• Tuesday, December 1, 2015
  • A program of IPS Inter Press Service supported by the Dutch MDG3 Fund

    Q&A: Meeting a World of Seven Billion with Optimism

    Kanya D'Almeida interviews DR. BABATUNDE OSOTIMEHIN, executive
    director of UNFPA
    UNITED NATIONS, Feb 3 (IPS) Before the end of 2011 there will be more
    humans on earth than
    in all of the planet's 4.5-billion-year history. As the world
    steels itself to support its seven billion-strong population,
    Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin, the new executive director of the
    United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), greets the impending
    challenges with gusto.

    Armed with a total budget of close to 900 million dollars,
    and support from over 150 donors, including the Netherlands,
    Britain, Sweden, Norway, the United States, Spain, Denmark,
    Finland, Switzerland and Japan, the UNFPA begins its journey
    under new leadership on sound financial footing.

    Taking its cue from the "rights-based approach" to
    development that was born out of the 1994 International
    Conference on Population and Development (ICPD), the UNFPA
    believes in "people, not numbers". This framework is more
    important now than ever before, as the world's population
    races ever-upwards.

    With a strong focus on the empowerment of youth and the
    promotion of comprehensive reproductive health across the
    world, Dr. Osotimehin is determined to steer the UNFPA
    towards a future that addresses the needs of women and
    children, the world's most vulnerable populations.

    Excerpts from the interview follow.

    Q: What are UNFPA's most urgent priorities for 2011, and the
    coming years?
    A: Firstly, greater visibility for the organisation and also
    accountability and transparency for all that we do.
    Secondly, this year will focus on youth and adolescence,
    particularly adolescent girls. In doing so, we will be
    addressing major areas of women's development, which deal
    with maternal health, child marriages and family planning.

    The areas most affected by a projected population of seven
    billion will be the developing world, 60 to 70 percent of
    which is under the age of 30. The next set of parents, the
    next generation who are going to make decisions about the
    world, all fall into that category. If we want to shape not
    only the population of the world but also the development of
    the world, then we have to begin with the youth and take an
    extremely comprehensive view of the challenges they face.

    We must provide education that incorporates extensive
    information on sexuality and reproductive health, access to
    services, provision of employment, participation in social
    and political spheres, and total inclusiveness in the
    world's processes. That's where the difference is going to
    come from.

    Q: How does the UNFPA plan to deal with the world's one
    billion-strong slum population?
    A: There is no doubt that cities and megacities will
    continue to increase along with population. Our main
    strategy is to monitor governments' responses to development
    plans that are affecting their people. But the UNFPA is not
    a large organisation and we obviously cannot deal with the
    issue of slums all by ourselves.

    We will work with our sister agencies at the U.N., plus
    civil society and all of our development partners to ensure
    that national governments and member states do proper
    planning for housing and health, provide proper education,
    ensure inclusion in political processes, and ensure that
    young people have employment opportunities.

    We will also push our own mandate of adequate information
    and services for reproductive health and reiterate the
    ability of every human being to make voluntary choices about
    their own lives.

    Q: Can you give some "best practice" examples of
    work with local, grassroots partners?
    A: There have been many. For example, we have implemented
    the Fistula Project in almost 50 countries, which reaches
    out to very remote areas via local partners and offers
    treatment and services to women suffering from fistula. This
    has been very successful.

    We have also dealt successfully with the issue of female
    genital mutilation and cutting through our partners on the
    ground, not only by fundamentally changing the mindsets of
    the people, but also by provoking preventative legislation
    across the globe.

    Q: What are some of the biggest challenges you face?
    A: MDG 5 [maternal health] is the primary business of UNFPA.
    We have been working on the ABCs of this problem for a long
    time, partnering with member states and putting in place
    programmes that address the issue. Maternal mortality is a
    fairly complex issue – it's not just about the provision of
    hospitals, or the provision of doctors or nurses or
    midwives. It also involves various other interrelated issues
    such as transportation, culture, etc.

    Forty-three percent, perhaps even more in some places, of
    maternal mortality is due to illegal abortions. We need to
    have systems in place that provide information to young
    people to enable them to make choices on their own and avoid
    life-threatening situations. In countries where abortions
    are legal, such services should be safe.

    Q: Do you see environmental issues as inherently related to
    the work of the UNFPA?
    A: To the extent that issues of migration and climate change
    affect women and children, yes. One of the issues that is
    terribly overlooked is the problem of desertification – this
    forces women to travel much longer distances in order secure
    bare necessities like wood for fire and water. Children are
    forced to travel back and forth, making them increasingly

    Desertification also induces migration, which creates an
    even greater climate of vulnerability for the displaced or
    migrant populations and sometimes leads to conflict. And
    conflict, as we know, disproportionately affects women and

    Q: What have been UNFPA's greatest strengths in the last
    A: Our ability to promote sound reproductive health and
    rights across the world. We have now increased knowledge
    about sexual education, we have promoted access to family
    planning commodities, we've been able to work with
    governments to talk about the prevention of HIV/AIDS, [and]
    we've done far more in terms of maternal health.

    We've enabled governments to utilise the "one-stop-shop"
    model, where they can integrate various reproductive
    services. In the last year we've also worked more closely
    with our partners, particularly the H4+ [UNAIDS, World Bank,
    UNICEF, World Health Organisation and UNFPA], to work with
    the secretary-general on his global strategy on women and
    children's health. Through this initiative we have worked
    with as many as 25 countries to commit themselves to working
    actively on women and children's health, including
    reproductive health.

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