Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Rotary: Population and Sustainable Development

Rtn. (Dr.) Devendra Kothari
Prof. Population Program Management

Global population has reached 7 billion on October 31, 2011, just 12 years after reaching 6 billion in 1999. “The eighth billion may also take about 12 years, but only if birth rates in all developing countries follow projections that assume a smooth decline to two children or fewer," says Carl Haub, PRB's senior demographer. While declines in birth rates have been virtually universal across countries, the pattern of decline has been very variable. In most  countries, birth rates have fallen below two children or are in process of achieve that level; birth rates in other countries, mainly located in Africa and Asia, have decreased to medium levels or have barely begun to decrease. It is therefore entirely possible that the 8th billion may reach in the next 10 to 11 years, placing us squarely in the middle of history's most rapid population expansion. And high levels of fertility and population growth make it far more difficult for families and societies to overcome poverty. Here, Rotary can play a catalytic role in motivating the policy makers to focus their attention to resolve the issue of growing population, as it did in case of Polio Eradication[1].  This is why the world is looking towards Rotary to take the challenge[2].

Today, most population growth is concentrated in the world's poorest countries and within the poorest regions of those countries. And it is mainly because more than “two in five pregnancies worldwide are unintended or unwanted by the women who experience them, and half or more of these pregnancies result in births that spur continued population growth”, as noted by Robert Engelman, who authored the highly acclaimed book: More: Population, Nature, and What Women Want.  

Are people in poor countries against small family norm? While world’s population continues to grow by around 85-90 million annually, more than 200 million women, mainly from the poor countries lack access to basic contraception. Often, these women must travel far from their communities to reach a health facility, only to return home “empty handed” due to shortages and stock-outs as well as non availability of staff. When women seeking family planning services are turned away, they are unable to protect themselves from unintended pregnancies and sexually-transmitted infections, including HIV/AIDS, as argued by the Population Action International, Washington DC.

The main reason could be that the international community has allowed attention to drift away from the reproductive health. “Over the past ten years population issues have lost priority”, as noted by the report: Return of the Population Growth Factor: Its Impact on the Millennium Development Goals. The report further notes that “funding has stagnated or decreased at a time when unmet need for family planning information and services is increasing”[3].

There is an urgent need to focus on population growth, since global population is projected to grow from seven billion in 2011 to over 9.3 billion by 2050. Of this growth, around 90% of this will be concentrated in the poor performing countries. Here, the Indian case needs special attention. With around 1.2 billion people, India is currently the second most populous nation in the world. The UN Population Division projects that it will surpass China as the most populous within 15 to 20 years. India's population is projected to peak at 1.7 billion in 2060. China at its peak in 2025 will have 1.4 billion people. In fact, when China peaks, India will have already surpassed it in population. Other countries which will contribute significantly in the near future are: Nigeria, Pakistan, Ethiopia, Philippines, etc. (see, Blog:  kotharioninida.blogspot.com, dated 29.11.2011).   

Now question arises as how to forge ahead? The most important and positive steps are still largely unrecognized by policymakers. Here the women centred approach could be a positive option that has been largely unrecognized by policymakers as well as by many bilateral and philanthropic organizations. In the changed situation, most women even in the poorest countries do not want more children, but that they have them is mainly due to non-availability and inaccessibility of quality reproductive healthcare services. They have been trapped in a vicious circle[4]. The women need help to have children by choice and not by chance. This requires steady political as well as administrative will, which sadly has, so far, been inconsistent. The need of the hour, thus, is to create confidence among policy makers and programme managers as well as among the donor agencies that a breakthrough is possible by adopting a feminist agenda for population stabilization. We need creative policies to strengthen this foundation.

As such, Rotary International and its sub-divisions like Rotarian Action Group for Population Growth and Sustainable Development (RFPD) [5] must re-emphasize its commitment to population stabilization and provide essential leadership to promote reproductive health services and increase awareness of the social, economic, and environmental consequences of rapid population growth.  Also one should work actively to educate policymakers, program managers, the media and the general public about population issues.  We hope that the Rotary will take leadership role in organizing discussions on this important issue by involving major partners, as it did in the late nineties by organizing a number of international population submit.  

We are sure that the Rotary International will take the position that every child should be a wanted one. Achieving this goal would prevent the suffering of women and their families and the social problems that often follow the birth of unwanted children under the motto “Service Above Self”.

The next post discusses what should be the New Year resolution for India.

Wishing you a New Year filled with New Hope and New Beginnings!!!

[1] The most notable global project, Polio Plus, was initiated by the Rotary International to eradicate the polio in 1985. Inspired by Rotary's commitment, many organizations joined the eradication effort. In 1988, the World Health Organization (WHO) passed a resolution to eradicate polio by 2000.
[2] The Rotary International is a worldwide net work of inspired individuals who translate their passions into relevant social cause to change lives in communities. With Rotary’s rich, religious, ethnic, and cultural background and with membership in over 160 countries, many believe that Rotary is the ideal organization to address this challenge like polio eradication.

[3] The Report is based on discussion with the All Party Parliamentary Group on Population, Development and Reproductive Health. For details, see report: Return of the Population Growth Factor: Its Impact on the Millennium Development Goals, 2007 (http://www.appg-popdevrh.org.uk/).  

[4] For details, see: Kothari Devendra, “Empowering Women in India through Better Reproductive Healthcare”, FPA Working Paper No 5, Jaipur: Forum for Population Action, 2010.

[5] Founded in 1996, the 23,000+ members of the Rotarian Action Group for Population Growth and Sustainable Development (RFPD), Inc. work to address the population crisis around the world. RFPD is dedicated to educating and motivating the 1.2 million Rotarians around the world about developing and implementing projects that directly address the population issue.