The World at 7 Billion: How Small Investments in Family Planning Can Yield Big Dividends

I have a feature story in the new issue of IMPACT, which is the the quarterly magazine of the global health NGO Population Services International–PSI. The theme of the issue is the 7 billion population mark which the world will hit on October 31. Co-authored with the excellent Mandy McAnally of PSI, we take a look at some of the numbers and trends around the 7 billion milestone and argue that increasing access to family planning services is one important way to help mitigate some of challenges that are presented by a rapidly growing planet.

Population is on the world’s radar as we near the October 31 milestone of a planet with 7 billion people. Experts and agencies like the United Nations, World Bank and Population Reference Bureau (PRB) cite startling statistics on future trends in population growth. Developing countries are adding more than 80 million to the population every year, according to PRB. Data from the UN Population Division of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs show that 39 high-fertility countries in Africa, nine in Asia, six in Oceania and four in Latin America are driving this projected increase.

Population has reappeared as a topic in the media and in blogs. National Geographic devoted its January cover to “Population 7 Billion” and is running a series on the issue this year. The U.K.-based Guardian’s environment blog has hosted a series with experts on population and its effects on the environment.

Science Magazine featured a special section, titled “Population,” in its July 29th issue. In his Science article, David E. Bloom, professor of Economics and Demography at the Harvard School of Public Health and PSI board member, writes, “Although the issues immediately confronting developing countries are different from those facing the rich countries, in a globalized world demographic challenges anywhere are demographic challenges everywhere.”

Development organizations and governments are talking population as it relates to their respective priorities: climate change, poverty alleviation, family planning, food scarcity, women and gender equality – all of which we discuss in this issue of Impact.

The world’s population at 7 billion presents complex challenges. Actions taken now will have serious implications on societies and ecosystems for generations to come. As an organization that provides reproductive health services to women in developing countries, PSI sees family planning interventions as a central response to the population question.

The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) estimates that some 215 million women in the developing world want to avoid pregnancy but lack access to effective family planning.

“Behind the numbers are the faces of women, and their families, who want nothing more basic than to live a better life by being able to decide when to have children. By failing to listen to them, we are condemning them – women, their partners and their children – to lives of greater misery and poverty,” says PSI President and CEO Karl Hofmann. “Whether and when you consider the range of challenges facing the planet, it is a mistake not to start the response with family planning.”

Read the rest. And sign up for a free subscription to the magazine. There’s other great stuff in the issue, including interviews with:

Babatunde Osotimehin, Executive Director of the UN Population Fund

Lakshmi Puri, Deputy Executive Director and Assistant Secretary General of UN Women

Dr. David Nabarro, Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Food Security and Nutrition

Nita Lowey, U.S. Congresswoman from New York

Andrew Mitchell, U.K. Secretary of State for International Development

Also in this issue:

World Economic Forum Managing Director Robert Greenhill talks about the links between population and the global economy, while Steven Sinding, former director-general of the International Planned Parenthood Federation, covers the evolution of the population debate from Malthus to the present and what determines our future.

Amid the technical discussions, we can’t forget those who are most directly affected by all of these issues: women. Impact shares the stories of Ingrid, Samina and Rose – three women who have been empowered by family planning and quality maternal health care. Population Action International’s new film, “Weathering Change,” will share similar stories about women and climate change. Our interview with the filmmaker and producer takes you behind the scenes.

Check it all out!