Women's choices change cities

June 12, 2009


This year the world reaches an invisible but momentous milestone: for the first time in history, more than half its population will be living in urban areas. In Kenya, rapid urbanisation is creating deepening poverty among urban residents.


Credit: UN Photo/Milton Grant

Urban growth

According to the United Nation's Population Fund  State of the World Population report published last year, poor people will make up a large part of future urban growth. Most urban growth in developing countries now stems from natural increase (more births than deaths) rather than migration from rural areas.

"But wherever it comes from, the growth of urban areas includes huge numbers of poor people. Ignoring this basic reality will make it impossible either to plan for inevitable and massive city growth or to use urban dynamics to help relieve poverty," states the report.

The UN Human Settlements Programme (UN Habitat) estimates that more than half of the residents the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, are living in slums, where unemployment is high, livelihoods are unreliable, housing is poor, and basic amenities such as running water and proper sanitation are lacking.

According to Dr Alex Ezeh, executive director of the African Population and Health Research Centre in Nairobi, poor people in urban areas cannot afford formal housing, so they gravitate to slum settlements, where unsanitary conditions mean they have poorer health outcomes than people living elsewhere.

"If you look at infant mortality rates, out of every 1,000 live births in the slum areas, 91 will die before their first birthday, compared to 67 in Nairobi as a whole, and 79 in rural areas. For under-five mortality, at least 151 infants die before their fifth birthday in the slums compared to the national average of 115, 117 in rural areas, and 95 in Nairobi as a whole."

The UNFPA report, however, states that the potential benefits of urbanisation far outweigh the disadvantages: the challenge is in learning how to exploit its possibilities. It recommends that approaches should aim to reduce the major component driving urban population growth, which is natural increase. Such approaches, the report says, should aim to reduce poverty levels, promote women's rights, and better reproductive health services.

"Once policymakers and civil society understand and accept the demographic and social composition of urban growth, some basic approaches and initiatives suggest themselves.

"Advances in social development, such as promoting gender equity and equality, making education universally available and meeting reproductive health needs, are important for their own sake. But they will also enable women to avoid unwanted fertility and reduce the main factor in the growth of urban populations-natural increase," states the report.

Barriers to family planning

To Ezeh the initiative that suggests itself is family planning programmes targeted at urban poor communities: "Large proportions of poor urban women who either do not want any more children or want to delay their next birth for at least two years, are at risk of getting pregnant because they are not using any method of family planning."

Ezeh says that across sub-Saharan Africa, the urban poor are far less likely than other city dwellers to access family planning services. The factors underlying a woman's decision to use contraception are complex, and a five year study, entitled 'Educational outcomes in health and fertility', is currently under way to unravel these factors. The study, which is being conducted in Kenya, Ghana, India and Pakistan, is coordinated by the University of Cambridge with funding from the UK government's Department for International Development.

It examines the link between schooling and reproductive decisions in poor households. It focuses on questions relating to women's agency and decision making power in poor communities. Other questions it seeks to answer are whether schooling 'works' by influencing the individual or the community, and how many years of schooling are required to enable women to take more independent decisions and to access a wider range of external resources.

Fatma*, a 32-year-old resident of the Korogocho slum in Nairobi has eight children. Apart from attending a madrassa (an Islamic religious school) when she was a young girl, she has had no other form of schooling. Fatma believes that children are a gift from God and so any attempt to stop conception is a sin. This is deeply rooted in her religious beliefs.

She got married at the age of 14 and has since been bearing children after every one and a half to two years. Apart from avoiding sex on her 'unsafe days', something she was taught in madrassa, she has never used any form of modern contraception and she says she does not need it.

"Using contraceptives is killing something... but children are gifts from God," she says. "Many young girls who use contraceptives are unable to conceive when they get married, because they are now barren as they have already killed all their children."

Increasing access to contraceptive choices

This is in contrast to the attitude of Jane*, a 37-year old mother of seven also from Korogocho. Jane is unemployed and she lives with her husband, a casual worker. They only wanted to have four or five children, she says.

After delivering her fourth child, she decided to get the three-month contraceptive injection, which she had to pay for, at a nearby clinic. This method caused excessive bleeding, so she stopped it, and she got pregnant.

After their fifth child, she opted for the pill, which she bought from a local chemist. But this method too gave her severe side effects. "Whenever I took the pill, I would feel nausea, weak and would sometimes get fever," she said. She abandoned this method too.

Following this, she gave birth to their sixth and then their seventh children. Now, her last born child is six months old and Jane is yet to start using a modern contraceptive method.

Jane says she would like these services to be made more easily accessible and free of charge, especially for poor women. She would also like women to be given proper education on all the methods available and their side effects.

UNEP report highlights role of population dynamics in conflict over natural resources

June 1, 2009


The environmental dimension is one that has largely been ignored from conflict literature and policy making to date, yet a new report launched by the UN Environment Program  (UNEP) uses a series of case studies to examine the role that environmental stressors play in conflict zones around the world today.


Credit: UN Photo/Martine Perret

Population growth and environmental stress

Environmental stress is compounded by population growth, resulting in declining resources and higher demand, and this will be a likely factor that intensifies conflict over the coming decades, the United Nation's Environment Programme (UNEP) argues.

Environmental factors are rarely, if ever the sole cause of conflict, the reportFrom conflict to peacebuilding: the role of natural resources and the environment, outlines. Ethnicity, poverty, conflict in neighboring countries and low levels of international trade as critical factors. However the exploitation of natural resources and other environmental stressors can be implicated in all phases of the conflict cycle.

The onset of climate change will also serve to exacerbate resource scarcity.

