in the streets of Benguela Angola

NEW YORK (WOMENSENEWS)–A group of five former directors of the population and reproductive health program of the U.S. Agency for International Development issued a report Tuesday calling for aggressive investment in family planning to curb population growth, poverty and maternal mortality.

They recommended the United States push its spending on overseas family planning to $1.2 billion in the next year’s funding round from $475 million in 2008.

"We could cut population growth in about half through family planning," said Joseph Spiedel, a former president of Population Action International and an author of the report, in an audio press briefing.

The authors say 201 million of the world’s women lack access to family planning, which puts their lives at risk.

The continent with the largest need for investment is Africa. Only 18 percent of African women use modern contraceptives compared to 56 percent of women in the rest of the developing world.

"Nigeria is projected to increase in size from 140 million to 280 million" said Duff Gillespie, another author. "That is like every one in the U.S. living in an area of the size of Texas, which is not very healthy.

Investing in the Planet

Without a significant increase in contraceptive use the world’s population could reach 11.9 billion in 2050 further straining the resources of the planet. That number could be capped at 8 billion with adequate investment from the United States and other international donors on family planning in the developing world, the authors say.

The authors said the recommended investment would help reduce maternal mortality rates by decreasing the number of unwanted pregnancies and allowing couples to decide the number and spacing of their children. The risk of maternal mortality doubles for older women and women with large families, Gillespie said.

The report projects that a $100 million investment in family could prevent 2.1 million unwanted pregnancies and 825,000 abortions, prevent 8,000 infant deaths and save 4,000 maternal lives.

The sum represents 10 percent of the global investment needed to reach the Millennium Development Goal of universal access to reproductive health services by 2015.

The Millenium Development Goals are a set of eight promises made by world leaders in 2000 to cut global poverty by half.

U.S. funding for family planning has declined in real terms since 1995.

Resources were diverted to HIV/AIDs programs or cut as a result of a Bush administration executive order that denied assistance to nongovernmental agencies the performed abortions, counseled their clients about abortion or lobbied for change in their nation’s abortion laws–even with their own funs. The two leading international family planning organizations, the United Nations Population Fund and the International Planned Parenthood Federation, were restrained by the order.

Members of the group argued that investing in family planning saves money that can be directed to other areas of economic development. Reducing family sizes to 2 to 3 children frees up government resources towards national development as less children need to be educated or immunized.

Dominique Soguel is Women’s eNews Arabic editor.