Population dynamics, health and social protection – Opportunities for sustainable development

By Social Protection Team on Mon, 03 February 2014

Written by guest bloggers Thierry Kühn, desk officer in the division for health and population policy at  Germany's BMZ, and Kristin Häfner, technical advisor for Germany's GIZ.

The world population clock is ticking. According to the Population Reference Bureau’s “2013 World Population Data Sheet”, on average, 271 people are born worldwide every minute and 106 people die. On 31 October 2011 the world welcomed its 7 billionth citizen. And by 2050 it is estimated that the number will have grown to 9.6 billion.

Still high fertility rates in many areas are a driver for this expansion.  At the same time there are other major global demographic trends which must be confronted in the push  to achieve sustainable development:

  • The current youth population of 1.2 billion is the biggest young generation ever.
  • The world population is ageing at an increasing rate.
  • As a result of internal and external migration, more than 216 million people presently live outside the country where they were born.
  • Half of all individuals currently live in towns and cities.

Behind these global trends, the demographic profiles of individual countries or regions vary considerably in terms of birth rates, life expectancy, age structure and migration patterns. Population dynamics (i.e. changes in the size, structure and distribution of the population) have implications for economic development, labor markets, income distribution, poverty and social protection. They also influence the epidemiological situation of a country.

As populations age, the relative risk of succumbing to an infectious disease starts to fall, while the incidence of non-communicable diseases rises. As a result, population dynamics have an impact on the ability and capacity of nations to ensure universal access to health care and social protection services for their citizens.

The linkages between population dynamics and development challenges are critically shaped by sexual and reproductive health and rights, as well as by gender equality issues. Maternal health, rights-based family planning, women’s rights, and the active participation of women in social, political and economic life are key aspects of one of the main demographic changes― the decline of fertility. Population dynamics shape and –at the same time– are shaped by developments in each of the above areas.

Whether future demographic trends will challenge or promote sustainable development, including the health and wellbeing of the population, depends on policies which are put in place today. Taking into account the demographic realities in individual countries and regions is a challenge but it also offers opportunities.

The regular collection of local and national population data is a fundamental prerequisite for government planning. If such information is lacking then the basis for farsighted political action and a socially and ecologically sustainable economy is also absent. Knowing the size of a population and having disaggregated data on its structure, age, gender, fertility, mortality and morbidity, etc. is essential for the development of health and social protection systems and for necessary adaptations to ensure that they serve the whole population, including those most in need.

The principle of self-determination and the importance of human rights continue to be core concerns for all population activities within the framework of German development cooperation. Moreover, it is important to strengthen activities in selected priority areas or sectors and develop a better understanding of the cross-cutting nature of population dynamics.

Bearing this in mind, and with 2014 marking the 20th anniversary of the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD), integrating population dynamics into the international policy dialogue is a priority area of action for German development cooperation. The bilateral dialogue with partner countries is another crucial focus area. Acknowledging demographic issues in the design and funding of development projects is yet another priority. Better planning can be supported by analyses that are based on reliable disaggregated demographic data and projections.

Particular attention should be given to poor countries where population growth and fertility rates remain high and where the population includes a large proportion of children and young people. A key focus should also be put on countries where fertility rates have already fallen and where there is an advantageous ratio of working age adults to dependent individuals. They need social protection schemes which will allow individuals and families to make use of their full potential and they need to prepare the way for healthy and productive population ageing.

Forward-looking German development cooperation must place a stronger emphasis on the needs of the biggest generation of children and young people ever and at the same time support the efforts of partner countries to cope with their respective phase of demographic transition. If that is done, it will be possible to take advantage of the opportunities that population dynamics provide. Ultimately, the main priority must be to achieve sustainable, balanced development which is also sensitive to the cultural aspects of national population policies.

For further information on population dynamics in German development cooperation please go here.

The article reflects the personal opinion of the authors.