Family planning drive reaches millions of women and girls but population growth may outpace expansion, warns new report

November 3, 2014

SOURCE: The Guardian

The number of women and girls accessing contraceptives in developing countries rose by 8.4 million last year, but efforts to bring family planning to millions of women who have not yet been reached are not moving fast enough, according to a new report.


Timor leste child

Credit: Martine Perret/UN Photo

Slow but steady progress

The Family Planning 2020 (FP2020) report, the group’s first set of annual data since its formation two years ago, found that the number of women and girls with access to contraceptives was still below FP2020’s projected benchmark of 9.4 million.

However, widening access to family planning services helped avert 125,000 maternal deaths last year, compared with 120,000 in 2012, and avert 24m unsafe abortions, compared with 23m in the previous year.

The FP2020 partnership was created as a result of the London family planning summit, where donors pledged $2.6bn (£1.2bn) to bring contraception to 120 million more women and girls in developing countries by 2020.

The report, Partnership in Progress, assessed how the funding boost had influenced women’s reproductive health standards in the world’s poorest countries.

“We anticipated that growth would be slowest in the first years of the initiative as countries and partners expand their programmes. In many countries, an enormous effort is required simply to maintain existing levels of service,” the report said. “The data show that FP2020 is on the right track and making steady progress; however, we must collectively accelerate our efforts in order to reach 120 million more women and girls by 2020.”

Keeping up with population increases

The increase in access to contraceptives is keeping up with population increases in some countries, including Bhutan, Djibouti, Kenya and Rwanda, where contraceptive growth rates exceeded 2.5% last year compared with an average of 0.65% in developing countries.

But the report warned that population growth threatened to outpace the expansion of family planning programmes in some countries. It noted that while the world has made progress on the millennium development goal to reduce maternal mortality, the target to provide universal access to reproductive health is far from being achieved.

The UN population fund estimates that the “unmet need” of voluntary family planning will grow by 40%  in the next 15 years.

FP2020 outlined key projects that improved family planning access for women in the past year, including the global contraceptive implant programme. The project addressed the barriers that blocked women from accessing implants, such as high costs, a lack of training for healthcare workers and supply shortages. As a result of agreements with pharmaceutical companies, the project has halved the cost of implants in more than 60 countries. FP2020 said this reduction has had a significant impact, with uptake of implants in developing countries tripling from 2.4m units in 2011 to a projected 7.7m units this year.

Another highlight was the rollout of a new form of injectable contraceptive in Burkina Faso, Niger, Senegal and Uganda. The contraceptive, Sayana Press, uses a disposable syringe that is easier to administer, which means community health workers can deliver it to patients after only two hours’ training. In Burkina Faso, 250,000 units of Sayana Press will be distributed this year.

Innovative solutions

In Senegal, health authorities have implemented a new system to solve the problem of clinics running out of contraceptives. FP2020 director Beth Schlachter said the “informed push” system had been inspired by the retail industry. “Instead of clinics and pharmacies having to call in orders for contraceptives, a driver with a truckful of supplies stops by regularly to top up the stock. It’s the same kind of system used in the commercial sector for vending machines, and it works just as well for contraceptive commodities,” she said.

In Kenya, health clinics are using text messages to combat empty shelves. As part of one project, nurses send inventory reports via text to a central data management centre and the contraceptives are sent out immediately.

Other innovations included the mCenas! project in Mozambique, which educates young people about contraception via text, and a television and online series in India that highlights family planning through drama programmes.

Five more countries – Benin, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Guinea, Mauritania and Burma – last year pledged to expand access to contraception, bringing the tally of committed countries to 29. Schlacter said it was promising to see 12 countries host conferences on family planning in the past year.

“Countries that have never before endorsed family planning – such as Myanmar [Burma] and Uganda – are now holding national conferences on the subject. Ministries of health are developing costed implementation plans and adding contraceptive line items to their budgets,” she said. “This is what progress looks like. We still have long road to 2020, but together, we’ll get there.”

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Murder capitals of the world: how runaway urban growth fuels violence

November 2, 2014

SOURCE: The Guardian

New research by security and development groups suggests that increased violence in urban areas is due to the ‘breakneck’ speed at which urban areas have grown in the last 20 years.



