Family planning can improve economic status of poor
Family planning is a necessary tool to improve the economic status of the poor, said a senior officer with the United Nations (UN).
Professor Jeffrey Sachs, special advisor to UN secretary-general Ban Ki-Moon, said research carried out on poverty among the rural communities showed that it is prevalent with families that have up to nine or 10 children.
"Frankly, this is one of the factors that is contributing to the problem of poverty currently faced in Sabah," he said at a press conference after a roundtable dialogue organised by the UN Development Programme (UNDP) and Universiti Malaya's Development and Poverty Research Centre at Le Meridien Hotel here yesterday.
Sachs, who is also an economist, stressed that their studies confirmed that poverty eradication efforts are hampered by families that do not practise family planning.
"It is a similar situation in countries such as South Africa and Somalia where the respective Governments of those countries are finding it hard to stem poverty due to families with many children.
"There need to be cooperation not only from the State Government, related agencies, NGOs and leaders but also the local populace in reevaluating and changing their lifestyle, including implementing a family planning system," he said.
Sachs revealed that some 23 percent of poor household heads in Sabah are below the national poverty income line and the poverty rate for their children stands at 42 percent with one in every five children aged six and above had never gone to school.
UNDP representative to Malaysia, Dr Richard Letee, noted that another contributing factor to poverty in Sabah is an imbalance in the State's population growth.
"This requires us to form a pro-poverty investment and increase data collection to identify those who are truly poor. We also need to find answers as to why they are still poor and how we can overcome this problem," he said.
Sachs, however, commended the State Government for implementing strategies and programmes to address the issue of poverty here, compared to other countries he has visited where he said have no clear direction in eradicating poverty.
"I have travelled to many countries that are faced with poverty and they have no strategy for poverty eradication compared to Sabah and Malaysia in general. I have seen the Government's commitment towards tackling this problem and I hope it can achieve the target of zero poverty in Sabah by 2010," he said.
Sachs is here to lead a five-day mission, visiting several poverty-stricken areas in the State such as Pulau Banggi and Kudat.
Currently serving as director at the Earth Institute in Columbia University, he also chairs the Prof DiRaja Ungku Aziz Poverty Research under Universiti Malaya and has authored several books, including "The End of Poverty".
Sachs meanwhile vilified uncontrolled deforestation and illegal logging, which he said has destroyed the State's natural environment.
He said Sabah has one of the most beautiful and diverse eco-systems in the world, but faces a real threat of destruction from such irresponsible activities.
"When these forests are cut, the species and vegetation are also destroyed. Even aquatic species will be destroyed because of the pollution caused by illegal logging.
"Personally, I am attracted by the eco-system and biodiversity found in Sabah and this encourages me to bring my family and my compatriots to visit Sabah in future ... Sabah's rich natural eco-system must be preserved because it is a very important product to attract tourists," he said.
Sachs stressed that it is imperative for Sabah to follow the lead of countries such as Norway and Costa Rica which go to great lengths to preserve their natural eco-system as they realise it is a major draw for foreign tourists.
"Scientists and specialists must continuously monitor the situation to ensure deforestation and illegal logging can be brought under control," he said.