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U.S. Policy Threatens
Global Population Stabilization
Joan Jones Holtz
On January 24, 2001, two days into his new administration, President George W. Bush reinstated the Global Gag Rule, preventing over 70 countries from receiving US population and reproductive health care aid if they, with non-US funds, provide legal abortion services or advocate to provide for legal abortion services. Then, a year later our President announced that he would withhold the $34 million appropriated through bipartisan efforts in Congress to aid the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), erroneously claiming that the UNFPA supports forced abortions and sterilization programs in China. Why should the President's misguided actions concern us?
Our planet is now home to over 6.1 billion people doubled since 1960, with one-half of those individuals under the age of 25 and ready to enter their reproductive years. In fact, the population of the earth's 50 poorest countries is on track to triple in the next 50 years. Those impoverished nations are already depleting finite natural resourcescutting down rainforests, over fishing, using unsustainable agricultural practices and dirty forms of energy in order to merely survive. In 2001, 1.2 billion people lacked access to clean water. By 2015, it is expected that 3 billion people nearly half the global population will not have a safe water supply. But are the world's poor solely to blame for the world's environmental problems?
The bulk of pollution and consumption occurs in the wealthiest nations. These nations comprise only 20% of the global population yet consume 80% of global resources. The U.S, with only 6% of the world's population, consumes 25% of the world's natural resources and produces 75% of the toxic and hazardous wastes. Given these facts, it is not surprising that a child born in the industrialized world is likely to consume 30-50 times the resources of a child born into the developing world. Both rapid population growth and shortsighted consumption patterns cause the major environmental problems now threatening our planet. What can we do about this?
We in the wealthy nations must take responsibility to curb our spiraling and disproportionate consumption habits by building public awareness, changing attitudes and encouraging legislation that promotes and rewards the conservation of natural resources. But we must also speak out in support for legislative measures that address rapid population growth.
90 - 95% of population growth is taking place in impoverished nations and they have asked for our help. We know that education and access to health and family planning services is the key to lower birthrates, and we know that when these services are available, women use them.
In the 1960's, less than 10% of people in the developing world had access to modern methods of family planning, and women had an average of slightly more than six children. Today, with 40% of the people having access to family planning and improved reproductive health care, the worldwide birthrate has declined by almost one-half, from over six to a little more than three children per family. But these programs require funding. How can we help extend these services to all women?
At the1994 UN Conference held in Cairo, nearly 180 countries adopted a Program of Action committed to slowing population growth, reducing poverty, achieving economic progress, and improving environmental protection. The poorest nations of the world are meeting their obligations by providing 2/3 of the funds needed to implement necessary programs. But the richest countries are not even close to fulfilling their promises. The U.S. spends less than 1% of its budget on International Affairs. Of this small portion, less than .02 of that 1% is given for international family planning assistance. The U.S. has the smallest per capita giving of any industrialized nation. Now, with Bush's destructive policies, the U.S. will provide even less support.
So why must we worry about the Bush Administration's imposing the odious Global Gag Rule and by its refusal to fund UNFPA?
Bush supporters claim that these impositions are in place because they want to prevent abortions. But their policies promote the opposite. Providing access to family planning services helps to reduce unintended pregnancies and thus the incidence of abortion. Without U.S. funding, UNFPA estimates that each year 800,000 more abortions and the deaths of 4,700 mothers and 77,000 children under the age of five could occur. And, of course, without family planning services the birthrate will continue to swell beyond sustainable limits.
Three billion people are under the age of 25, one billion between 14-25. The reproductive choices these young people make will have a tremendous impact on the future of our planet. Now is NOT the time for the U.S. to turn its back on helping to fund essential programs that improve the lives of families and the environmental outlook for generations to come. Please help by urging your legislators to support funding for family planning programs.
(For more information about the Global Population and the Environment Program, contact National Director Annette Souder, 202-547-1141.)