Credit: Chris Ford via Flickr

‘Fragile’ cities

Research by security and development groups suggests that the violence plaguing many Latin American and African cities may be linked not just to the drug trade, extortion and illegal migration, but to the breakneck speed at which urban areas have grown in the last 20 years.

The faster cities grow, the more likely it is that the civic authorities will lose control and armed gangs will take over urban organisation, says Robert Muggah, research director at the Igarapé Institute in Brazil.

“Like the fragile state, the fragile city has arrived. The speed and acceleration of unregulated urbanisation is now the major factor in urban violence.

A rapid influx of people overwhelms the public response,” he adds. “Urbanisation has a disorganising effect and creates spaces for violence to flourish,” he writes in a new essay in the journal Environment and Urbanization

Muggah predicts that similar violence will inevitably spread to hundreds of other “fragile” cities now burgeoning in the developing world. Some, he argues, are already experiencing epidemic rates of violence. “Runaway growth makes them suffer levels of civic violence on a par with war-torn [cities such as] Juba, Mogadishu and Damascus,” he writes. “Places like Ciudad Juárez, Medellín and Port au Prince … are becoming synonymous with a new kind of fragility with severe humanitarian implications.”

Some cities are as dangerous as war zones

Simon Reid-Henry, of the Peace Research Institute in Oslo, said: “Today’s wars are more likely to be civil wars and conflict is increasingly likely to be urban. Criminal violence and armed conflict are increasingly hard to distinguish from one another in different parts of the world.”

The latest UN data shows that many cities may be as dangerous as war zones. While nearly 60,000 people die in wars every year, an estimated 480,000 are killed, mostly by guns, in cities. This suggests that humanitarian groups, which have traditionally focused on working in war zones, may need to change their priorities, argues Kevin Savage, a former researcher with the Overseas Development Institute in London.

“Some urban zones are fast becoming new territories of conflict and violence. Chronically violent cities like Abidjan, Baghdad, Kingston, Nablus, Grozny and Mogadishu are all synonyms for a new kind of armed conflict,” he said. “These urban centres are experiencing a variation of warfare, often in densely populated slums and shantytowns. All of them feature pitched battles between state and non-state armed groups and among armed groups themselves.”

European and North American cities, which mostly grew over 150 or more years, are thought unlikely to physically expand much in the next few decades and are likely to remain relatively safe; but urban violence is certain to worsen as African, Asian and Latin American cities swell with population growth and an unprecedented number of people move in from rural areas.

Growing world urban population

More than half the world now lives in cities compared with about 5% a century ago, and UN experts expect more than 70% of the world’s population to be living in urban areas within 30 years.

The fastest transition to cities is now occurring in Asia, where the number of city dwellers is expected to double by 2030, according to the UN Population Fund. Africa is expected to add 440 million people to its cities by then and Latin America and the Caribbean nearly 200 million. Rural populations are expected to decrease worldwide by 28 million people. Most urban growth is expected to be not in the world’s mega-cities of more than 10 million people, but in smaller cities like San Pedro Sula.

“We can expect no slowing down of urbanisation over the next 30 years. The youth bulge will go on and 90% of the growth will happen in the south,” said Muggah.

But he and other researchers have found that urban violence is not linked to poverty so much as inequality and impunity from the law – both of which may encourage lawlessness. “Many places are poor, but not violent. Some favelas in Brazil are among the safest places,” he said.

“Slums are often far less dangerous than believed. There is often a disproportionate fear of crime relative to its real occurrence. Yet even when there is evidence to the contrary, most elites still opt to build higher walls to guard themselves.”

Many of these shantytowns and townships were now no-go areas far beyond the reach of public security forces, he said.

“These areas are stigmatised by the public authorities and residents become quite literally trapped. Cities like Caracas, Nairobi, Port Harcourt and San Pedro Sula are giving rise to landscapes of … gated communities. Violence … is literally reshaping the built environment in the world’s fragile cities.”

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'Population growth far outpaces food supply’ in conflict-ravaged Sahel and climate change will only make it worse, says new study.

October 22, 2014

SOURCE: The Guardian

A new study by researchers at Lund University in Sweden says conflict and climate change mean the Sahel’s resources will be unable to sustain the increasing population.



