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International Conference
on Population and Development (ICPD)

A Brief Introduction *

The UN Economic and Social Council in 1989 decided to convene ICPD in 1994 (ECOSOC resolution 1989/91). Dr. Nafis Sadik, Executive Director of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) was appointed Secretary-General of the Conference. Since then, a Preparatory Committee, open to all United Nations member States and a number of other States, guided advance efforts for ICPD. Three PrepCom meetings were held.

ICPD was a successor to the 1974 World Population Conference, held in Bucharest, and the 1984 International Conference on Population in Mexico City. Those gatherings spelt out actions to address issues related to rapid population growth, and affirmed that all couples and individuals have the right to decide freely and responsibly the number and spacing of their children, and to have the information, education and means to do so.

ICPD built on and broadened that consensus, reflecting the widespread recognition that population is inextricably linked to the full range of human development concerns - including poverty alleviation, women's empowerment and
environmental protection.

ICPD emphasized two themes: choices and responsibilities; and the need to incorporate population considerations into all national and international efforts to achieve sustained economic growth and sustainable development.

The overall aim was to identify actions - and to find the means of implementing them - that will make national policies and programmes more effective in meeting individual needs, especially those of women, and in bringing population into balance with available resources.

As part of a holistic approach that emphasizes the health, education and empowerment of women, a major focus of the Conference was to increase the availability of family planning as part of a broader package of reproductive health services. Closely related to this objective were Conference goals to significantly reduce infant, child and maternal mortality, and to expand access to education, particularly for girls.

The two decades before the Conference have seen remarkable demographic, social, economic and political changes, as well as changes in attitudes about reproductive health, family planning and population growth. Death rates have also been lowered, and education and income levels, including those of women, have increased, often significantly. As political commitment to population policies and family planning programmes has solidified, many countries have substantially expanded access to reproductive health care and reduced their birth rates.

Progress, however, has been uneven. In Western Europe, North America, Australia, New Zealand, Japan and much of East Asia, access to family planning is almost universal; between 65 and 80 per cent of couples practise contraception; and the average family size is near or below two children per couple. But in most sub-Saharan African and some Pacific Island countries, for example, family planning services are not yet widely available; contraceptive use there is below 15 per cent and women bear an average of six or more children (in 1994).

Infant mortality world-wide has dropped by one third since 1974, from 92 deaths per 1,000 births to 62. But a large gap remains between developing countries (with 69 infant deaths per 1,000 births) and developed countries (12 deaths per 1,000 births).

While levels of education have risen considerably between 1974 and 1994 , an estimated 960 million persons are illiterate, two thirds of them women. Some 130 million children, including over 90 million girls, are denied access to primary schooling. This impedes progress in every sphere of development, including changes in patterns of human reproduction.

Women's roles and status have been changing in many countries. Women are entering the labour force in record numbers, a trend that is contributing to the rising demand for family planning services. But women are often the only source of support for themselves and their children. Everywhere, female-headed households are the poorest of the poor, in part because women have less access than men to training, credit, property, natural resources and better-paid jobs.

In addressing these social concerns, developing countries find that demographic changes are placing increasing strains on services and infrastructure.

By 2015, nearly 56 per cent of the global population is expected to live in urban areas, compared to under 45 per cent in 1994. The urban population of developing countries is projected to reach 50 per cent by 2015, up from 26 per cent in 1975. Lower death rates imply that developing countries will soon have to provide services to far larger numbers of elderly persons; while reduced infant mortality combined with high fertility has resulted in youthful populations in many countries, ensuring continued rapid population growth for decades to come.

How the world's nations address - or fail to address - these multiple concerns over the next two decades will have an enormous impact on the quality of life of all living and future generations. In particular, the level of performance in meeting unmet needs for family planning and other Conference goals in the next 20 years is likely to determine whether world population in the year 2050 reaches 7.8 billion people (the United Nations' lowest projection) or goes as high as 12.5 billion (the high projection). The medium, or most likely projection is for 10 billion in 2050.


* taken and adapted from the UN Population Information Network (POPIN) at


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