8 May 2011

UNFPA: Population Dynamics and Poverty in the LDCs: Challenges and Opportunities for Development and Poverty Reduction

UNFPA has prepared a report for LDC-IV that outlines major population dynamics in LDCs and addresses their implications for development and poverty reduction as out of the world’s 7 billion people, 855 million are living in the least developed countries. According to the latest survey of the United Nations Population Division about three-quarters of the governments of LDCs are concerned with major demographic shifts projected to impact them: high fertility, high population growth and rapid urbanization.

Population Dynamics and Poverty in the LDCs: Challenges and Opportunities for Development and Poverty Reduction identifies five key areas of intervention that can help countries anticipate, shape and plan for changes in their population: focusing investments on adolescents and youth; increasing access to sexual and reproductive health care and empowering women; strengthening capacity to integrate population dynamics in the framework of sustainable development; linking population to climate change; and effectively utilizing data in public policy and development.

Most LDCs confront major obstacles in achieving internationally agreed development goals, including the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and are lagging far behind other developing countries in efforts to reduce infant, child and maternal mortality, adolescent pregnancies and HIV and AIDS prevalence. According to UNFPA, this insufficient progress is strongly related to inadequate access to reproductive health care, including family planning services, which undermines the empowerment of women and contributes to higher levels of fertility.

The report indicates that the population of the LDCs is expected to nearly double and increase to 1.67 billion between now and 2050, which will result in a large and growing youth population. Currently, about 60% of the population in LDCs is under the age of 25, and the number of young people in the LDCs will increase by more than 60% over the next 40 years. “Young people can be a driver for economic growth and social progress and be able to escape poverty if they enjoy health, education and employment. Young girls are a particularly vulnerable group, but they can also be a very important agent of change if supported and protected,” Werner Haug, Director of UNFPA’s Techical Division, says in the report’s foreword.

Over the next forty years, the working-age population of the LDCs will increase by about 15 million per year. This increase raises the stakes in poverty reduction efforts, including those efforts aimed at raising household incomes and creating employment as well as efforts to increase food security, combat hunger and promote sustainable development. The report suggests that the rapid expansion of the population in LDCs also makes it more difficult for countries to increase – and maintain – per-capita spending on essential social services.

Another area for concern is urbanization with a rapidly increasing proportion of LDCs’ population moving to urban centres. The report suggests that while urbanization poses considerable challenges, it also provides opportunities for economically, socially and environmentally sustainable development. “Planning ahead for the inevitable urban growth is the best investment countries can make,” the report urges.

The report offers a number of conclusions. Governments need to design and implement supportive policies that give young people opportunities to reach their full potential and provide the information, including sexuality education, and services young people need to protect their sexual and reproductive health and make informed decisions. It also suggests that civil society organizations must represent young people and amplify their voices and viewpoints so that they are heard and considered by decision-makers. Adolescents and young people must take advantage of opportunities to continue to speak out and participate in the future of their countries. Furthermore, investment in adolescents and youth must make a special effort not to leave out young girls and women. Fewer women than men benefit from advanced education and fewer are able to escape poverty. Eliminating child marriage, enabling adolescent girls to delay pregnancy, ending discrimination against pregnant girls, and providing support to young mothers can help ensure that girls complete an education.

The report also argues that decisive policies are needed that support the empowerment of women on the broadest possible basis, and that help women balance both their productive and reproductive objectives. Progress in gender equality is also linked to improved human capital, as women’s control over household resources leads to higher investments in children’s health, nutrition and education. Investing in gender equality has short- and long-term social and economic multiplier effects.

Access the full report here.

Read the UNFPA press release.

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