Credit; Oxfam International via Flickr

Rapid population growth

The Sahel’s ability to produce food is not keeping pace with its growing population, and global warming will only exacerbate the imbalance, according to a new study

Among the 22 countries making up the arid region in northern Africa, the population grew to 471 million in 2010 from 367 million in 2000, a jump of nearly 30%. As the population grew rapidly, the production of crops remained essentially unchanged, said researchers from Lund University in Sweden.

Using satellite images to calculate annual crop production in the conflict-ridden Sahel belt, south of the Sahara desert, the researchers then compared output with population growth and food and fuel consumption. Their findings showed the region’s resources would not be enough to sustain the population if trends continue.

In 2000, the Sahel’s population consumed the equivalent, in food and fuel, of 19% of the carbon available from the landscape. That jumped to 41% in 2010, reported the study titled The Supply and Demand of Net Primary Production in the Sahel, published in the journal Environmental Research Letters.

Global warming will exacerbate the situation, scientists said, as higher air temperatures will reduce harvests, even if the region sees an anticipated increase in rainfall due to changing weather patterns.

In a region racked by several insurgencies and conflicts, an increase in food scarcity is particularly worrying. “Tensions in Darfur [western Sudan] are between nomadic pastoralists and agriculturalists,” Hakim Abdi, lead author of study, said in an interview with the Thomson Reuters Foundation. “This tension stems partially from a lack of resources.”

In addition to violence in Darfur, the Sahel faces Islamist insurgencies in parts of Libya, Chad and Niger, along with an uprising by ethnic Tuareg separatists in Mali.

Expected increase in social unrest

Political violence seems likely to intensify as growing populations battle for dwindling food supplies. Some of the world’s fastest growing populations are located in the region. Niger, the poorest place on Earth, according to the UN’s human development index, also has the world’s highest birthrate, followed by Mali.

There were 30 million people living in the Sahel in 1950, according to research from the University of Berkley. The population is expected to reach close to 1 billion by 2050.

Ibrahim Coulibaly, a Malian farmer and activist with Via Campesina, has daily experience with the impacts of climate change analysed by the study. He said feuding politicians as well as global warming created a difficult environment for farmers. New technology and support will be key for farmers to respond to the imbalances, he said.

“Producing results to overcoming food insecurity means we need to take a fresh look at innovation in family farms,” Coulibaly told delegates at a UN panel in Rome last week. Drought resistant crops and new infrastructure for processing and transporting food, along with new publicly funded training for small farmers were needed to increase resilience, he said.

Scientists agree that drought resistant crops and new techniques could improve production in the short or medium term, but might not be enough to ensure security over the longer term in the face of population growth and disruption linked to global warming.

“When resources are low and climate change induced decreases in net primary production take place, I can generally say there would be potential increases in conflict,” Abdi said.

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Can the world produce enough food for 2 billion more people?

October 15, 2014

SOURCE: Thomson Reuters Foundation

With world population expected to reach 9.6 billion by 2050, demographers are grappling with one of the most pressing issues of the century - will there be enough food for an extra two to four billion people?



Credit: Kim Seng via Flickr

Experts divided

Projections of global population growth vary widely with the United Nations last month forecasting numbers rising to 9.6 billion in 2050 and around 10.9 billion by the end of the century from 7.2 billion currently.

That is about 1.5 billion more people than another estimate calculated by the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA), a Vienna-based research organisation, which predicts a world population peak of 9.4 billion in 2070.

The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) estimates that 60 percent more food is needed to feed a world population of nine billion people.

Experts are divided on exactly how many people the earth can sustain but are in agreement that upper-end projections are a concern with profound implications for food prices, the environment, security and future planning by governments.

"Obviously 2 billion more people would mean greater pressures on food production and on the environment," said John Wilmoth, director of the United Nations' Population Division, ahead of a panel discussion on feeding the world at the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) in Rome.

"Historically, we have managed to expand food production more rapidly than population growth."

Projecting the future population at a time of new agricultural techniques, climate change impacting food production, and efforts underway to cut greenhouse gas emissions is seen by some to be as accurate as crystal ball gazing.

But the challenge is deemed to be three-sided with programmes to boost food output, to contain population growth, and address climate change seen as equally important.

The key difference between IIASA's forecast and the U.N. numbers stems from projections of what will happen in Africa, currently the world's fastest growing region.

Education and resources

The continent's population could quadruple to four billion by 2100, the United Nations estimates. Others disagree.

