This past weekend we saw the commemoration of the 63rd anniversary of the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, via the celebration of International Human Rights Day on Saturday. While the day was established to be a celebration of our freedoms, many continue to live without their basic rights. Those who are hit hardest by this absence are 86% of the world’s children living in developing nations. Many of these children lack access to primary education, and are placed in situations of forced labor, sexual abuse, and/or gender inequality. A third of all children in the developing world have had some level of malnutrition by the age of five, and have little or no access to adequate healthcare. Sadly, while we celebrated International Human Rights Day millions of children continue to live in dire conditions.
In the month leading up to International Human Rights Day, UN agencies tackled the ongoing issues by reported gaps in funding and readdressing focus in the for global equality. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) published its annual Human Development Index last month; the report gave a heartening outlook for millions of people in some of the world’s poorest nations. The top scorers in the UNDP’s 2011 ranking were Norway, Australia and the Netherlands. The United States ranked fourth, while Burundi, Niger and Congo make up the bottom three countries on the list.
According to a summary of the report by the UNDP:
“Many disadvantaged people carry a double burden of deprivation. They are more vulnerable to the wider effects of environmental degradation, because of more severe stresses and fewer coping tools. They must also deal with threats to their immediate environment from indoor air pollution, dirty water and unimproved sanitation. Forecasts suggest that continuing failure to reduce the grave environmental risks and deepening social inequalities threatens to slow decades of sustained progress by the world’s poor majority—and even to reverse the global convergence in human development.”
Much of this unequal burden has been swept under the rug; however, programs to address some of these imbalances are beginning to take foot, such as cook stove initiatives (“pinpointed as a low cost or cost-saving measure, which would represent close to 25 percent of the total climate benefit. A switch to more efficient cook-stoves would save households and communities the time and money, usually spent over the collection and purchase of firewood and other sources of fuel.” United Nations Environment Program (UNEP)) and family planning.
This year the report’s Gender Inequality Index (GII) was updated to include 145 countries, which highlighted “how reproductive health constraints contribute to gender inequality.” The theme was heavily argued at the International Family Planing Conference (IFPC), as I wrote in the post Leaders Meet to Put Family Planning on the Global Agenda. The 2011 Human Development Index noted that there was a direct connection to family planing and the environment, which both continue to strain the lives of families in developing nations. The Index stated that:
“In countries where effective control of reproduction is universal, women have fewer children, with attendant gains for maternal and child health and reduced greenhouse gas emissions. For instance, in Cuba, Mauritius, Thailand and Tunisia, where reproductive healthcare and contraceptives are readily available, fertility rates are below two births per woman. But substantial unmet need persists worldwide, and evidence suggests that if all women could exercise reproductive choice, population growth would slow enough to bring greenhouse gas emissions below current levels.”
According to the Index, meeting the needs set for family planning by 2050 would lower the world’s carbon emissions by an estimated 17 percent.
As we prepare for a new year, it is clear the the priorities that should take precedent on the 2012 agenda must include family planning and local environmental changes.