The elephant in the room at Rio summit

The United Nations is holding a summit this week in Rio de Janeiro on global sustainable development, but, incredibly, family planning is not on the agenda. How can the summit ignore this elephant in the room?

When the world's population hit 7 billion in October, experts warned that if nothing is done, the global population could grow by another 3.5 billion by 2050. Still, many of the world's women are without the resources to plan their families' growth effectively -- a major factor in stemming the tide of global population expansion.

Clearly, the world's growing population and the significant challenges it poses must be central to any discussion of sustainable development at the U.N. Earth Summit, also called Rio+20, taking place Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.

Negotiators hammering out the terms for discussion in Rio failed to link the summit's sustainable development goals to the concerns, needs and desires of women worldwide -- particularly to the role that family planning could play in easing the burdens posed by population growth.

We know that when women have access to voluntary family planning services, supplies and information, society sees enormous gains in each of the three pillars of sustainable development -- human development, economic growth and environmental sustainability. Without it, families, communities and natural resources are extraordinarily burdened.

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