Wolfgang Lutz, programme director for world population at the IIASA, disputes this figure.

He said young women across Africa are better educated today than older generations which should lead to a decline in fertility and research shows that educated women tend to have fewer children and later in life.

"The U.N. models are based on statistical extrapolations based on past trends, without looking at education," Lutz told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Education has been proved to impact birth rates.

Faced with high birthrates and overcrowding in the 1970s, authorities in Bangladesh, one the world's most densely populated countries, introduced family planning education, including door-to-door advice, and access to contraception.

The birthrate dropped to 2.3 children per woman today from from more than 6 children in 1971.

"This is one place where family planning has made a clear difference," John Bongaarts, director of the Population Council in New York, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

But even in countries where populations are growing fast, experts said hunger could be eliminated if resources were better utilised.

Most of the world's worst famines have been due to war or political instability, rather than a simple lack of food.

"The world gets into more trouble, the more people we have. That trouble gets reflected in climate changes, shortages of land, water and whatever else," Bongaarts said.

"The most likely outcome of population growth is higher food prices. I don't think we will run out of food, but continued high prices mean poor people will go hungry." 

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Older people hit hardest by disasters, claims new report

October 14, 2014

SOURCE: Thompson Reuters Foundation

A new report by UNISDR and HelpAge International calls on world to become more acutely aware of how to protect older persons as the climate changes and the ageing population is exposed to more extreme events.


Credit: Anna Ridout/Oxfam via Flickr

International community urged to include older people

When Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans in the United States in 2005, three-quarters of the people it killed were over 60. Five years later, when Japan was hit by an earthquake and tsunami, 56 percent of the people who died were 65 or older.

Older people suffer disproportionately from floods, cyclones, typhoons, heatwaves and other disasters, yet are often excluded from disaster management planning, according to a report released on Monday.

The report by the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR) and HelpAge International comes at a time when life expectancy continues to rise and the ageing population continues to grow.

The report urged governments worldwide to include older people in all aspects of disaster management planning to reduce the death toll among those over 60.

"The older person is often invisible in our communities until they show up in the mortality figures after a disaster event," said head of UNISDR, Margareta Wahlström.

"The world needs to become more acutely aware of how to protect older persons as the climate changes and the ageing population is exposed to more extreme events," she said in a statement.

Ageing populations to increase

According to the United Nations, the number of people over 60 will double to two billion by 2050, accounting for more than 20 percent of the world's population.

"Older people bear the initial brunt of disasters often because they cannot flee," said HelpAge International Chief Executive Toby Porter in a statement.

"This is compounded by the lack of essential medications for older people, such as to treat diabetes, being available after disasters."

The report said a survey of 287 older people from 60 countries, showed that 58 percent of them did not know who was responsible for disaster planning in their communities and 68 percent of them did not take part in such activity.

UNISDR and HelpAge called on governments to sign up to a charter committing them to include older people in disaster risk reduction, including early warnings, disaster supplies and evacuation procedures.

Read the report

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UN refugee Chief: Aid agencies at breaking point

October 3, 2014


Aid agencies are close to breaking point in their efforts to help millions of desperate victims of conflicts around the globe, with population growth and other pressures increasing humanitarian needs, the UN refugee agency has warned.

ICRC 250

Credit: ICRC via Flickr


"The international humanitarian community is really reaching the limits of its capacity, with multiplication of conflicts," Antonio Guterres, the UN high commissioner for refugees, told reporters.

Worldwide, 51.2 million people were forcibly displaced at the end of 2013, according to UN figures, mostly remaining within their embattled homelands' borders or fleeing to neighbouring countries. The total was the highest since World War II.

In 2011, there were 14,000 new refugees and internally displaced people every day. In 2012, 23,000. In 2013, 32,000. An exponential growth of needs, said Guterres.

Global attention is focussed squarely on the conflict in Iraq and Syria, which has driven millions of people from their homes, but the world also faced less headline-grabbing crises such as those in Africa, he underlined.

Wars are not the only factor

"The impacts of climate change, of food insecurity, of water scarcity, of the multiplication of natural disasters, combined with population growth and urbanisation, and their impacts on the global environment, all this is making humanitarian needs grow in a dramatic way," said Guterres.

He echoed comments made Wednesday at a UN refugee agency meeting by UN chief Ban Ki-moon, who urged the international community to stem crises before they emerge, rather than stepping in to pick up the pieces afterwards.

