World population, which reached 5.4 billion in mid-1991, is growing faster than

ever before: three people every second, more than 250,000 every day. At the beginning of

the decade (1991) the annual addition was 93 million; by the end (1998) it will approach

100 million. At this rate the world will have almost a billion more people (roughly the

population of China) by the year 2001.

Population and development are closely aligned. In Population: A Megalopolis is

Born, Melvyn Weslake sees these factors as being inextricably linked and having an

immeasurable impact on the future of this planet. He stated:

World Population will increase each year during the 1990 s by the equivalent of

Mexico s. This growth, which is overwhelming in the South, poses a threat to the

environment and stable development.

But what does this dynamic rate of growth really mean? Can we visualize its

impact? What can be done to impede its rate of growth/or reduce the fallout? And what is

being done?


The Brundtland Commission (1987) suggests the population is about not just

numbers of people, but how those numbers relate to available resources. The Commission

concluded that sustainable development could only be pursued if demographic

developments are in harmony with the changing productive potential of the ecosystem.

This question of balance is seen at the root of the problem. The capacity to

support a rapidly growing world population is thought to be clearly insufficient. This

despite advance in productivity made through developments in technology, most notably

the Green Revolution .

The truth may be that the prophecies of some visionaries may be more realistic

than we would like to believe:


h The Malthusian vision sees population growth ultimately overwhelming the food supply (unless checked by rising death rates brought on by famine, pestilence, disease, or war), and

h Garrett Hardin s dire parable in The Tragedy of the Commons demonstrates how social values and over-population can contribute to the degradation of the physical environment (Science, 1968).

What Drives Population Growth?

Modern demographers make projections about the growth of the human species in

much the same way that our friend Thomas Malthus did in the early 19th century,

but with some significant differences. Today, projections are based on sound

census data. And we now calculate population growth in the millions with

medium variants of absolute population for the 21st century in the billions.

The science of demographics has clarified population growth into understandable

components. The basic elements are:

h Birth and death

h Life expectancy, and

h Fertility (fecundity)

While these in turn determine:

h Growth rates

h The age distribution of the population, and

h The absolute population size.

These factors are useful for understanding what drives growth and for targeting

programs for population control. However, when demographic projections are

tied to impact, more meaningful information results. It is only when we relate

population data to a particular context can we appreciate its importance on future

and global development.

Now I ll briefly talk about population growth in the developing world, placing it

in the context of environmental sustainability, economic development and the

urban challenge.

The Developing World

The rate of population growth in the developing world is a very real concern and

will have repercussions long into the future. The population of developing

countries has more than doubled in 35 years, increasing from 1.7 billion in 1950

to 4.1 billion in 1990. By the year 2000, it will grow to nearly 5 billion (out of an

expected world total of 6.26 billion).

This means that as much as 97 percent of global population growth is

projected to take place in developing countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America

between now and the year 2020-within countries least able to absorb growing

numbers of people.

Cynthia Green found that consumption patterns and preferences are as

important as numbers of consumers. (The Environmental and Population Growth:

Decade for Action). Both Green and the Commission point to the developed

world as a larger threat to our world in the near and medium future than

population growth.

Environmental Sustainability

Cynthia Green had identified how pressure exerted by expanding population (and

their economic behavior) impact on the environment of developing countries. The

overall result is characterized by serious resource depletion. She found that the

pressure to grow more food and cash crops led to clearing the land that resulted in

degradation, loss of top soil, erosion, desertification, as well as, atmospheric and

climate change. She also concluded that:

h The subsequent pressure on ecosystems promotes massive losses of trees, plants and animals, and threatens biodiversity.

h Over-grazing and the destruction of range lands result with the movement onto marginal and even fragile lands.

h Over-fishing is experienced

h Aquifers are tapped which can replenish only gradually

h Fuel needs drive deforestation and greater use of non-renewable mineral resources, and

h Increased water pollution becomes the product of agricultural run off, sewage, etc. and

Green s work highlights just a few of the dramatic changes being experienced as a

result of population growth. In Sharon Camp s paper Population: The Critical

Decade, she states:

The quality of life on earth increasingly threatened by a powerful and growing

ecological force. We humans are that force, ever more of us using ever more

materials, assaulting the environment with ever more machines, chemicals,

weapons, and waste.

