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Statement by Dr. Nafis Sadik
Executive Director, United Nations Population Fund

On the "Day of 6 Billion"
12 October 1999

Today the world will pass another milestone in the steady growth of human population: 6 billion people are alive on Earth, twice as many as in 1960 and three times as many as in 1927. The last billion was added in record time, just 12 years after reaching 5 billion.

These numbers represent individual lives, each uniquely valuable, with needs to be met and rights to be protected. Each one of us is a symbol of the Day of 6 Billion.

Today, some 356,000 babies will be born around the world, 90 per cent of them in developing countries. A third will be born into poor families. Their early life will be a struggle for the elements of human dignity – water, food, clothing, housing, sanitation, basic education and health care.

Half of today’s children will be female, and many of them will bear the additional burdens of gender-based discrimination – unequal educational opportunities, second-class status in law and custom; vulnerability to sexual violence, sexually transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancy; and denial of reproductive health and rights.

Human numbers are still growing by 78 million each year, and that growth is concentrated in the countries that are already struggling hardest to meet their people’s needs. In many of the poorest countries fertility rates remain high. Women lack choices: up to half of the nearly 175 million pregnancies each year are unwanted or ill-timed. Many women start childbearing too early, continue too long and have their children too close together. Their health suffers.

Nearly 600,000 women die each year as a result of pregnancy and inadequate care in childbirth, and 70,000 die due to unsafe abortion. Many times this number suffer infection or injury. Some 350 million women in developing countries still do not have access to a range of safe and effective family planning methods. Yet people today want fewer children than their parents’ generation: if all women and men had their choice, families would be smaller and population growth slower.

Yet we have something to celebrate on 12 October. Thirty years ago, when UNFPA began its operations, many experts felt that the planet simply could not support 6 billion people.

Not only our numbers but our quality of life have defied the experts. Population growth has slowed as a result of broader choice and lower fertility, life expectancy has increased, and infant mortality rates have declined. A higher proportion of girls are entering school.

Family size in developing countries is half what it was in 1969 – three children per woman instead of six. The idea of integrated reproductive health care, and an approach based on gender equity and equality are gaining ground. The emphasis today is increasingly on meeting people’s needs and enabling them to exercise their reproductive rights.

In 1994, 179 nations at the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) in Cairo agreed to build on this progress and confront the challenges that remain. The five-year review this year showed that the ICPD approach is having some success. Countries are firmly committed to it, because it is based on solid experience.

We know what needs to be done to guarantee reproductive health care for all; to continue to lengthen life expectancy, reduce maternal mortality and ensure child survival; to close the gender gap in education and provide education for all.

We also know what it will cost: $17 billion a year by the year 2000 for reproductive health care and population planning. This is a small amount considering the benefit to humanity – and roughly what the world spends on arms every week.

Developing countries currently spend about $7.7 billion a year, about two thirds of the year 2000 target agreed at ICPD. But international donors are providing only a third of their agreed $5.7 billion share. Some donor countries have met their commitment. But most have not.

This year 185 nations agreed that the ICPD Programme of Action is practical, realistic and necessary. Implementation will empower women and protect their health, enable couples to realize their reproductive desires, avoid unwanted pregnancies, reduce recourse to abortion, improve child health and education, reduce teen pregnancy and slow the spread of HIV/AIDS. It would help slow population growth, alleviate poverty, ease the strain on the planet’s natural resources and contribute to sustainable development.

We must make good the promises made five years ago. With so much at stake for so many of our 6 billion people, and the billions who will follow, can we do anything less?

 


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