A major problem, Guterres added, is not just the repeated funding shortfalls faced by aid agencies, but also the cumbersome mechanisms under which donor nations allocate funds, despite the speed of evolving crises.

"We need to start thinking out of the box in relation to humanitarian funding," he said.

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World population to hit 11bn in 2100 with 70 per cent chance of continuous rise

September 19, 2014

SOURCE: The Guardian

A new study published in the journal Science projects that world population is now expected to swell ever-higher for the rest of the century, posing grave challenges for food supplies, healthcare and social cohesion.



Credit: FromSandToGlass

11 billion by 2100

The newly published ground-breaking analysis shows there is a 70% chance that the number of people on the planet will rise continuously from 7 billion today to 11 billion in 2100.

“Previous projections said this problem was going to go away so it took the focus off the population issue,” said Prof Adrian Raftery, at the University of Washington, who led the international research team.

“There is now a strong argument that population should return to the top of the international agenda. Population is the driver of just about everything else and rapid population growth can exacerbate all kinds of challenges.” Lack of healthcare, poverty, pollution and rising unrest and crime are all problems linked to booming populations, he said.

“Population policy has been abandoned in recent decades. It is barely mentioned in discussions on sustainability or development such as the UN-led sustainable development goals,” said Simon Ross, chief executive of Population Matters, a thinktank supported by naturalist Sir David Attenborough and scientist James Lovelock.

“The significance of the new work is that it provides greater certainty. Specifically, it is highly likely that, given current policies, the world population will be between 40-75% larger than today in the lifetime of many of today’s children and will still be growing at that point,” Ross said.

Many widely-accepted analyses of global problems, such as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s assessment of global warming, assume a population peak by 2050.

Sub-saharan Africa is set to be by far the fastest growing region, with population rocketing from 1bn today to between 3.5bn and 5bn in 2100. Previously, the fall in fertility rates that began in the 1980s in many African countries was expected to continue but the most recent data shows this has not happened.

In countries like Nigeria, the continent’s most populous nation, the decline has stalled completely with the average woman bearing six children. Nigeria’s population is expected to soar from 200m today to 900m by 2100.

Education and unmet need for contraception must be addressed

The cause of the stalled fertility rate is two-fold, said Raftery: a failure to meet the need for contraception and a continued preference for large families. “The unmet need for contraception - at 25% of women - has not changed in for 20 years,” he said. The preference for large families is linked to lack of female education which limits women’s life choices, said Raftery. In Nigeria, 28% of girls still do not complete primary education.

Another key factor included for the first time was new data on the HIV/AIDS epidemic showing it is not claiming as many lives as once anticipated. “Twenty years ago the impact on population was absolutely gigantic,” Raftery said. “Now the accessibility of antiretroviral drugs is much greater and the epidemic appeared to have passed its peak and was not quite as bad as was feared.”

The research, conducted by an international team including UN experts, is published in the journal Science and for the first time uses advanced statistics to place convincing upper and lower limits on future population growth.

Previous estimates were based on judgments of future trends made by researchers, a “somewhat vague and subjective” approach, said Raftery. This predicted the world’s population would range somewhere between 7bn and 16bn by 2100. “This interval was so huge to be essentially meaningless and therefore it was ignored,” he said.

But the new research narrows the future range to between 9.6bn and 12.3bn by 2100. This greatly increased certainty – 80% – allowed the researchers to be confident that global population would not peak any time during in the 21st century.

Governments must plan now for ageing populations

Another population concern is the ageing populations currently seen in Europe and Japan, which raises questions about how working populations will support large numbers of elderly people. But the new research shows the same issue will affect countries whose populations are very young today.

Brazil, for example, currently has 8.6 people of working age for every person over 65, but that will fall to 1.5 by 2100, well below the current level in Japan. China and India will face the same issue as Brazil, said Raftery: “The problem of ageing societies will be on them, in population terms, before they know it and their governments should be making plans.”

In separate work, published on Monday, Wolfgang Lutz, director of the Vienna Institute of Demography, highlighted education as crucial in not only reducing birth rates but also enabling people to prosper even while populations are growing fast.

