In the 2002 edition of its annual “State of World Population” report, the United Nations Fund for Population Activities, or UNFPA, emphasizes that eliminating poverty and reducing the birthrate by raising the educational level of women will curb the population explosion, shrink the gap between rich and poor and lead to economic development. It calls on countries to take quick action to reduce the number of people living in poverty in developing countries.

The UNFPA’s basic understanding is that much of the population increase in developing countries is caused by poverty, inferior health conditions and a high birthrate. In order to eliminate poverty, support is necessary to prevent unwanted pregnancies and raise the literacy rate. Japan, of course, must make positive efforts to help overcome these problems by coordinating the activities of government, private companies, nongovernmental organizations and others, and by providing official development assistance.

According to the report, the population of the world in 2002 was 6.2 billion, with the average annual rate of increase at 1.2 percent. This means that in 2050 the world population is expected to reach 9.3 billion. Japan’s population is 127 million. Because of a falling birthrate, it is expected to decline to 109 million in 2050. Given this trend, one might be tempted to think that the rapid increase in world population is not Japan’s problem. The phenomenon is closely related to our lives, however, because there is a strong possibility that the world population explosion will change the form of international economic activity and worsen the living environment. Japan, therefore, should strengthen international cooperation in this area by making an appropriate response.

This year’s report takes up the theme of poverty. There are 1.2 billion people in the world living on just a dollar a day. As factors linked to poverty, the report cites poor health conditions, inadequate school education, and social and cultural gender discrimination. The issues of population reduction and relief of poverty are closely related. Such indicators as productivity and savings are higher in developing countries where the rate of population increase has declined since the 1970s than in developing countries where the rate of increase has risen. The report states that investment in health and education and gender equality are essential. The emphasis here is on the individual’s right to secure reproductive health.

The report indicates that, in addition to the implementation of family planning, the prevention of sexually transmitted diseases and HIV/AIDS, the improvement of health — including reproductive health care during pregnancy and at the time of childbirth — and better access to education will lead to economic growth. It concludes that enabling everybody to receive reproductive health care and granting education to all are targets in themselves and, at the same time, the prerequisite conditions for reducing poverty.

In its final chapter, the report focuses on the road to be taken from now on. It is essential to ensure that assistance gets delivered directly to the poor, that the financial burden on the poor is reduced and that the poor are given a say on related policies and programs.

Development targets set by the U.N. Millennium Summit in 2000 included a reduction of poverty and famine in the world by half as well as a large decrease in the incidence of diseases like HIV/AIDS, by 2015. The UNFPA report states that efforts to tackle the population problem will be decisively important for the achievement of these targets. The contents are based on the action plan agreed at the International Conference on Population and Development held in 1994. Japan also must forcefully promote this action plan, which advocates the concept of sustainable development.

According to the report, the donor countries contributed a total of $2.6 billion in 2000. This figure is less than half of the amount pledged at the ICPD. Despite its own fiscal difficulties, Japan is one of the main contributing countries, but further cooperation must be promoted by the international community. In 1960, the world population was 3 billion. By 2000 it had doubled to 6 billion, and by 2050 it is expected to exceed 9 billion. It is no exaggeration to say that the population problem is the main issue of the 21st century. What should we be doing now? The answer to this question will determine our future.

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