UNITED NATIONS - A proposed 25-percent cut in U.S. international assistance for population in the upcoming 2008 budget threatens to undermine the war against terrorism, a Washington-based non-governmental organisation warned Wednesday.Lawrence Smith Jr., president of the Population Institute, points out that intelligence and security experts -- including the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) -- "have repeatedly warned that countries at the bottom of the development ladder, with high fertility rates and very large youth populations, are ripe for terrorist recruitment."
"Why would there not be funding for services that clearly address one of the key factors contributing to the existence, increased number and relative lack of progress in improving conditions in the world's fragile states?" he asked.
"It is clear that prevention is more cost-effective and we need to restore funding to this field," Smith told IPS.
"This is another perplexing point coming from a president (George W. Bush) who is fighting a global war on terror," he said.
Smith said that Bush had called for reducing U.S. population funding in fiscal year 2008, beginning next October, by 116 million dollars, to 325 million dollars, compared with 434 million dollars in 2007.
The comparable figures for 2005 was 437 million and for 2006 about 436 million dollars.
Citing World Bank statistics, Smith said that in nine of the 10 countries classified as "severely fragile", youths under 15 years of age comprise 40 percent or more of the population.
The nine countries are Angola, Central African Republic and Liberia (47 percent each); Somalia and Afghanistan (45 percent); Sudan (44 percent); Haiti (42 percent); Zimbabwe (41 percent); and Solomon Islands (40 percent).
The only country among the top 10 with less than 40 percent of the population under 15 years of age is Burma, or Myanmar (32 percent).
Testifying before a U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Appropriations panel on foreign operations last week, Smith said not every young person in a less developed country is a likely candidate for strapping on a suicide bomb.
"But many more than we might think are willing to follow charismatic but misguided political and religious leaders who point them toward a path of disruption, chaos, violence and even armed conflict," he argued.
A U.N. report, to be discussed at an upcoming meeting of the U.N. Commission on Population and Development Apr. 9-13, points out that all countries are experiencing some change in their age structures.
However, since countries are at different stages of demographic transition and experience different social and economic conditions, the change is more pronounced in some countries than in others.
"Developing countries continue to be characterised by higher levels of fertility and smaller numbers of older persons," the study said.
Africa has the youngest age distribution, with 41 percent of the population under age 15 and about five percent aged 60 years and over.
On the other hand, developed countries have a much older population, with 17 percent under age 15 and 20 percent aged 60 years and over.
The proportion of people over the age of 60 is increasing rapidly in Western Europe, Northern America and Japan.
"The legacy of past high fertility is the current rapid increase in population and the largest-ever generation of young people," the report noted.
In developing countries, young people account for 29 percent of the population, where they number 1.5 million.
In the developed world, there are over 238 million young people, representing 20 percent of the population.
"The changing age structure of populations has significant social and economic implications at the individual, family, community and societal levels. It also has important implications for a country's development," the study points out.
Smith said rapid population growth is among the key factors contributing to the very existence of fragile states, their increasing numbers and relative lack of progress toward development.
Women in seven of the 10 most fragile states give birth to an average of four or more children during their reproductive lifetime. In four of these states -- Afghanistan, Angola, Liberia and Somalia -- women are averaging nearly seven children.
Smith said that the United Nations reports that 137 million women in the world lack access to modern, medically approved contraceptives and another 64 million women use traditional methods of family planning that are less reliable than modern methods.
It is somewhat bewildering, Smith told IPS, that President Bush, "who has issued a statement noting that one of the best ways to prevent abortion is by providing quality voluntary family planning services," would not then make these services available to the 137 million women who would like to prevent or delay pregnancy but are not using any method of family planning.
According to the World Health Organisation, the number of individuals and couples who want to avoid a birth or delay their next pregnancy exceeds the number of contraceptive users by a factor of two or more.
"The need for family planning assistance definitely exists," Smith said. Moreover, the overwhelming majority of fragile states have, as a matter of official policy, declared their birth rates to be too high.
"What remains to be answered is the question of whether or not we have the political will to fulfill this unmet need," he added.
Copyright © 2007 IPS-Inter Press Service.