitants for the first time in history.  Most of the world’s population growth to 2050 will occur in urban places.  By 2050, 70 per cent of the world population is expected to be urban.

Population Programmes

National ownership of programmes, universally-recognized human rights, and equity and equality, especially gender equality, are at the core of social and economic development and guide the design and implementation of population programmes according to the report of the Secretary-General on monitoring of population programmes (document E/CN.9/2009/4).  The report reaffirms that population, reproductive health and gender issues are crucial for development and the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals.

The report highlights efforts to reduce maternal mortality in accordance with Goal 5, and notes that most countries are falling far short of meeting the targets set under that Goal.  Nevertheless, the addition of the target of achieving universal access to reproductive health by 2015 has generated increased momentum for the achievement of the health-related Goals via a comprehensive and integrated approach.  Attaining the health-related Goals by 2015 requires scaling up successful programmes, spearheaded by national leadership and ownership; directing investment in pro-poor policies; developing strong health systems and pursuing effective interventions.  South-South cooperation is valuable, especially for the identification of best practices and the exchange of lessons learned.

Prepared by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), the report describes the Fund’s programmatic work to assist countries in implementing the ICPD Programme of Action and, especially, those measures that are most conducive to act synergistically with other interventions in contributing to the attainment of the Goals.

Financial Flows

Although donor assistance for the implementation of the costed parts of the ICPD Programme of Action has been increasing over the past few years, reaching $7.4 billion in 2006 and an estimated $8 billion in 2007, most of the increase has been the result of rising assistance for the care and treatment of people living with HIV.  That is the finding of the report on the flow of financial resources for assisting in the implementation of the Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development (document E/CN.9/2009/5), prepared by the United Nations Population Fund.  In addition to the funds provided by donors, the resources mobilized by developing countries are estimated at $18.5 billion for 2007.  However, the current global financial crisis may make it difficult for developing countries to increase funding levels for population programmes.

Because of the rapid increase in funding for HIV/AIDS in recent years, overall funding levels have surpassed the estimates made at the time the ICPD Programme of Action was adopted, and the latter no longer provides an appropriate benchmark for the assessment of financial flows.  Therefore, UNFPA has undertaken a revision of the funding levels necessary today and in the future to ensure the attainment of the goals and objectives of the ICPD Programme of Action by 2015.  According to the revised funding levels, about $66 billion would be needed annually from 2009 to 2015 to cover the costs of implementing the costed parts of the ICPD Programme of Action.  About half of that total would be devoted to prevention, care and treatment programmes on HIV/AIDS and nearly 46 per cent would be devoted to family planning and reproductive health programmes, including 5 per cent for the direct costs of family planning.  Funding levels for 2009, considered a transition year, would be lower, at $49 billion.  The revised costs estimates are in line with “MDG” costing and reflect more accurately the necessary financial resources needed to achieve the targets under the “MDG” framework, as well as the goals and objectives of the ICPD Programme of Action.  Continued resource mobilization and advocacy efforts on the part of both donor and developing countries are essential to implement fully the Programme of Action and ensure that the Goals are achieved by 2015.

Other Documents

A report of the Secretary-General on programme implementation and progress of work in the field of population in 2008 (document E/CN.9/ 2009/7) reviews the progress made by the Population Division in implementing its work programme in 2008.  It covers such activities as the analysis of fertility, mortality and international migration; world population estimates and projections; analysis of population and development interrelationships; population policies; and the substantive servicing of intergovernmental bodies.

Background of Commission

The Population Commission was established by the Economic and Social Council in 1946 and renamed the Commission on Population and Development by the General Assembly in 1994.  The Commission, as a functional commission assisting the Council, has the task of monitoring, reviewing and assessing the implementation at the national, regional and international levels of the Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development held in Cairo in 1994 and of advising the Council thereon.

The Commission is composed of 47 members, who are elected on the basis of equitable geographic distribution and serve a term of four years.  The members for 2009 are Bangladesh, Belgium, Benin, Brazil, Bulgaria, Cameroon, Canada, China, Colombia, Comoros, Croatia, Equatorial Guinea, Finland, Gambia, Germany, Grenada, Guyana, Honduras, India, Indonesia, Iran, Jamaica, Japan, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Lebanon, Malaysia, Mexico, Morocco, Netherlands, Oman, Peru, Poland, Russian Federation, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Spain, Sri Lanka, Sweden, Switzerland, Tunisia, Uganda, Ukraine, United Kingdom, United States, Uruguay and Zambia.

For further information, please visit or contact the office of Hania Zlotnik, Director, Population Division, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, tel.:  212 963 3179; fax:  212 963 2147.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.