Counting the Cost of Supporting Women

I love the UNFPA Technical Division. They consistently produce fascinating, under-reported documents on women and women’s health.  Most recently, they have developed an up-to-date cost estimate for implementation of the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD). These numbers were actually presented to the UN in March 2009, but the comprehensive report that explains methodology was just released.

Held in Cairo in 1994, the ICPD set out a comprehensive agenda on women’s empowerment, education, poverty eradication, and maternal and reproductive health. In 1994, they estimated that the programs needed to meet ICPD goals would cost 20.5 billion US dollars to implement until 2010 and 21.7 by 2015.

Not surprisingly, that 1994 estimate isn’t especially accurate any more. AIDS grew faster than expected (which is suspect is the result of overly optimistic estimates at the time) maternal mortality hasn’t fallen as quickly as hoped, and supporting health systems turned out to be more important that most people expected in 1994. The dollar has also fallen in value since 1994.

So what do the new numbers look like? Bigger. Much bigger. The overall estimate for necessary programs through 2010 is 64.7 billion dollars. By 2015, 69.8 billion dollars. Triple what we originally expected to need.

What accounts for the massive increase? Some of it is just better data. The UNFPA has more accurately estimated the costs of things like scaling up existing programs. And 10.9 billion is added funding for supporting health systems. Mostly, though, it’s because we didn’t spend enough in 1994. The ICPD program of action has never gotten full funding, and as a result, problems have gotten worse instead of better. We didn’t act in the 90s, when the global economy looked good. Now, because of that negligence, our global problems are getting worse when it’s even harder to find the money to combat them.