Wanted: People-Resources Balance Rapid Growth in Developing Countries Raises Environmental and Human-Welfare Questions. WORLD POPULATION

By Fred Hift, story on population control .. | The Christian Science Monitor, July 12, 1990 | Go to article overview

Wanted: People-Resources Balance Rapid Growth in Developing Countries Raises Environmental and Human-Welfare Questions. WORLD POPULATION


Fred Hift, story on population control .., The Christian Science Monitor


NUMBERS alone aren't all that significant in assessing potential overcrowding, said the Duke of Edinburgh recently, speaking as president of the World Wide Fund for Nature.

"What matters is the size of the population in proportion to the space and resources available. Five or 6 million butterflies in the state of New York would not cause much of a stir, but 640 million elephants in Africa - the same number as the present human population - would cause some very awkward problems."

The Duke added that even academic economists had to be aware that "there must be an ultimate limit" to the number of human inhabitants that the earth could reasonably support.

This is the foremost message of World Population Day, in which some 90 countries plan to participate this week. They are marking the occasion with a variety of activities aimed at creating greater awareness of the impact of alarming population growth in much of the third world.

The day itself (July 11) is sponsored by the United Nations Population Fund, which, in both financial and educational terms, supports and encourages international government efforts to reduce the birth rate, particularly in the developing countries.

World Population Day comes at a time when the close relationship between population and other urgent issues like the degradation of the environment, dwindling resources, and the spread of hunger is widely recognized.

Recent statistics and prognostications underscore the seriousness of the situation.

Nafis Sadik, executive director of the Population Fund, says: "World Population Day reminds all of us that the future depends on a balance between numbers on one hand and resources on the other. Governments in developing countries increasingly believe that rapid population growth and its uneven distribution hold back development efforts."

Current estimates put world population at the end of the decade at around 6.2 billion, up by close to 1 billion over the current 5.3 billion. By the year 2025, warns the UN Population Division, the figure could well rise to 8.5 billion. Africa will represent almost 19 percent of all the world's people (see chart).

The Population Fund's recent "State of World Population 1990" report provides additional details. About a quarter of a million babies are now born every day - three every second. Between 90 and 100 million people a year are being added annually during the 1990s, roughly the equivalent of the population of Eastern Europe or Central America.

The impact of this continuing population explosion can be seen in the sharp increases in the numbers of children out of school, illiterates, people without adequate sanitation in cities that are outgrowing their capacities, and families living below the poverty line. Deforestation and desertification are other effects.

Population growth also imposes a serious burden on the world's poorest countries with their massive debts and their inability to institute meaningful changes.

In the population report, Dr. Sadik sounds a warning note. "Fast population growth in poor countries has begun to make permanent changes to the environment," she says. "During the 1990s, these changes will reach critical levels. At the start of the 1990s, the choice must be to act decisively to stop population growth, attack poverty, and protect the environment. …

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