Poor Nations Will Double in Population

By Sieff, Martin | Insight on the News, February 23, 1998 | Go to article overview

Poor Nations Will Double in Population


Sieff, Martin, Insight on the News


While rich industrial countries have population growth well under control, many developing nations still have fertility rates of six children or more per woman.

The good news is that population growth is slowing, a decline precipitated by family planning, delays of marriage and an increase in deaths (especially from parasitic and infectious diseases). The bad news is that it is happening too slowly -- and too late -- to prevent collapsing living standards and food shortages in the the Third World.

"Rapid population growth in the poorest countries of the world remains me most pressing global demographic problem," said Werner Fornos, president of the Population Institution, at a recent Washington conference. "The slower rise in population... can be compared to a tidal wave surging toward one of our coastal cities. Whether the tidal wave is 80 feet or 100 feet high, the impact will be similar."

The world's population reached 1 billion for the first time in 1830. But it took only 120 years to double to 2 billion by 1930 and just 30 years to reach 3 billion by 1960. In the past half-century, global population has soared more than 250 percent and now is about 5.8 billion.

Even though population growth slowed in 1997, virtually all of the expansion occurred in the poorest and most impoverished nations, locking them further into a tragic cycle of suffering, destitution and despair. "Nearly 98 percent of me annual increase that we're reporting for 1997 occurred in countries of the developing regions of the world," Fornos said. These are countries "least able to support the growing millions and to withstand the consequences of runaway growth, environmental degradation, economic stagnation, hunger and malnutrition, urban deterioration, and high maternal and child mortality."

Population analysts say 80 percent of the world's population resides in that developing region, often called the Third World. It includes 74 countries on course to double their populations within less than 30 years. "Although many of the countries of Latin America and Asia have recorded significant fertility declines, the annual number of births worldwide will be at least 132 million increase [per year] for many more years to come," said Fornos.

The Middle East, North Africa and sub-Saharan Africa will experience the most rapid population growth. "North Africa and the Middle East are now the greatest grain-importing regions of the world," said Gary Gardner of the Worldwatch Institute. "Every year, the nations of that region must import as much grain as is grown in the entire Nile river valley. Their needs are far beyond the sustainable level of their own water resources."

This has had a crushing impact on economic prospects of nations in mat region. Some 85 countries are unable to grow or buy enough food to feed their people, according to the Food and Agricutural Organization, or FAO. …

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