The U.S. Needs to do More to About Global Overpopulation

In our book Enough of Us, We discuss the U.S. government’s denying financial support to family planning programs run by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). For eight years this shameful policy ruled as a result of baseless fear that the money would be used for abortions in China and developing countries.

Starting in 2009, Congress and the current administration reversed those policies.  In December 2011 Congress froze family planning assistance at the previous year’s level of $575 million, but cut funding for UNFPA from $40 million to $35 Million. While that is a setback, it could have been worse. Congressional representatives who oppose family planning wanted to cut UNFPA’s allotment by 25 percent, or $10 million.

Population Institute President Robert Walker

But for family planning advocates, who wanted a $1 billion-dollar appropriation, the allotment was way too small. Population Institute ( president Robert Walker said, “There is still a large unmet need for family planning in the world. With the largest generation ever of young people entering their prime reproductive years, the U.S. should be boosting its support for both UNFPA and country-to-country assistance.”

While acknowledging Congressional budget pressures, Population Institute (PI) takes the position that support for family planning (or FP … and yes, this will be the final abbreviation) is cost effective. It leads to improved health, reductions in infant and maternal mortality, greater gender equality (see last week’s article on child brides) better education, and reduction in poverty. These higher standards of living make for less pressure on developed countries to assist poorer countries on many levels.

In light of this, it is interesting to us that USAID has plans to phase out FP assistance in Latin America. The motivation for such a move is based on FP progress in the region. The problem is that Latin American is not really a single region. It’s doubtful whether people in San Salvador feel like they are in the same region as those in Rio. PI worries about the implications of graduating countries out of USAID family planning support. Some of the countries now receiving it may not be equipped to progress without assistance from UNFPA and USAID.

The latter agency bases its needs evaluations on fertility rates, contraceptive use, and infant mortality. But if family planning aid is reduced or discontinued, PI fears, the contraceptive “security” and reproductive health may be compromised, although further assistance may come from other providers, including nonprofits and the commercial sector.

“While ‘graduation’ is a desired outcome, it’s important that the gains that have been made are not endangered by the phase-out of family planning assistance. In some of the countries that were studied, the availability of contraceptives is still a problem, and indigenous populations, the rural poor, and adolescents in particular, may be underserved.” This is a concern expressed in a PI report of last October. Among other recommendations, the report advises that USAID:

  • Closely monitor the situations in “graduating” countries;
  • Continue to provide assistance to Bolivia and Guatemala, especially in reaching poor, indigenous, rural, adolescent, and “hard to reach” populations;
  • Continue to provide across-the-board FP assistance to Haiti and to use the experience there to identify and test strategies that could be used in future emergencies around the world;
  • Study USAID graduation in order to evaluate its effects.

During the current presidential campaign primary election season, the question of overspending on foreign aid has come up more than once. But how much do we actually spend on foreign aid of all kinds? According to a CNN poll taken last April, on average Americans estimate that foreign aid takes up 10 percent of the federal budget, and one in five think it represents about 30 percent of the money the government spends. The actual amount is more like one percent, according to data from the Office of Management and Budget from the 2010 fiscal year’s $3.5 trillion budget (

Fortunately, the current administration has seen the importance of providing have-not nations with the resources to manage their respective populations. Two weeks ago, President Obama asked Congress to restore funding for international family planning to the fiscal year 2010 levels. As PI put it, “This is good news for the 215 million women in developing countries who need access to family planning services and information.

The 2012 budget allotted $610 million to international FP. The proposed budget for 2013 asks for almost $643 million, including $39 million for UNFPA.

Population Institute sees this as a positive. “The administration’s budget reduces funding for other areas of bilateral foreign assistance, including other health-related programs, but in view of the critical importance of family planning, the administration obviously felt it was important to reverse the recent cutbacks in funding.”

So while the proposed FP budget is not the one billion that family planning organizations would like to see – and it does not fully restore the $40 million for UNFPA of a few years ago, it certainly is an improvement over recent declines.

The challenge is now before us. Do Americans share their opinions with those in Congress who represent them? Will we support family planning? And will so many of us remain clueless about what a small percentage of our budget goes to dealing with the problems of overpopulation – and that we need to think twice before making children – and giving others around the world the opportunities and incentives to do the same?

The battle looms. Stay tuned.

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