Funding shortfall threatens population plan

Posted: 23 March 2004

A lack of money needed to implement the 20-year Programme of Action of the 1994 Cairo International Conference on Population and Development could lead to big increases in maternal, infant and AIDS-related deaths, the United Nations warns. It could also derail progress towards poverty reduction and development in poor countries.

In Cairo, developed countries agreed to provide an annual $6.1 billion by 2005 for reproductive health, including family planning. But they provided only half of that in 2003, leaving a gap of some $3 billion. The developing countries mobilised $11.7 billion last year, out of their domestic target of about $12.4 billion. The funding target set at Cairo for both developed and developing countries was $18.5 billion by 2005. This is not being met.

"A world that spends $800 billion to $1 trillion each year on the military can afford the equivalent of slightly more than one day's military spending to close Cairo's $3 billion external funding gap to save and improve the lives of millions of women and families in developing countries," said Thoraya Ahmed Obaid, Executive Director of the UN Population Fund (UNFPA).

"Population and reproductive health, which are central to poverty reduction and development, must be adequately financed. If the funding gap is not closed, it is unlikely that any of the world's Millennium Development Goals will be met. Even the progress being made may be thrown off track."

Population consensus

Ms. Obaid called attention to the funding gap as the UN met in New York to assess progress made during the first 10 years of the Cairo Plan of Action. This is based on a consensus that stabilising world population will contribute significantly to development and that slower population growth could allow communities more time to combat poverty while greatly improving women's health.

The Programme also calls on all countries to make reproductive health available through the primary health system; help couples and individuals meet their own reproductive needs; prevent maternal deaths, HIV/AIDS and unwanted pregnancies; make family planning services accessible to all; increase life expectancy; and improve the quality of health care.

"The decade since the adoption of the Cairo Programme of Action has been one of substantial progress," said Ms. Obaid. "A girl born today in most parts of the developing world faces better prospects than her 10-year-old sister. School enrolment rates are increasing, mortality is declining, life expectancy is rising, more and more women and couples are able to choose the number and spacing of their children, and many countries are taking additional steps to confront HIV/AIDS."

But the future was not assured, she warned. "The reality is that progress is uneven. At the mid-point of the Cairo Programme of Action, we need the strength and endurance of a marathon runner to meet our goals during the next decade."

"And there is reason to believe that this strength and endurance can be summoned," added Ms. Obaid, alluding to strong expressions of national support for Cairo. "All over the world, the overwhelming majority of countries have adopted the Cairo agenda as their own. Governments and citizens have voiced strong support for and reaffirmed the Cairo Programme of Action. From Bangkok to Port-of-Spain, and from Geneva to Santiago, the message has been delivered loud and clear: We want the Cairo agenda and we believe in it."

Echoing the United Nations General Assembly's sense of urgency, Ms. Obaid said it was time to implement agreements more vigorously because the international community's actions could facilitate the free decisions of individuals, which could determine whether fewer women died during childbirth and whether the world would have 8.9 billion or 10.6 billion persons in 2050.