Horn of Africa shows family planning need - UN agency

Tue Aug 2, 2011 2:17pm GMT

By Mark John

DAKAR (Reuters) - The Horn of Africa food crisis shows the need to provide the world's poor with better access to family planning as part of efforts to prevent future tragedies, the head of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) said.

The United Nations has declared a famine in two regions of southern Somalia, where 3.7 million are going hungry, with over 12 million people now in need of urgent aid throughout areas including northern Kenya, Djibouti and Ethiopia.

Despite regular food shortages and high infant mortality, the region's population has more than doubled since it was hit by major droughts in 1974, spurred by factors such as limited contraception use and a tradition of large families.

While stressing the root cause of the crisis was the recent rain failures, UNFPA Executive Director Babatunde Osotimehin said it highlighted the plight of those living in parts of the world where the land struggles to support human life.

"We need to improve food production ... and to work with member states to ensure women and particularly young girls have access to education, including sexual education, and access to health services and reproductive health services including family planning," Osotimehin told Reuters in a telephone interview.

Emphasising the voluntary nature of the family planning policies supported by his agency, he said the aim was to help women "to have children when they want to have them and choose a number which they can afford within their own context".

While population growth in the Horn of Africa is cited by the Food and Agriculture Organisation and specialists such as U.S. development economist Jeffrey Sachs as a factor in the current crisis, family planning remains a sensitive area.

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