Op/Ed: Is World Population Growth Creating a Planet on the Verge of Crisis?

Posted Jul 15, 2007 by Kyle Pallanik

As of July 2007 the world population is considered to have exceeded 6.6 billion people. Our planet has immense potential and is a tough old rock, but does it have enough resources to support a population that could grow to 9.4 billion by 2050?
Thursday July 12th was World Population Day and to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) this is the day that they use to promote the human rights of each man, women and child of the world to a life of health and equal opportunity.
They certainly have their work cut out for them as they try to find a balance between helping people survive and teaching family planning to help conserve resources available to each family. The HIV/AIDS pandemic has stunted the population growth in Africa where the actual birth rates are among the highest in the world.
Every minute, one woman dies during pregnancy and birth because she did not receive adequate care and prompt treatment. By increasing interventions for safe motherhood, we can save the lives of half a million women and seven million infants, and prevent millions of women from suffering from infections, injury and disability each year. - UNFPA website
Since the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) in Cairo the UNFPA has been working on the Programme of Action which was signed by 179 countries and promotes the following goals:
Universal access to reproductive health services by 2015
Universal primary education and closing the gender gap in education by 2015
Reducing maternal mortality by 75 per cent by 2015
Reducing infant mortality
Increasing life expectancy
Reducing HIV infection rates
Still with all of the disease and wars of the last 200 years, the population of the world has grown in huge numbers since it reached 1 billion in 1802. By 1928, the population had doubled to 2 billion and the last century saw an unprecedented boom in numbers. It only took until 1961 to reach 3 billion, and only 13 years later it was 4 billion in 1974. By 1987 the world population was 5 billion and had reached a staggering 6 billion before the close of the century only 12 years later in 1999.
Over 60% of the world population, almost 3.8 billion people live in Asia. China (20%) and India (16%) alone contain a huge portion of that number.
Africa is the next most populous continent with 840 million people (12%), while Europe follows with 710 million (11%). North and South America trail in the statistics with 514 million people (8%) and 371 million (5.3%) respectively.
According to the UNFPA's State of World Population 2007 report, humanity will reach a historic milestone by 2008, where half of the earth's population will be living in urban areas, where planning is critical and poverty can be both found and fought.
The question is, do these numbers spell doom and gloom for the people of the earth? Before the turn of the century, some were saying that we only have enough resources to support around 6 billion people. We're well over that number now, and we certainly see imbalances in developing countries but perhaps the biggest problem is that we don't share the resources very well. Statistics indicate that the richest countries consume the vast majority of the resources.
Most of the population growth predicted between now and 2050 is expected to take place in the developing world, where the current population of 5.1 billion could grow to 7.7 billion, outstripping the available resources in those areas. Combined with our reliance on oil, voracious cutting down of trees and climate change causing disasters and drought, it's easy to see how things could even more difficult for future generations, than they already are for many parts of the world.
There are direct and complex links between population dynamics, poverty and sustainable development, but many of these future statistics are predictions. The facts of today actually indicate that fertility rates are quite low in many parts of the world, especially in developed countries. Take a look at the CIA World Factbook for details and you'll see just how far down the list, many Western countries are. There are many factors at work here, cost of living, modern gender roles, religion, politics and more.
In my search to find straight facts on this topic, I came across many opinionated editorials discussing the touchy subject of population control. One article in particular had a deeply religious and pro-life bent and slams the UNFPA's work accusing them of being the cause of demographic implosion.
When it comes to the topic of population control, one cannot help but think of China's one child policy. The law is strongly enforced in urban areas where families are required to pay a social compensation fee for a second child, but in rural areas, two children are allowed. The heavy fees act as a deterrent, but also may have contributed to a disparity in the ratio of boys to girls, a topic which contains both heavy conjecture but also some disturbing facts.
China should not be singled out as the only nation where population control is a part of their history, the concept goes back to ancient times and the Internet is rife with articles about its evils, when motivated by political and power hungry masters. Education, national planning strategies and the human rights are the tools and guidelines that should be used to foster a healthy global population.