At the World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul on 23–24 May, 5,000 politicians, non-governmental organizations and others will debate what is described as “the highest level of human suffering since the Second World War.” It is the world’s first such summit, and had been called by the UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon.
We welcome this summit. Despite progress in many areas, the lives of millions of people are seriously affected by conflict or poor governance. Many more suffer from inadequate nutrition, healthcare, fresh water and housing. Many remain vulnerable to natural disasters. Not everyone has access to quality education or employment.
At the same time, the depletion of resources proceeds rapidly, as does the destruction and despoliation of the natural environment, including the seas and climate.
Future generations and other species also have interests and a stake in this planet, even if they have no say.
What can be done?
One thing we can all do is to have fewer children. A human population rising by 80 million a year puts pressure on resources of all kinds. Such pressure is destroying our planet’s resources and environment. It means communities are increasingly vulnerable to natural disasters, and it can easily result in conflict and mass migration. When there is a crisis, greater human numbers mean that the consequences are greater, and harder to address.
Choice of family size is, ultimately, down to individuals. However, society and its leaders need not stand idly by. Communities need to be helped to understand the case for smaller families. Appropriate, affordable, and accessible family planning needs to be provided to all, in the context of adequate sexual and reproductive health. Women and girls need support to exercise their sexual and reproductive rights, and access to education and employment opportunities to help them assert those rights.
It is not just about population, of course. Poverty and underdevelopment should be addressed, as should conflict, poor governance and environmental destruction. Ultimately, however, whatever we do will be more effective if we also promote smaller families.