President Obama’s proposed federal budget for FY2011 includes $715.7 million for international family planning
and reproductive health assistance—10 percent ($67 million) more than what was included in the FY2010 budget that Congress approved last December. If approved, the FY2011 allocation would be 54 percent more than the FY2008 budget, which was equivalent to the amount allotted in 1974
when adjusted for inflation. The recent increases mark the end of more than 30 years of stagnation in U.S. funding for voluntary family planning—and herald a new investment in a sustainable future.
Over the last 20 years, the number of women of reproductive age in the developing world has increased by 465 million. Today, the Guttmacher Institute estimates that 201 million women in developing countries want but lack access to modern contraceptives. “Satisfying the unmet need for contraceptive services in developing countries would avert 52 million unintended pregnancies annually, which, in turn, would save more than 1.5 million lives and prevent 505,000 children from losing their mothers,” the Institute reports.
Rapid population growth in some of the world’s most economically disadvantaged countries poses a significant threat to their natural resources and the environment. Currently, more than 1 billion people live in ecological hotspots—areas that are both rich in plant and animal diversity and highly threatened by human activity. Although these areas comprise just 12 percent of the Earth’s land surface, they hold nearly 20 percent of the global population and possess a population growth rate nearly 40 percent greater than the world average. The cumulative impact of a growing global population, which demands more natural resources and exacerbates already unsustainable patterns of consumption, degrades the most basic foundations of life—air, water, croplands, forests, and fisheries—and contributes to climate change.
Improving access to voluntary family planning not only contributes to smaller, healthier families, but also eases the strain on natural resources. By giving couples the information and supplies to plan the number and timing of their children, U.S.-funded population and reproductive health programs have helped countries slow population growth and reduce population pressures on finite natural resources, including local habitats and wildlife. In addition, the success of USAID’s population, health, and environment programs also offers important lessons for climate change adaptation and building resilience in local communities.
In our interconnected environment, the impacts of natural resources use, management, and protection around the world are felt here in the United States. Despite the difficult budgetary and economic environment our country faces, the president’s request for approximately $716 million in international family planning and reproductive health assistance funding is a wise long-term investment. These resources are an important step toward the broader goal of investing $1 billion in these critical programs to create a healthier, more sustainable future for our world.
Rebecca Wadler Lase is the program associate for the Sustainability Education Program at the Izaak Walton League of America.
Map: “Poverty-Biodiversity Mapping Applications.” Courtesy UNEP/Grid Arendal.