Another Desperate Try

By Muray, Leo | Contemporary Review, August 1994 | Go to article overview

Another Desperate Try


Muray, Leo, Contemporary Review


Another UN Conference on population is to be held in Cairo in September with representatives of 160 governments attending. Its main issue is expected to be to assess the link between the growth of population and development. The only feature of the situation that will have to be accepted is the growth of population. Statistics are impressive and threatening. Last year there was a world population of more than five billion, 5,000 million. By 2050 there are expected to be ten thousand million. The annual rise in population is around 100 million, a growth rate of 1.7 per cent. Percentages, of course, often hide the realities. For the first thirty years, 2000 to 2030, an increase of two and a half billion is forecast. This is as many mouths to feed, some experts point out, as the total world population of 1950. The figures come from the World Bank, the UN and other respectable institutions.

There have been several such conferences in the last ten years. In April such a conference drew up a twenty year plan to keep the population below eight billion. The plan is certain to be discussed in Cairo. But many developing countries have preferred to discuss development aid at these meetings rather than population growth. It may happen in Cairo too. To introduce effective birth control in the Third World leads to embarassing failure as events in China have shown. It is politically dangerous. It also requires the setting up of an effective and expensive administration, in India, for example, with its 28 ethnic languages. Again, birth control is against the ancient traditions of every ethnic group, based on the ancient dogma that children must be produced to help parents in their `old age' -- the fifties -- in the rural societies with little communications that still exist in vast areas of Asia and Africa. Even the westernized elites of these lands do not easily accept the general rule of two to three children per parents as in the West.

Third World governments do not want aid linked effectively with birth control and measures regarding environment. The arguments are linked with the dramatic difference in per capita income between the `rich' and `middle' countries and their own. In 1991 a World Bank Report estimated the `average' global per capita income at 4,010 US dollars. But the income for the 822 million of the industrial countries amounts to 20,570 US dollars a year compared with the `average 350 dollars for the developing countries. The `middle' group of 1,401 million people has an `average' annual income of 2,480 US dollars. The figure for the `middle' group shows that the gaps among the three are enormous, especially when one considers that `average' means that there are actually higher and lower incomes in every group.

The figures for overall global production show this. This is estimated at 21.5 trillion US dollars, 21.5 million millions. Of these the top group

of 822 million people get 16.9 trillion. It means that 15 per cent of the global population have around 79 per cent of the world's income. The often symbolic lifestyle of the 15 per cent as seen in Western television soap-operas has led to nearly unlimited demands for aid and assistance by Third World governments, as one can expect in Cairo. By no means everybody in the Third World has seen them but almost everybody has been told of them and they think it is the normal Western style of life.

This image has produced two dangerous waves of migration. The first engulfs the cities of the Third World. The thirty leading cities of Asia have a population of 210 million, expected to rise to 350 million by 2010. Seven of these cities are in China and around 100 million peasant families are estimated to have moved to towns. Every day, it is estimated that 300 families move into Bombay with a population of thirteen million. In China, it is estimated a peasant incomer could earn in a week what he can get in his village in a year.

Mega-cities have now emerged: Bombay, Manila, Mexico City and Cairo.

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