Population and Development

updated October 2016

As the projected increase from today’s population of over seven billion will occur entirely in developing countries, the task of stabilising world population must be captured within the international development agenda. This was exactly the conclusion reached at the landmark 1994 International Conference on Population and Development whose 20-year Programme of Action, known as the Cairo Consensus, has proved to be a decisive influence on population policy.

Now coordinated by the UN Population Fund, the Cairo Consensus clarified that population concerns are not simply a matter of family planning but are best addressed by redoubling commitment to national poverty reduction plans in general and women’s education, health and economic empowerment in particular. For example, a full period of schooling for girls reduces the risk of teenage marriage and increases awareness and demand for contraception.

Approved by the UN General Assembly in 2015, the Sustainable Development Goals have accommodated this philosophy in the 5th Goal which aims to “achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls.” Universal access to sexual and reproductive health rights is one of the associated targets.

This vision of universal access represents more of an embarrassment than a leap forward because the same target was included in the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), due to be fulfilled in 2015. In the event, distressingly high rates of maternal mortality in developing countries persisted for most of the MDG period. A December 2014 report by the Guttmacher Institute and UN Population Fund concludes that there are 225 million women in these countries with an unfulfilled wish for family planning services. This number has barely changed since 2008.

The Guttmacher report estimates that expenditure on reproductive health services in developing countries needs to double if the universal target is to be achieved. However, it also calculates that each $1 of expenditure on contraceptive services reduces the cost of pregnancy-related care by $1.47.

Nonetheless, global donor funding of family planning services has fallen steadily since 2001, both in real terms and as a share of the overall health budget from foreign aid. In 2012 the London Summit on Family Planning launched a coordinated strategy to bring contraceptive services to 120 million women in the poorest countries by 2020. It secured pledges of $2.6 billion of donor funding across that period.


Will saving poor children lead to overpopulation?
Professor Hans Rosling explains the correlation between development of poor countries and reduction in the rate of population growth

from Gapminder Foundation

Where’s the Controversy in Saving Lives?
from the Gates Foundation

Family Planning is an Economic Safeguard
A VOA News report explores why providing contraception and education for Kenyan women is important both for population control and for the country’s economic interests.

more Population briefings
World Population Projections
Demographic Transition
Demographic Dividend
Opposition to Family Planning
Overpopulation or Overconsumption?
Source material and useful links

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