Lois Abraham and Jane Roberts describe how ordinary Americans have flocked to back United Nations activities on population and development.

As American citizens, we are proud of the role the United States has historically played on the issues surrounding population and development.

John D. Rockefeller III was a key leader in the field and helped galvanize US and global action in the 1960s. Our then Ambassador to the United Nations, George H. W. Bush, was present at the creation of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and had nothing but wonderful things to say about its early efforts. For 30 years, population-related assistance has been an important part of US foreign assistance. We were also proud of the leadership provided by the US Government at the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) in 1994 and encouraged when US funding for population reached an all-time high of $585 million in 1995. Follow-up to ICPD from US foundations has been encouraging as well.

President George W. Bush was elected as a unifier and compassionate conservative. On population issues, the early steps were encouraging as funding was provided to UNFPA. Secretary of State Colin Powell testified favourably about the organization’s work and supplementary funding was requested to support emergency efforts by UNFPA in Afghanistan. Late in 2001, a budget deal was reached between Congress and the President that included funding for UNFPA. But in July 2002 funding for UNFPA was cut off.

Citizens have a responsibility to speak out for global cooperation

Sending a signal
Independently, we were concerned that this should have happened at a time when our nation was crying out for global unity and international cooperation in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on 11 September 2001. Lois began contacting friends on e-mail, asking them to send at least $1 to help continue UNFPA’s work and send a signal from the people of the United States that we care about women’s lives. Jane wrote to the local newspaper with a similar sentiment and a call to send $1 and a message. Soon a website was started at

Before long, a trickle of envelopes turned into a flood and the 34 Million Friends of UNFPA effort was launched. To date, more than 100,000 Americans have responded and $2 million has been raised: it has given ordinary citizens an opportunity to express their support for the world’s women and their concern about an important US policy.

Global good
In a larger sense, 34 Million Friends of UNFPA is indicative of the growing power of citizen efforts in an information age that daily draws people and countries closer and closer together. Citizens have an opportunity – and responsibility – to speak out about the necessity of global cooperation on behalf of the future of our planet and its people. On the tenth anniversary of the historic agreement in Cairo, we hope that our grassroots efforts will serve as an example for citizen action around the world on behalf of women’s health, the environment and other common causes that serve the global good

Lois Abraham, an attorney, and Jane Roberts, a retired schoolteacher, are co-founders of 34 Million Friends of UNFPA.

PHOTOGRAPH: Auijit Roy/UNEP/Topham

This issue:
Contents | Editorial K. Toepfer | Miles to go before we relax | Practical consensus | Power shift | Equally effective | People | Peace of mind, piece of land | The young ones | Fuelling change | At a glance: Women, health and the environment | Aishwarya Rai | Unprecedented opportunity | Books and products | Chemical inheritance | Toxic trespass | First empower | Citizen engagement | Adding feminine perspective | After all ‘nature’ is female... | A unique voice

Complementary issues:
Culture, values and the environment 1996
Poverty, Health and the Environment 2001
World Summit on Sustainable Development 2002
Water, Sanitation, People 2004

AAAS Atlas of Population and Environment:
Population and natural resources

Timothy E. Wirth, President of the United Nations Foundation and former U.S. Senator:
ICPD+10 speech September 2004