Caron Whitaker manages the Population & Environment Program at the National Wildlife Federation. This week she is attending a U.N. meeting to mark the 10th anniversary of the International Conference on Population and Development.

Wednesday, 24 Mar 2004

New York, N.Y.

Government delegates from 41 countries are convening this week at the United Nations headquarters for the Commission on Population and Development meeting to mark the 10th anniversary of the International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo.

The 1994 ICPD conference identified links between population growth, environmental degradation, and development. To address these issues, 179 countries — including the United States — endorsed the goal of universally available reproductive health services, including family planning, by 2015.

During this 10-year anniversary, countries around the world are reaffirming the commitments made in Cairo. So far, the U.S. alone has refused.

Increasing population is one of the greatest threats to our global environment. Population growth exacerbates climate change, deforestation, loss of habitat, and water and air pollution around the globe. Providing universal access to family planning and reproductive health care gives families the information and services they need to make responsible choices. When given these choices, women and couples overwhelmingly choose to have smaller, healthier families.

The U.S. government claims it is committed to providing family-planning services. It says it refuses to reaffirm ICPD simply because the document can be interpreted as promoting abortion — even though the ICPD Program of Action clearly states, “In no case should abortion be promoted as a method of family planning.”

However, U.S. claims of support for family planning don’t hold water. President Bush requested only $425 million for international family planning in 2005, a more-than-35-percent reduction from U.S. contributions in 1995. During the past 10 years, the global population has increased by more than half a billion people and over 5 million women have died in childbirth or from pregnancy-related causes — most of them preventable.

The U.S. is particularly behind in meeting the commitment we made at ICPD. At Cairo, donor countries agreed to commit 0.7 percent of their GNP to development assistance. On average the U.S. gives 0.12 percent of its GNP annually to official development assistance — ranking last among the 20 donor countries — with only 0.02 percent going to international family planning.

In the past year and a half, the U.S. stood alone against ICPD at U.N. regional meetings in Bangkok and Santiago, while 32 and 38 countries, respectively, reaffirmed Cairo.

Today, at the Commission on Population and Development, the G77 (a coalition of developing countries) and the European Union both signaled their ongoing commitment to the consensus and their desire to reaffirm.

However, the U.S. delegation indicated it would once again refuse to reaffirm Cairo and support a sustainable future for women, families, and the environment.