In Ghana, for example, women without education have an average of 5.7 children, while women with secondary education have 3.2 and women with tertiary education only 1.5. But he said: “It is not primarily the number of people that’s important in population policy, it’s what they are capable of, their level of education, and their health.”

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Why women's rights matter for the environment

September 16, 2014

SOURCE: Tribtalk

In contrast to the common thinking on links between unmet need for contraception, population and environmental sustainability which focuses on developing countries, this article looks at the situation in Texas, where setbacks for women's reproductive health and rights have severe implications for both women and  the environment.


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Credit: Dave Wilson via Flickr

Major setbacks to women's reproductive health and rights

At the federal level, the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision has made it more difficult for women to access their contraceptive method of choice. At the state level, the Legislature and Gov. Rick Perry have enacted new restrictions on clinics providing basic women’s health care and family planning services.

Of course, these decisions hurt Texas women and their families — but they also increase the risk of social, economic and environmental harm.

When women and their medical providers are prevented from making personal health care decisions, the negative consequences are far-reaching.

A woman’s inability to control the number, timing and spacing of her children impacts her health, education and career. Moreover, the cumulative impact of women having more children than they desire strains public health systems and natural resources such as water, energy and healthy food.

When thinking of women who are unable to make choices about childbearing, we often think of those in less affluent countries than our own.

This unmet need is real — more than 222 million women in the developing world have expressed a desire to make decisions about when to have children but face cultural, financial, geographic, religious or familial barriers to doing so. Yet this isn’t just a foreign issue. The United States actually has the highest unintended-pregnancy rate in the developed world. With the aforementioned restrictions now in place, consider the situation in Texas.

Fifty-two percent of all pregnancies in Texas are unplanned. On average, there are 825 unplanned and unintended pregnancies every day. Teen pregnancy rates in our state are the third highest in the country, with 73 pregnancies per 1,000 girls in 2010. The economic impact of these unmet health needs is staggering. In 2010, $1.1 billion of public funding was spent on teen childbearing alone.

Texas’ new restrictions on women’s basic human rights ensure that unplanned pregnancy rates in the state will continue to rise. At a time when the population is growing, budgets and natural resources are strained, and extreme weather events associated with climate disruption impact our crops, waterways and infrastructure, Texans can’t afford not to meet women’s needs for voluntary, accessible reproductive health services like family planning.

Since 2010, the population in Texas has grown by more than 1.3 million people. Much of the state is suffering from a severe drought that has caused more than $7 billion in damage as of January 2013.

Increased pressure on natural resources

According to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, 796 public water supply systems in Texas currently have mandatory water restrictions in place. An additional 390 systems have voluntary water restrictions in place. Restrictions in big cities such as San Antonio and Austin are now commonplace, and the likelihood of more frequent extreme weather events is higher.

The solutions to these diverse challenges are mutually reinforcing. Greater access to voluntary family planning and more funding for comprehensive sex education in Texas would result in smaller and healthier families, fewer teen pregnancies, lower health costs and less pressure on dwindling resources. A healthier environment benefits the health of women and families.

Two recent studies found that giving women more freedom to time their pregnancies would provide 8 to 15 percent of the carbon reductions needed to prevent further climate disruption. And the cost would be small — about $3.7 billion per year — compared with other ways of cutting emissions on a large scale.

Providing access to family planning education and services should be recognized by policymakers in Washington and Austin as an important piece of the puzzle to creating a more sustainable, just and thriving state. Meeting the family planning needs of women in Texas and around the globe is key to protecting the health of women, the health of the planet and the availability of resources for generations to come. And every child deserves to be a wanted child.

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Iran bans permanent forms of contraception to boost population growth

August 14, 2014

SOURCE: The Guardian

In a measure that represents a considerable step back in Iran for both reproductive health and freedoms and the promotion of more sustainable population trends, Iran's parliament has voted to ban permanent forms of contraception, including vasectomies and the advertising of contraception.



Credit: Aslan Media via Flickr

New law restricts individuals choices

Iran's parliament has voted to ban permanent forms of contraception, the state news agency IRNA reported, endorsing the supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's call for more babies to be born.

The bill, banning vasectomies and similar procedures in women, is parliament's response to a decree Khamenei issued in May to increase the population to "strengthen national identity" and counter "undesirable aspects of western lifestyles".

Doctors who violate the ban will be punished, the IRNA reported.

