By Maria Fotopoulos
July 10, 2013
Tomorrow is World Population Day. The annual observation grew out of the “Day of Five Billion,” July 11, 1987, recognized as the date human population reached that staggering number.
More than 25 years down the road, we continue growing unsustainably and are now at a world population of 7.1 billion, with a projected population of 9.2 billion by 2050, if we look at what’s believed the more likely of several projections from the United Nations.
To put this growth in historical perspective, it took all of human history – thousands and thousands of years – to reach a population of 1 billion, which occurred approximately by the year 1800. Then it took only 130 years to add another billion people, followed by less than 30 years for the third billion and 15 years for the fourth billion and 13 years for each of the fifth, sixth and seventh billion.
Search the Internet for “world population clock,” and it’s easy to find a visually startling graph. The growth line crawls along the bottom of the graph for centuries and then rockets up. When viewed graphically from a historical perspective, it appears this tremendous growth may be a mere blimp – likely to revert to the lower levels. So the adage, “What comes up must come down,” springs to mind too.
Building awareness of this enormous growth and how it impacts the environment and development was why the United Nations created World Population Day. For the last 45 years, many world leaders have supported the basic human right of people to freely and responsibly determine the number of children and the spacing of those births. Yet millions of women worldwide do not have basic human rights, let alone access to contraception. In fact, an estimated 223 million females lack access to effective family planning, according to the United Nations Fund for Population Activities (UNFPA).
It’s easy to feel pessimistic about our global state of affairs. We’ve done too little, too late globally. And in the United States – once thought of as progressive and a leader – we battle over pharmacists’ “rights” to not fill birth control prescriptions, endlessly debate in the government realm what should be medical decisions between patients and doctors, play political football defunding and then funding the UNFPA and hold up a family that has produced 19 children as a positive – seemingly with the strongest arguments to support the latter being the family’s house is clean and organized, and they’re “self-sufficient,” tax incentives aside.
On World Population Day, though, in light of so much bad news, it’s even more important to look at progress to avoid being completely depressed over the state of the world. With the high-profile work of Melinda Gates through the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, attention – but more importantly, substantial funding – is being put into global health-related and educational issues of women, including access to birth control.
This year, for example, through a partnership of the Gates Foundation, Clinton Health Access Initiative, UNFPA, Bayer HealthCare AG, the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation and the Norwegian, Swedish, U.S. and UK governments, a contraceptive implant for women that’s effective for up to five years will be available at a more than 50 percent cost reduction in more than 50 countries, among them ones that had been identified as least likely to achieve Millennium Development Goals on maternal and child health by 2015.
The program is one of the results of last year’s London Summit on Family Planning, which called for “unprecedented global political commitments and resources” which would provide more than 120 million girls and women access to contraception by 2020. Between 2013 and 2018, because of this program, it’s estimated that 28 million unintended pregnancies will be prevented, as well as 280,000 infant deaths and 30,000 maternal deaths.
That’s good news!
This is the type of collaborative, big and bold approach that’s needed to address the super-sized problems we’ve created that hinder sustainability. With this sort of thinking, commitment and funding, perhaps we have a better chance to achieve a real shift, putting humanity on a new trajectory that ultimately will lead to a stable, lower population and that can provide a good quality of life for all.
Maria Fotopoulos is a Senior Writing Fellow for the Santa Barbara-based organization, Californians for Population Stabilization (CAPS | capsweb.org), where she writes about the population-sustainability connection. Reach her at [email protected], on Twitter at TurboDog50 and Facebook at Maria K. Fotopoulos.