THE EARTH TIMES
FROM TOKYO ON POPULATION
BY ASHALI VARMA
TOKYO –With less than eight months to go for the International Conference on Population and Development, the Meeting of Eminent Persons in late January widened the debate on population and sustainable development. It was the last high-level meeting in a series of roundtables, conferences and debates over the past two years and culminated in the Tokyo Declaration, which will be submitted to ICPD at Cairo.
The declaration urged nations to cut military spending and to increase their financial commitment to population and sustainable development. I called on developed countries to change their patterns of consumption to reduce their impact on the environment and on the use of resources. It urged governments to improve the role and status of women and to ensure their access to economic opportunities.
Maher Mahran, Egypt’s State Minister of Population and Family Welfare, told The Earth Times, “Politically this meeting is very significant, as Japan is one of the important donor countries, and political support is a prerequisite for any successful program in population and development.” He said that the participants were all leaders in their own right and the meeting focused attention on the resources needed to help developing countries. “I feel that there is a very strong moral obligation for the rich countries to support population programs.”
He also emphasized that with the Clinton Administration’s support on the major issues of the Cairo Conference such as health, education, and the role of women, the United States has clearly emerged as the leader.
Prime Minister Morihiro Hosokawa, who formally opened the meeting, said: “Japan is determined to further strengthen its efforts in the field of population in continuous cooperation with other countries by taking a comprehensive approach. Convening of this Meeting of Eminent Persons in Tokyo is further testimony to the importance. Japan attaches to the population problem.”
The two-day conference was attended by NGOs, academics, diplomats and government officials and dealt with poverty, education, empowerment of women, the need for national health care programs including family planning, and the links between consumption and environmental degradation.
Prof. Paul Ehrlich of Stanford University, author of “The Population Bomb,” said: “At today’s level of world population we are already unsustainable and overpopulated–we are using up energy supplies and fossil fuels at an alarming rate. Farmers have to grow enough food for 95 million more people every year in deteriorating ecosystems.” He discussed the urgent need for industrialized countries to cut back on their energy consumption. “Almost everybody will have to change and compromise. There is too much talk of rights and too little talk of responsibilities,” he warned.
Ehrlich and Robert S. McNamara, former president of the World Bank felt that the only way to get world attention was to involve scientists, academicians, politicians and Nobel laureates.
Fred Sai of Ghana, president of the International Planned Parenthood Federation, said: “In my country population growth has stretched social services to the limit. There just aren’t enough schools or clinics. The important factors for success are political leadership, access to family planning services, empowerment of women and quality health care.”
Billie A Miller, a Member of Parliament in Barbados and chairperson of the NGO Planning Committee for ICPD, said: “NGOs have done what governments could not do at the grassroots level. Since they are already established in rural and urban areas and work directly with the people, it will be more economical for governments to depend on them to help implement national health policies.”
Hiroko Hara, a professor at Ochanomizu University, stressed that financial resources should be used to train personnel, create information exchange and finance grassroots projects and not go toward making drug companies richer.
Jun Nishikawa, a professor at Waseda University said Japan’s success in family planning is due to the many organizations that help control population growth and to the fact that the women want fewer children.
The Indian experience, said Devaki Jain, an economist from India, has been diverse. Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Goa have reached low growth rates because of their high rate of literacy and women’s right to choose. But in the poorer states women who had fewer children feel they have been cheated by family planning propaganda that their children have had a counter-productive effect. “Social services and income-generating schemes should also be provided by the government to make women feel their children will survive and get an education,” Jain said.
Nafis Sadik, Secretary General of ICPD, outlined some goals of the Cairo Conference. Among them: lowering child and maternal mortality; education for all; universal access to family planning information and services; empowerment of women and providing resources to achieve these goals. “Cairo is not the end; in fact it is another important step forward toward sustainable development. In the field of population the task is immense. But Thailand, Indonesia, Colombia, Mexico, the Republic of Korea and others have shown it is possible to slow population growth. These countries are both a lesson and a source of inspiration.”