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Population: myth and reality

Population: myth and reality
The Cairo International Conference on Population and Development
The Cairo International Conference on Population and

The polarization of wealth and poverty in India is further

Development (lCPD), held in September 1994, gave us a

compounded by the religiously sanctioned graded division of

misconstructed equilibrium. Now that there has been a year for

the society. The majority ‘low’ castes bear the nation’s great

the heat and dust to settle down, it is pertinent to look at the real
issues. The carefully cultivated controversy on rather

poverty and deprivation.

Another central issue that was ignored by the Cairo

subordinate issues helped the conference to avoid discussion of

Conference is the population density dimension. Scientifically

the central issues on population-resource use conflict:

speaking, most developing countries have extremely low levels

overconsumption. The controversy over abortion which
dominated reporting of the conference was essentially a

of population in relation to the size of their countries or their
respective carrying capacities. In contrast, most industrial

Western domestic problem moved to the UN stage to divert

countries are heavily overpopulated. Western Europe is four

attention from this issue.

times more densely populated than Africa. The Netherlands,

Over the past decade it has become glaringly obvious that

Belgium and Japan have the highest population densities in the

the population-resource conflict cannot be resolved without

world. (In the developing world only Bangladesh and the Indian

addressing the problem of unsustainable patterns of

states of Kerala and West Bengal could match them in density.)

consumption. But how long is it going to take global (read

The UK’s population density is double that of China and five

Western) policy-makers to acknowledge that it is economic

times that of Kenya – an ‘acute population problem country’.

privilege and technological power that is at the heart of the

Developing countries do have a higher population growth

resource depletion and not simply population size. The total

rate, but this is an absolutely normal feature of population

resource consumption of twenty average families in the

dynamics. These countries are simply following the pattern of

developing world is less than the consumption of just one

demographic trajectory that occurred in the West following the

average British family (with two children). An average

so-called Industrial Revolution. This population explosion in

Northern citizen consumes seventeen times more copper, for

Europe had multiple devastating effects on the global

example, than an average person in the South. In the case of

community, the least pardonable of which was the virtual

aluminium the difference is a factor of twenty against the South.

annihilation of the societies of the American continents,

India uses less paper for printing all its school text books than

Australia and New Zealand and the irreversible occupation of

the Scandinavian countries use for producing pornographic

their nations (pre-Columbus ‘America’ had a greater

literature. The one-fifth of the human population that occupies

population than tiny Europe). The developing countries

the North consumes 80 per cent of the world’s resources, and if

certainly do not have scope for repeating such crimes today

we have to save the world from an irreversible resource crisis,
the world should focus its attention on the North.

and therefore their population densities will be stabilized within
their own carrying capacities.

The industrial economies play a devastating role, not only

But the key to managing population growth is not so much

in consumption but also in discharging polluting wastes. The

sterilization as improving the socio-economic milieu. In this

per-capita emission of greenhouse gases by the US population,

respect the southern Indian state of Kerala provides a model for

for example, is twelve times more than that of South Asia. Thus

the entire world. Although the state has a population density

by depleting the resource base and impairing the environmental

that exceeds chronically overpopulated Western Europe, it has

space, the Northern economies are provoking an irreversible

achieved stability in population growth. This stability was

crisis. The 57 million babies that will be born in the North in

reached by achieving fairly good standards in health care, child

the 1990s will help accelerate this twin crisis into a catastrophe,

care, literacy, women’s education and land redistribution

while most of the 911 million babies born in the South in the

through social engineering and government planning, despite

same period will simply stay alive, if they survive at all.

the provincial economy being heavily dependent on other states

The inequity works not only between countries but within

of India and on remittances from the expatriate workforce in

countries as well. In India, for example, 1.5 per cent of the

the Gulf countries. By contrast, the market miracle that

population, numbering about 12 million, hold about 65 per cent

capitalist fundamentalism insists on would now further

of the nation’s private wealth, while 30 per cent of the
population, amounting to the total population of all Western

frustrate the efforts of developing countries to improve their
social milieu, and thus promises to distort further the

European countries, live below the poverty line set by the

demographic picture.

standard of a meagre Rs 195.50 ($US 6.5) per capita per month.


Radical Philosophy 73 (SeptlOct 1995)



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