Academic journal article Strategic Review for Southern Africa

Population Growth: Its Effect on Human Security with Emphasis on South Africa

Academic journal article Strategic Review for Southern Africa

Population Growth: Its Effect on Human Security with Emphasis on South Africa

Article excerpt


As early as the 1960s a number of demographers warned that the world was fast becoming over-populated. They held international conferences to highlight the problem, and attempted to get the attention of world bodies like the United Nations, as well as that of national governments. They made recommendations on how the global population explosion should be curtailed, and then stabilised to sustainable levels. Their efforts have been largely ignored, because family planning and birth control are personal issues reaching into the privacy of human existence. The political will to force the issue does simply not exist in most states. The attention which global warming and climate change are currently receiving may goad governments into action. The global warming problem has a major overpopulation component and a direct influence on human security.


Thomas R Malthus wrote his famous Essay on the Principle of Population in 1798, more than 200 years ago. At the time the world's population had not quite reached 1 000 million, but it took about 130 years to reach the second 1 000 million. The third 1 000 million was added in 30 years (+ 1960), the fourth in 15 years (+ 1975) and the fifth in 12 years (+ 1987). From 1960 to 1987 the world's population increased by 2 000 million, the figure it had taken all the thousands of years from the emergence of Homo Sapiens until 1930 to reach. From 1930 the world's population has more than trebled. The increase amounted to about 1 000 million every 25 years. (1) Per year, the increase is roughly twice that of the South African population of 48,5 million. (2)

The realisation that the rate of increase of the world's population must be brought under control led to a number of international population congresses or conferences. In 1964 the 'Club of Rome' organised a population congress which published a report on world population growth, the problems it caused, and a number of sensational recommendations in response. In 1974 an International Conference on Population was held in Romania where it was concluded that the problem of too rapid population growth was largely caused by population increases in the Third World. To solve this problem, accelerated economic development was recommended. It was believed that by so doing, the population growth rate would decrease so that population numbers would in time be brought into balance with resources. In 1984 another International Conference on Population was held in Mexico City, where it was concluded that most Third World countries had already fallen into a 'demographic trap', where economic development could no longer break the cycle of rapid population growth and the resultant poverty. The secretary-general of the conference closed the proceedings with the statement that the ultimate and internationally accepted goal was the stabilisation of the world's population within the shortest possible time. (3)

In 1989 when statistics indicated that 97 million people would be added to the world's population every year for the next 10 years, of which 94 per cent would be added in the developing world, a United Nations (UN) Population conference was held in Amsterdam. The conference appealed to world leaders to prioritise their population control programmes. This appeal was thus also aimed at countries such as South Africa with its small, decreasing 'First World component', and its large 'Third World component' where a high birth rate still prevails. (4)

In spite of the many conferences held on the dangers of the world's population explosion, several of which have taken place since 1989, few countries have given the problem serious attention. The conclusions drawn at these meetings indicate the rising concern of the demographers who take part, but their recommendations receive little publicity outside their own circles. It is imperative that the influence of uncontrolled population growth on human security and national security be given the priority it deserves. …

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