World Population Day


This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government
Sir Stephen O’Brien

I am delighted to be here with you today to mark World Population Day and delighted to take on the job of PUSS at DFID.

It is a real pleasure to be able to meet you all this evening and I’d like to thank our hosts, the All Party Group, IPPF and the other co-sponsors for hosting this event.

I’m also very happy to be able to congratulate Jenny Tonge on becoming the new Chair of the All Party Group.  I know Chris McCafferty did a great job, so Jenny has big shoes to fill - but she has a great track record on all of the issues the group stands for; she is a passionate and knowledgeable advocate for women’s rights and will, I have no doubt, take the Group from strength to strength.

I will talk about Reproductive and Maternal Health in a moment- but first I’d like to say a few words about how the UK will be doing development under the coalition Government.

We have promised to enshrine in law Britain’s commitment to spend 0.7% of GNI on overseas aid from 2013 - and we are taking a good look at just what that will look like.

Our new agenda has some new watch words: including value for money and accountability and transparency.

Value for money has always been important but never more so than now.  With the international development budget ring fenced in the Chancellor’s recent emergency budget, the eyes of Whitehall - and the UK - are on us and we must therefore demonstrate, with crystal clarity, that we are delivering better aid, that is much more clearly focussed, and above all gets results.  It will be the outcomes and outputs that matter most. 

We are reviewing our bilateral and multilateral programmes as well as our humanitarian response, so that we keep a ruthless focus on results - shifting resources towards the successes and away from the failures.  These reviews are a necessary precursor to building our strategic approaches to sexual and reproductive health and family planning.

And accountability and transparency will also affect every facet of the aid programme.  Colleagues here in Parliament - in the All Party Parliamentary Groups and the International Development Committee - have always held DFID to account for the taxpayers’ funds it spends - but we want to go further than that and have launched the new UK Aid Transparency Guarantee - which will help to make aid much more transparent to people in the UK and in developing countries.

Today, though, we’re here to mark World Population Day - and UNFPA’s theme for this year - Everyone Counts - is a brilliant reminder for us all of the importance to development of accurate data. 
Good data is just as important for measuring effectiveness of the UK’s aid efforts as it is for governments in developing countries to know their population projections so they can plan for better services; so they can prioritise where the needs are greatest and where they will become even more pressing in the years ahead.

Andrew Mitchell, our new Secretary of State, made his first speech in the US a couple of weeks ago.  He pledged then that the new Government would make a serious commitment to tackling the tragedy of the thousands of women who die each year from pregnancy-related causes.  Today I want to reiterate that commitment.

All of us in the room know all too well the stark numbers that for too long have gone with this territory.  One number resonates above all the others. That each year, more than a third of a million women die due to complications in pregnancy or child birth.  And we know that when a mother dies in childbirth, there is a very real chance her child will die within a few months too.

This is the reality.  Day in.  Day out.  Across sub-Saharan Africa and in parts of south Asia.  Where women and girls face the risks of pregnancy and childbirth.

But we think it’s time to face up to the realities and work with the world as it is.

The reality that over 200 million women around the world, who want to avoid a pregnancy - who want to decide whether and when to have children - are unable to access the modern contraceptives they need.

And the reality that for many women, faced with an unintended pregnancy, is that they are desperate enough to risk their lives by resorting to an unsafe abortion.

And in facing up to these realities - not of modern life - let’s be equally real here - women have been facing these issues for centuries - in facing up to these realities, we must offer women the choices they crave.

With better access to education, we know - because Gill tells us this time and again - we know that women will choose more for their children rather than to have more children.

We must start to close the unmet need for modern contraceptives - and DFID is ready to do more in this area - the coalition Government has made a positive start.

One of the very first programmes which Andrew Mitchell approved on taking office was a 5-year programme of DFID funding for Uganda to enable UNFPA to better support the Government of Uganda to deliver their National Population Policy.

In providing this support we recognise that rapid population growth is a critical constraint to sustained, rapid economic and social development in Uganda. DFID is also supporting UNFPA with interim funding for emergency procurement of contraceptive supplies in order to manage a financing gap and avoid stock outs.

Yes, family planning is cost effective and saves women’s’ lives - But the benefits of giving women choice go much wider.  It improves newborn and child health outcomes, and it empowers women and enables them to engage in education and economic activity.

But if we are serious about saving women’s lives we must have the will to work for better access to safe abortion.  As Hillary Clinton said in her confirmation hearing before the US Congress “abortion should be safe, legal and rare”. 

A word to both sides of the lobby here - working for better - for universal - access to family planning means reducing recourse to abortion.

Abortion isn’t family planning - ICPD tells us that and we continue to fully support the whole of the ICPD Programme of Action. But family planning helps avoid abortion.

Family planning also works directly for women’s health - if women can realise their rights - their choice - to avoid pregnancy, they radically reduce their risk of dying in pregnancy.  It’s that clear.

We are continuing to play our part in working for safer delivery for pregnant women - the G8 last month launched the Muskoka Initiative, a comprehensive and integrated approach to accelerate progress towards MDGs 4 and 5 that will significantly reduce the number of maternal, newborn and under five child deaths in developing countries.

And David Cameron signalled his personal commitment to our cause putting the UK squarely at the front of efforts to reduce the numbers of mothers and babies dying in pregnancy and childbirth.

The UK is a key partner and supporter of the UN Secretary General’s Global Effort to advance progress on women’s and children’s health. The MDG Summit in September provides a historic opportunity to deliver for women and children.

We are working for the endorsement of a Joint Action Plan that will deliver ambitious commitments for women and children and hold governments and others to account to improve reproductive and maternal health. Donors must play their part, as must partner countries, philanthropists, civil society and the private sector. The UK Government is playing its part in supporting this Global Effort and I encourage all of you here today to join us.

As I close, I just want to highlight again the importance of the theme of World Population Day - the need for better, accurate and timely data. 

Without good data we are simply stumbling around in the dark.  With better information, we can make better decisions and ultimately get better health outcomes.

I also want to mention very briefly the P word - Population.

Many of you will have been at the Symposium today at the London School (for Hygiene and Tropical medicine) looking at the interactions of population growth with health, poverty, food, water, climate change.  I am sorry I couldn’t be there but have heard briefly about some of the talking points.

The data projections tell us that global population will grow from 6.8 billion today to 9.2 billion by 2050.  An increase of 35% - but even this rate of growth assumes a significant fall in the global fertility rate - and that will only be achieved if we meet the unmet demand for family planning. 

If there is no collective action - on the part of national governments and the international community - in responding to the voices of poor women and providing universal access to family planning - then the projection is for the global population to grow to 10.5 billion.

The challenge of providing basic services in countries across Africa, like Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, Niger and Uganda, - where the populations will at least double, sometimes triple and, in Niger, quadruple - will be immense.  I hope your symposium today took us closer to some much needed answers.

But one fact around high fertility is certain - amongst the poorest women, high fertility is inextricably linked to high maternal mortality.

Our shared mission is to start to change that reality.

Thank you.

Updates to this page

Published 14 July 2010