That s in the long-term, in the short-term he projected that:

h Rapid population growth may force scarcity problems upon us (before substitutes or new technologies are put in place)

h An insufficient demand for labor may cause serious employment problems, and

h Weak economies unable to absorb labor may see greater migration to urban centres-and ultimately the exodus of a nation s intellectual wealth to more developed countries.

Population Policies

The results of massive population growth have caused most developing countries

to formulate national population polices. Today there are 128 countries, which

provide direct support for family planning, and 17, more which provide indirect


These polices vary in scope. They range from simply addressing the

demographic statistics (e.g. balancing rural and urban populations, slowing the

actual birth rate) using simple incentives and disincentives, to more advanced

policies which address the macro-issues focussing on the links to economic and

social development. The assumption that economic development and fertility

decline are causally linked forms a basis for most population programming.

Countries which have adopted population polices, whatever their nature,

have registered significant reductions in fertility rates. Several sources concur

with this finding including an article in the December 1993 issue of the Scientific

American by Bryant Robey, Shea Rutstein and Leo Morris entitled The Fertility

Decline in Developing Nations. These authors have concluded that the greatest

successes occur when programs are supported by:

h Political leadership

h Business and commercial interests

h Religion

h Intellectual and community leadership, and

h From the people at large.

In countries with a more holistic approach to planning, the success may be

more sustainable. Networks of community health workers and clinics,

which pay close attention to primary health care, preventive medicine and

family planning, characterize such programs.

Another important focus for family planning is the target group

approach (i.e. focusing on women). A gender perspective emphasizing the

role of women in the society, in the family planning choices and in

realizing their full potential in society through education and employment

programs has also proved very successful (e.g. Kabeer 1992). The success

of family planning worldwide is laudable; birth rates have declined by one

third since the mid-1960s, from an average family size of 6.1 children to

3.9. Regardless, more than one-half of the developing world s population

will be under 25 in the year 2000.

Family Planning Techniques

The use of modern family planning techniques had grown from less than

10 percent in the 1960s (predominately by married couples) to 51 percent

today. However, there is still an unmet need for family planning with:

h An estimated 90-160 million couples affected in 1992, and

h 20-30 percent of married women wanting to avoid pregnancy yet not using contraception.

Sterilization is the most popular method followed by inter uterine devices

(IUD) and hormonal contraceptives. These three methods account for

about 75 percent of all use worldwide. Unfortunately for AIDS campaign,

only 4 percent of married couples in developing countries use condoms.

The options for an unwanted pregnancy in the developing world

are very harsh: an estimated 36 to 53 million induced abortions occur

annually worldwide, at least half of them developing countries, and about

33 million are legal abortions (with some 15 million in developing

countries) suggesting that 3 to 10 million are performed illegally in

developing countries.

Complications from abortion alone kill an estimated 200,000

women per year in developing countries, amounting to 20 percent of all

material deaths (Outlook, Impact of Unsafe Abortion in the Developing

World, volume, 7, number 3, 1989).

Who s doing what?

Total funding for population is estimated by UNFPA at about $4.5 billion.

The UN projects that such funding will have to double by the end of the

century to keep growth on track.

Developing countries currently spend approximately $3.5 billion.

International population assistance from all donors amounts to an

additional $757 million (1989). This represents about 1.3. percent of total

ODA. About 129 developing countries receive international population


According to UNFPA research, maintaining current rates of

population growth will require the extension of family planning services to

an additional 186 million couples (services are now provided to only 381

million couples). The best reference for sources of International

Population Assistance is produced by the United Nation Population Fund

(UNPF) Guide to Sources of International Population Assistance. An

accompanying volume entitled Inventory of Population Projects in

Developing Countries Around the World provides an overview of

population programming.

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