“Addressing the issue of the environment in the context of conflict resolution, conflict prevention, peacekeeping, [and] peacebuilding becomes ever more important because we know from everything we have learned—and are learning every day—about climate change that one thing is for certain: The world is going to be under more stress,” says UNEP Director, Achim Steiner.

It can be difficult to the make the links between “environment” and “conflict” since it will take more than environmental issues to spark a security threat, but also because it can be seen to challenge the sovereign rights of countries that seek to use their natural resources according to their national interest. UNEP therefore should be congratulated for taking the lead in this contentious area and for arguing that a greater breadth of conflict analysis should include environmental and resource planning.

PSN's response

PSN will build on this thesis in arguing that in line with a multi sector approach addressing environmental factors, security policy makers should also consider matters of population planning.

Out of the 20 states defined as "failing" by the UN, 17 have the highest rates of population growth in the world. Knock on effects of rapid population growth, not least a very young age structure and high incidence of poverty are numerous, but there are also important environmental considerations with respect to declining land or water availability and other natural resource management.

The report is available on the UNEP website.

Impacts of world population growth on resources and economic growth

May 27, 2009

SOURCE: MOJ News Agency (Iran)

The world population is projected to reach seven billion early in 2012, up from the current 6.8 billion, and surpass nine billion people by 2050, reveals the 2008 Revision of the official United Nations population estimates and projections.


Credit: UN Photo/ P Johnson

Population projections

In July 2009, the world population will reach 6.8 billion, 313 million more than in 2005 or a gain of 78 million persons yearly. Assuming that fertility levels continue to decline, the world population is expected to reach 9.1 billion in 2050 and to be increasing by about 33 million persons yearly at that time, according to the medium variant. Most of the additional 2.3 billion people will enlarge the population of developing countries, which is projected to rise from 5.6 billion in 2009 to 7.9 billion in 2050, and will be distributed among the population aged 15-59 (1.2 billion) and 60 or over (1.1 billion) because the number of children under age 15 in developing countries will decrease.

In contrast, the population of the more developed regions is expected to change minimally, passing from 1.23 billion to 1.28 billion, and would have declined to 1.15 billion were it not for the projected net migration from developing to developed countries, which is projected to average 2.4 million persons annually from 2009 to 2050.

Another recent UN report, World Population Policies 2007, says that many governments continue to be concerned about the consequences of excessive population growth for economic growth and sustainable development. High population growth remains a salient concern in the developing world. Half of the developing countries viewed their population growth as too high in 2007 although rates of population growth in developing countries continue to decline, from an average annual rate of 2.4 per cent in 1970-1975 to 1.4 per cent in 2000-2005. Among the 50 least developed countries, the percentage of countries that viewed population growth as too high rose from 50 per cent in 1986 to 78 per cent in 2007.

Pressures on resources

Many developing countries have realized the importance of reducing high rates of population growth in order to ease mounting pressure on renewable and non-renewable resources, combat climate change, prevent food insufficiency and provide decent employment and basic social services to all their people.

Africa is the region with the highest percentage of countries viewing population growth as too high: 66 per cent of countries did so in 2007, up from 35 per cent in 1976. In Asia, which has experienced substantial declines in fertility, 45 per cent of countries viewed population growth as too high. Moreover, the adverse effects of climate change cannot be bound within any administrative boundaries.

Climate change poses a grave challenge for the whole world and has wide ranging implications for human well-being as well as for security, including the risk of armed conflict over resources and large-scale migrations of population within nations and across national borders. It has been estimated that 150 million environmental refugees will exist in 2050, due mainly to the effects of coastal flooding, shoreline erosion and agricultural disruption. "A range of development policies are urgently needed to address this situation, including renewed commitment to meeting the globally agreed Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

Investing in family planning

Investments in family planning and reproductive health, girls education, economic opportunities and empowering of women, and in youth could help least developed and developing countries to speed up their demographic transition, enabling them to achieve demographic windows of opportunity which may contribute to economic growth.

World Population Prospects: The 2008 Revision Population Database by the UN Population Division is available here.

PSN address the Anglo-Ethiopia Society in London

May 22, 2009


Louise Carver, Population and Sustainability Network Communications Officer had delivered an address to the Anglo-Ethiopian Society on the impact of population growth in Ethiopia.

Credit: UN Photo/Rick Bajornas


The event

The event held by the Anglo-Ethiopian Society at the Royal Asiatic Society in London was attended by a mixed group of UK and Ethiopian colleagues, including Ethiopia Embassy representatives.

PSN address on population growth in Ethiopia

Louise's address was called Population Growth in Ethiopia, Causes, Impacts and Wider Areas of influence.  

The population of Ethiopia is projected to more than double in size before 2050. Eight million Ethiopians are estimated to be living on permanent food aid and many more live in a state of constant food insecurity. Available land holdings and arable land is compromised through exploitation of resources and poor conservation methods.

At the same time fertility remains high and access to sexual and reproductive health services including family planning limited. Unique challenges in providing these services are presented by the geographically difficult environment, however conservation projects that have incorporated voluntary family planning services have recieved positive uptake.

Read the presentation

PSN offers expert opinion at Commonwealth Health Ministers Forum

May 19, 2009


Population and Sustainability Network coordinator Karen Newman addressed Commonwealth Health Ministers at a meeting in Geneva exploring the interface between health and climate change.

Credit: WHO/P. Virot  


The Population and Sustainability Network provided an expert session that addressed the ethical considerations of approaching the links between population growth and climate change at the meeting on the 17th May 2009. Other topics included the relationship between rapid population growth in the Least Developed Countries and adaptation to climate change.

Building upon the Commonwealth Health secretariat’s ongoing work on health and climate change, the meeting provided an opportunity for delegations from Commonwealth countries to share their experiences of the issue and discuss policy and technical solutions and cooperation.

PSN’s presentation on the ethical aspects of linking population with climate change is available here.