Population and Poverty
A central premise of the 1994 Cairo conference was the
notion that the size, growth, age structure and ruralurban
distribution of a country’s population have a
critical impact on its development prospects, and
specifically on prospects for raising the living standards
of the poor. Reflecting this understanding, the
ICPD called on countries to “fully integrate population
concerns into development strategies, planning,
decision-making and resource allocation at all levels”.
Among the key population-development concerns
the Programme of Action addressed were: population
and poverty; the environment (see Chapter 3); health,
morbidity and mortality (Chapters 6, 7 and 8); and
population distribution, urbanization and internal
and international migration (Chapter 4).
Poverty perpetuates poor health, gender inequality
and rapid population growth. The ICPD recognized
that empowering individual women and men with
education, equal opportunity and the means to determine
the number and spacing of their children is
critical to breaking this vicious cycle.
In 1994 there was already solid evidence, based
on two generations of experience, that developing
countries with lower fertility and slower population
growth have higher productivity, more savings and
more productive investment, resulting in faster
Analysis of more recent data confirms that countries
that have reduced fertility and mortality by
investing in health and education have prospered
as a result.
As the international community strives to focus
development efforts more effectively to achieve the
Millennium Development Goals for eradicating
poverty and improving people’s well-being, the ICPD’s
rights-based agenda for addressing the interdependence
of population and poverty deserves the highest priority.
In the decade since the ICPD, policies shaping international
development assistance have changed. The
amount of assistance has stagnated at around $60
billion per year, a result of both donor fatigue and
economic uncertainty. At the same time, donors
have become more critical of how assistance has been
used (with blame falling on both donor and recipient
To increase the impact of development assistance,
donors have made governance an important criterion
for its allocation, and strengthened the overall focus on
alleviating poverty as the main rationale for assistance.
The aim of focusing development assistance more
effectively shaped the Millennium Summit at UN
Headquarters in 2000 and its identification of the
Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and associated
targets for reducing global poverty by 2015:
- Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger. By 2015,
halve the proportion of people living on less than a
dollar a day and those who suffer from hunger.
- Achieve universal primary education. By 2015,
ensure that all boys and girls complete primary
- Promote gender equality and empower women.
Eliminate gender disparities in primary and secondary
education preferably by 2005 and at all
levels by 2015.
- Reduce child mortality. By 2015, reduce by two
thirds the mortality rate among children under 5.
- Improve maternal health. By 2015, reduce by three
quarters the ratio of women dying in childbirth.
- Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases.
By 2015, halt and begin to reverse the spread of
HIV/AIDS and the incidence of malaria and other
- Ensure environmental sustainability. Integrate
the principles of sustainable development into country
policies and programmes and reverse the loss of
environmental resources. By 2015, reduce by half the
proportion of people without access to safe drinking
water. By 2020, achieve significant improvement in
the lives of at least 100 million slum dwellers.
- Develop a global partnership for development.
Develop further an open trading and financial
system that includes a commitment to good
governance, development and poverty reduction—
nationally and internationally. Address the
least-developed countries’ special needs, and the
special needs of landlocked and small island developing
states. Deal comprehensively with developing
countries’ debt problems. Develop decent and productive work for youth. In cooperation with
pharmaceutical companies, provide access to
affordable essential drugs in developing countries.
In cooperation with the private sector, make available
the benefits of new technologies—especially
information and communications technologies.
In many ways, the goals and targets set at the
ICPD (see Box 3) anticipated the MDGs.
GOALS OF THE ICPD AND THE 1999 REVIEW
The ICPD adopted the following mutually
- Gender equality in education. Eliminate the gender gap in primary and secondary
education by 2005, and complete access to primary school or the equivalent by
girls and boys as quickly as possible and in any case before 2015;
- Infant, child and maternal mortality. Reduce infant and under-5 mortality
rates by at least one third, to no more than 50 and 70 per 1,000 live births,
respectively, by 2000, and to below 35 and 45, respectively, by 2015; reduce
maternal mortality to half the 1990 levels by 2000 and by a further one half by
2015 (specifically, in countries with the highest mortality, to below 60 per
100,000 live births);
- Reproductive health services.Provide universal access to a full range of safe and reliable family-planning methods and to related reproductive and sexual
health services by 2015.
Reviewing the first five years of implementing the Programme of Action, the United Nations in 1999 took note of the
worsening crisis of HIV/AIDS and the vulnerability of young people and adopted
specific numerical targets to evaluate programme implementation:
- Education. Halve the 1990 illiteracy rate for women and girls by 2005; ensure that by
2010 at least 90 per cent of children of both sexes are enrolled in primary school;
- Reproductive health services. Provide a wide range of family planning methods,
essential obstetric care, and prevention and management of reproductive tract
infections in 60 per cent of primary health care facilities by 2005; in 80
per cent by 2010, and in all by 2015;
- Maternal mortality. Where maternal mortality is very high, ensure that at least 40 per cent of all births are assisted by skilled attendants by 2005, 50 per cent
by 2010 and 60 per cent by 2015; globally, 80 per cent of births should be
attended by 2005, 85 per cent by 2010 and 90 per cent by 2015;
- Unmet need for family planning. Reduce by half by 2005 any gap between the
proportions of individuals using contraceptives and those expressing a desire to
space or limit their families, by 75 per cent by 2010, and completely by 2015.
Recruitment targets or quotas should not be used to reach this goal.
- HIV/AIDS. Ensure that by 2005 at least 90 per cent, and by 2010 95 per cent, of
young men and women 15-24 have access to HIV/AIDS prevention methods
such as female and male condoms, and voluntary testing, counselling and followup;
reduce HIV infection rates in this age group by 25 per cent in the most-affected
countries by 2005, and by 25 per cent globally by 2010. See Sources