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Overpopulation – the Forgotten Question
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By Anuradha Kataria Even as the world population day approaches on 11 July 2013, the sea of humanity keeps expanding and 7 billion is an astounding number already. Driving many other species into extinction, mankind itself is at risk due to the bludgeoning numbers and lack of resources to support the same. Technological advancements in agriculture and medicine arrested the natural albeit painful processes of population control through famines, plagues and other diseases. But having extracted the world out of one kind of misery, it is yet sinking into another – that of overpopulation. It took mankind millennia to reach 1 billion in 1804 and more than another century to double by 1927. But in the age of speed that we live in, a billion is added almost every 13 – 14 years. Clearly natural resources as well as national provisions could not keep pace with such a calamitous increase in numbers and needs to be dealt with. Defying the anthropological precept that the fittest breed the most, human population explosion is at the poorest end – in the developing nations particularly among the rural poor. In the developed world population is in decline actually creating other kinds of challenges like a large ageing and dependent strata but it is relatively easier to handle. If we look at rural households in the developing nations, population gallops on - children are seen as extra hands on the farm living space is not a constraint and people generally lead a destitute life. In such circumstances, they don’t care to plan their families or worry about children’s future which is expected to be the same as theirs. As urbanization takes a hold, living spaces are constrained as well as cost of living high but there is ample scope for employment opportunities. People start focusing on children’s education and have hopes for their future. With that they also start planning their families and 1 – 2 child families become the norm. So urbanization itself acts as a natural leveler. In the better off sections as also seen in the West, women start working and bigger families with many children comes in the way as they find it difficult to balance work pressure with home demands. Urbanization and modernization has also led to nuclear families such that natural child support systems are weakened considerably. These factors work as deterrents to having too many children. Accounting for 37% of the world’s population, India and China remain the biggest culprits in the overpopulation game. Africa, though poorer is actually sparsely populated with population density lower than even Europe and the whole continent population barely adds up to a billion. Traditionally Asia has been the most populated continent and that is where the most efforts are required. At the extreme end of population control measures is China’s enforced one child policy where people are not allowed to have more than one child. This has been criticized on various counts primarily on its apparent interference with people’s freedom and choice. But being able to breed at will without the where-withal to provide for children may not be the right use of freedom either. The policy is also criticized for skewed sex ratio but to put figures to it, China’s sex ratio is 1.13 as compared to 1.12 for India – so both are similar and well over the world average of 1.07. Skewed sex ratio is not a result of population control programs but a deeply ingrained socio cultural ill that needs to be tackled through education and reforms. Rather, prosperity and education are likely to impact it more which indeed is better enabled if the population is limited. Overpopulation compounds problems like poverty, illiteracy, inequality and violence. It also has put enormous burden on natural resources particularly water. It is often alleged that a rich nation like the US uses lot more resources than say the developing world. While they may leave a larger carbon footprint behind, consumption has its lifestyle benefits for the populace and so long as the nation is able to afford it, it is a lesser problem. But if one sees a developing nation, people do not have the means to live even a basic lifestyle and often live in congestion, filth and squalor. Lack of access to basic amenities like water, sanitation and exposure to diseases define the deprived existence of vast tracts of population which is ill able to afford such bludgeoning numbers. Also lack of basic infrastructure like a drainage system creates a sewage crisis that contaminates both soil and water. While further population growth trends have been predicted and revised, somewhere it is assumed to be a natural statistical phenomenon with no need to actively check it. Just as food availability and medicines altered human life expectancy, we need to alter the explosion in population through scientific measures as well as social innovations and awareness programs. It can’t just be left to some sort of presumably ‘natural’ automatic sort of means. Given the proclivity of the poorest to breed more, poverty, deprivation and inequality will keep rising as also the stress on natural resources. It is debatable whether China’s one child policy is really such a draconian measure as it is made out to be. It clearly has been successful in checking its explosion. In countries where infant and child mortality and malnutrition is high as well as living conditions abysmal and dirty, producing unlimited number of kids into that environment is just as draconian, if not more. However all states may not wish to go the ‘China way’ but clearly there is a case to wake up and invest heavily in population control measures. If not coercive but at least persuasive campaigns and incentives based schemes need to be launched in an intense drive. The world population day could mark the beginning of such a trend in the developing world. It is also time forums like the BRICS summit should get out of the nouveau riche zone of showcasing economic numbers and start facing up to these critical issues that affect this part of the world so deeply. Overpopulation is not a question that can be ignored any longer.

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Mon, September 30, 2013 11:42 PM (about 91340 hours ago)
The Malthusian trap once again. This article doesn't seem to posit anything new to this argument. The crux of the position is that the poor are breeding yes that's the word the article uses without actually putting it to paper too fast and something must be done about this. The real problem is that agricultural and medical technologies have reduced infant mortality, and live longer. The natural stabilizers of population famine, disease are just not cutting it anymore. And all those poor people are going to suck up natural resources. The answer is either, forbid them from reproducing, or pay them not to. But without a large unskilled labor pool, who will build all the cheap consumer goods the north needs!?!? 8-{
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