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[afro-nets] ICPD and Population Dynamics

ICPD and Population Dynamics

Dear Colleagues,

Please find enclosed my latest article published in opinion -
editorial section of daily "The News" dated 09 July 2004

on "ICPD and Population Dynamics". - Ahmed

ICPD and population dynamics

by Ahmed Saleem

In September 1994, some ten years back, 179 governments includ-
ing Pakistan assembled in Cairo to rewrite the world population
agenda with a broader mandate on development and population is-
sues. The event called International Conference on Population
and Development (ICPD) underlined the interconnectedness of
population, poverty, gender, patterns of production and consump-
tion, environment, education, health, economic growth, and
women's empowerment. The ICPD has brought a paradigm shift in
population policies and programs in Pakistan in terms of their
focus and scope.

It is from the perspective of this situation that we have to see
what Cairo Conference meant to Pakistan. It had an important im-
pact on both the planners and women's and human rights activists
in Pakistan. It was a breakthrough, a major breakthrough for a
country where population welfare has been synonymous with con-
trol. Historically, for policymakers, population welfare has
been about controlling women's fertility without attention to
women's needs.

Soon after the conference, Pakistan repositioned herself accord-
ingly. Women's health, sustained economic growth, education,
gender equality, infant/maternal mortality reduction, women em-
powerment, and provision of reproductive health services became
cornerstones of government's population and related policies.
There was a general agreement between all the stakeholders that
people, if provided with family care would choose on their own
to have smaller families.

While the efficacy of this comprehensive approach is hardly
questionable, the progress in controlling the burgeoning popula-
tion has not been very satisfactory. It seems that Pakistan's
population will total somewhere between 200 million to 230 mil-
lion in 2015. Sixty per cent of this increase is expected to be
in rural areas. This would result in greater pressure on the en-
vironment and further slowing down the already slow process of
development. In certain cases, it would aggravate the already
deteriorating situation on economic and overall development

After the ICPD, Pakistan has tested several new initiatives both
for improving the availability and accessibility as well as
quality of services. Among others, these initiatives include,
gradual integration of family planning with reproductive health
services, target-free and voluntary approach for family planning
services, provision of high-quality and client-responsive ser-
vices, awareness of risks of maternal mortality and morbidity,
efforts to prevent STDs, HIV/AIDS, and promoting male involve-
ment through advocacy. So far, we have made substantial progress
in improving the reproductive health indicators.

Pakistan is deeply committed to the goals of the International
Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) held in 1994 at
Cairo and to the implementation of recommendations encapsulated
in the Program of Action (POA). In this era of modern globalisa-
tion, Pakistan's problems are the world's problems. There is
need that developed world should come forward and help Pakistan
to achieve its population and development goals. While Popula-
tion Growth Rate (PGR) has declined from over 3 percent in pre-
vious decades to its current level of 1.96 percent per annum,
Pakistan still has an unacceptably high rate of growth compared
to other developing countries. Therefore the government is at-
taching the highest priority to the lowering of the population
growth rate (PGR) from its current level to 1.9 percent per an-
num by the year 2004 and to reaching replacement level of fer-
tility by the year 2020.

The role of woman in controlling population growth cannot be
overemphasized. Pakistan is taking major steps for the empower-
ment of women. It has begun to forge close coordination with
other nation building departments, NGOs and the private sector.
Recognizing the crucial and complimentary role of civil society
in implementing the multifarious recommendations of the ICPD
Plan of Action, there is a widespread encouragement for NGOs and
the private sector to play an active role in all areas of social
development in Pakistan. Today, more than 170 NGOs are operating
in the field of reproductive health and family planning. The
scope of operation of NGOs has also expanded. These indicators
are exceedingly encouraging and positive.

Pakistan has low per capita income of about US$ 480. It is al-
ready trapped into a vicious cycle of poverty and economic de-
pendence. Prospects for socio-economic progress in Pakistan, un-
der these circumstances, are not encouraging and do not augur
well for the country in the 21st century. This scenario warrants
that, in addition to taking other necessary measures, the coun-
try's demographic pressure must be abated considerably and
fairly rapidly, so that by the year 2020 Pakistan is able to
achieve the ICPD goals of health care, education, a clean envi-
ronment, and reproductive rights.

Of all the aspects of the ICPD Program of Action, the question
of resources especially by the international community has not
been adequately addressed. In fact, there is a serious threat to
our hopes of achieving Cairo's noble goals by 2015. The avail-
ability of resources would help in saving thousands of totally
preventable maternal and infant deaths. It is all too human to
expect that the developed world will give serious consideration
to the provision of necessary resources for the implementation
of the Program of Action. In fact, international assistance in
the post ICPD period has considerably declined. Developing coun-
tries cannot sustain their sincere efforts to realize the goals
of ICPD without the support of the international community.

Despite its resource constraints, Pakistan has increased its
public investment in health and population sectors manifold. In
addition, substantial investments are being made by the private
sector. The donor community has neither matched our requirements
nor their commitments at the Cairo Conference in 1994. Despite
severe financial constraints, Pakistan is anxious to maintain
the momentum of its progress and to make concerted efforts to
accelerate the provision of high quality reproductive health and
family care services.

Our success or failure in implementing the ICPD Agenda, to which
we seek to adhere both in spirit and action, will depend ulti-
mately in our ability to operate in difficult environment due to
the severe resource constraints. We are optimistic and confident
that the international community would stand by us in these dif-
ficult times.

The writer is an Islamabad-based freelance columnist who writes
on development communication.

Ahmed Saleem
Population Council (Pakistan Office)
Islamabad, Pakistan

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