The bill, approved by 143 of 231 members present in parliament, according to the IRNA, also bans the advertising of contraception in a country where condoms had been widely available and family planning considered entirely normal.

The law now goes to the guardian council – a panel of theologians and jurists appointed by the supreme leader, who examine whether legislation complies with Islam.

The ban aims to reverse the decline in Iran's population, but reformists see the law as part of a drive by conservatives to keep Iran's highly educated female population in traditional roles as wives and mothers.

Ban will endanger women’s lives

It also worries health advocates who fear an increase in illegal abortions.

State media reported that the number of illegal terminations between March 2012 and March 2013 was 12,000, more than half the total number of abortions that year.

Abortion is legal in Iran if the mother is in danger or if the foetus is diagnosed with certain defects.

During the war with Iraq in the 1980s, Iran offered incentives to encourage families to have more children, but that was reversed in the late 1980s, amid concerns that the rapid population growth could hobble the economy and drain resources.

Khamenei's edict has once again reversed the policy, in effect doing away with the "fewer kids, better life" motto adopted when contraception was made widely available and subsidised by the state.

Iran's birth rate stands at 1.6 children per woman, MP Ali Motahari said, according to IRNA. At that rate, the population of more than 75 million would fall to 31 million by 2094, and 47% of Iranians would be above the age of 60, said Mohamad Saleh Jokar, another MP.

UN data suggests Iran's median age will increase from 28 in 2013 to 40 by 2030. The ministry of health also announced in June it would help couples pay for fertility treatment, which can cost $3,000-$16,000 (£1,800 to £9,500) in Iran.

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UNICEF Report: Africa will be home to 2 in 5 children by 2050

August 13, 2014


Investing in Africa’s children now is best hope to reap demographic dividend, says a new report by UNICEF that calls for expansion of reproductive health services, warning that population growth could undermine poverty eradication and increase social inequalities.


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Credit: Brad Ruggles via Flickr

Reaping the demographic dividend

An unprecedented projected increase in Africa’s child population size provides policymakers with a once-in-a-generation opportunity to craft a child-focused investment strategy that enables the continent, and the world, to reap the benefits of Africa’s demographic transition, UNICEF said in a report issued today.

According to the Generation 2030/Africa Report, high fertility rates and rising numbers of women of reproductive age mean that over the next 35 years, almost two billion babies will be born in Africa; the continent’s population will double in size; and its under-18 population will increase by two-thirds to reach almost a billion children.

Among the report’s most important findings is a massive shift in the world’s child population towards Africa. Projections indicate that by 2050, around 40 per cent of all births, and about 40 per cent of all children, will be in Africa, up from about 10 per cent in 1950.

“This report must be a catalyst for global, regional and national dialogue on Africa’s children,” said Leila Gharagozloo-Pakkala, UNICEF’s Regional Director for Eastern and Southern Africa. “By investing in children now – in their health, education and protection – Africa could realize the economic benefits experienced previously in other regions and countries that have undergone similar demographic shifts.”

While child survival rates have improved across Africa, the continent still accounts for about half of child mortality globally, and the proportion could rise to around 70 per cent by 2050. The report notes that three in 10 African children live in fragile and conflict-affected contexts, and that almost 60 per cent of Africans could be living in cities by 2050. The report calls for special attention for Nigeria, which already has the greatest number of births in the continent, and will account for almost one in 10 births globally by 2050.

Equity-based programming and policy for children will help determine whether African children can transform the continent and break vicious cycles of poverty and inequality, said Manuel Fontaine, UNICEF Regional Director for West and Central Africa.

Call for investment in reproductive health to empower girls

“However, if investment in Africa’s children is not prioritized, the continent will not be able to take full advantage of its demographic transition in the coming decades. Without equitable and inclusive policies, the pace of population growth could potentially undermine attempts to eradicate poverty and increase disparities.”

Generation 2030/Africa calls specifically for investment in expanding access to reproductive health services and efforts to empower girls and keep them in school. National development plans must adapt to prepare for demographic shifts, notably through stronger civil registration and vital statistics systems. “The seismic demographic shifts that Africa’s child population will experience are among the most important questions facing the continent, and indeed vital issues for the world,” the report notes.

This article published by UNICEF, has been reproduced by PSN. Minor changes, cuts and additions may have been made for the purpose of brevity and relevance.