Every year, on July 11, World Population Day is observed by the UN with the primary narrative being to promulgate awareness on the challenges faced due to the incrementing population. This event was established by the Governing Council of the United Nations Development Programme in 1989. The date was chosen thus to mark the ‘Five Billion Day’ when the population of the world approximately reached around five billion.
We, at Ayuda NGO, hold a firm belief in working fervently to remove oblivion and to educate the masses about the rising problems that humanity faces due to unchecked population growth.
Even though there has been a continuous increase in the human population after the advent of the Black Death (around 1350), its significant effects were perceived mostly after 1950 due to medical advancements and agricultural productivity. As of July 6, 2020, the estimated population is 7.8 billion. The clambering numbers cast a grim prediction about our future, because the current-carrying capacity as quoted by prominent demographers is betwixt 4 and 9 billion, and if this growth continues without any impedance, then it will surely surpass this threshold even before the year 2030.
To perfectly comprehend the severity of this situation, we need to be conversant with some of the causes surrounding it:
· Food Availability: The age of the Renaissance in Europe was one of the foremost events to alter the progress of human beings — as it led to manifold inventions, discoveries, and flourishment in different aspects. The Industrial Revolution in the 18th century bolstered this process — so much so that the once starving nations seemed to be enjoying food consumption in surplus, even though it came at the expense of some other nations. As the years progressed, so did the availability of food for humans with remarkable achievements in agronomics and agricultural processes which caused increased fertility. Haber’s process of contriving ammonia, an indispensable fertilizer used for the crops, is often touted as a “detonator of population explosion” — due to its tremendous impact in harbouring the Green Revolution.
· Better Healthcare: The advent of the Industrial Revolution is also considered as the harbinger of better healthcare. Industries contributed in a large way of shaping the mindsets of the people. This resulted in multifarious ground-breaking discoveries like vaccines, antibiotics, and other drugs to combat pathogenic diseases, the invention of medical equipment like a stethoscope, prosthetics, MRI, X-ray machine among others, procedures to treat ailments, maladies, and disorders which are too numerous to be listed here. All these developments took place in leaps and bounds, which resulted in a prolonged average lifespan of humans. This meant that population density — the number of people living per unit area became abnormally higher than what was required for sustained living.
· Increasing Birth Rate and Fertility: One of the blessings of better healthcare, which proved to be a curse in disguise, was ameliorating fertility and the ascending birth rate. The overall mortality rate has come down due to improving conditions of the existing healthcare system and facilities. In recent years, the birth rate has trumped the death rate — for every 7.7 people dying per year per 1000 population, there are around 18.5 live births. The neonatal fatality rate coupled with the infant fatality rate has also diminished to a great extent. Even though this is a positive signal for any nation’s development, it unfortunately also meant that there were more babies than ever before, thereby creating a population boom.
· Certain Social Stigmas: The society’s mindset and ideologies play a big role in ensuring any purported activity. This is evident even in population growth. In India, as also in some other parts of the world, where the infant mortality rate was high during the 19th and 20th centuries, it was generally considered a norm to have as many kids as possible, so that at least some survived. There was also the regressive thought that ‘boys can support the family better than girls’ in those times so that almost every family decided to have at least one boy irrespective of the number of girls born. These ideas have now transformed with time — it is no longer a norm to have many children or a male child.
· Poor Education & Awareness: In many parts of rural India, Africa, and Asia, there is a lack of awareness on family planning and the adverse effects of the rising population. There is also a lackadaisical approach taken to enforce preventive measures and there is no formal sex education. People often shy away from talking brazenly about it. Hence, they’re not apprised of terms like ‘puberty’ or ‘menstruation’. And they’re also ignorant of how our reproductive system works. Hence, they don’t understand the consequences.
In 1798, Thomas Malthus, an English scholar propounded a famous theory — “the world population grew exponentially (in G.P.) whereas agricultural production grew only arithmetically (in A.P.).” This sums up a vital concern — how the population might outpace the availability of food and other resources. More people per unit area will also lead to the dwindling of existing resources. A renowned example is that of coal and petrol — which if consumed unabated would last for 115 years and 53 years respectively, according to a report by BP’s Statistical Review of World’s Energy. The rising population would mean that demand will also surge — which puts a tremendous strain on our environment. This adds to problems such as deforestation, global warming, climate change, pollution, depletion of natural resources, to name a few. The perils of zoonotic and other contagious diseases getting widespread also lingers.
Human-wildlife conflict is also bound to escalate in this scenario. There’ve been many such instances in the recent past where wild animals have often strayed into human settlements due to loss of habitat. With incrementing numbers, people are also more likely to fight each other for land, food, and other resources when resources become limited in quantity. This is known as ‘niche overlap.’ This might trigger wars and disputes which can ruin the bedrock of human civilization. The world economy is also flawed — which beckons that whilst some of the richer Western countries are getting richer and enjoy everything in superfluity, many African and Asian nations are getting poorer and exploited as a result. The United Nations indicates that about 850 million people are malnourished or starving, and 1.1 billion people do not have access to safe drinking water. This is a disturbing piece of data that epitomizes how the enlarging population endangers people’s welfare as well.
Despite gloomy and foreboding speculations casting aspersions on our future, there is still hope yet. Every cloud has a silver lining. Even though the absolute numbers are incessantly increasing, there has been a marked decrement in the growth rate. In the year 2020, the growth rate is pegged at around 1.05 %. Compare this to the 1950s when it was more than 2.5 %. Also, the global fertility rate has reduced when juxtaposed with the replacement rate — which is a positive beacon that our population is not growing like it used to be earlier. But the absolute numbers still make us wary and it is imperative that this issue needs to be addressed and articulated properly. Some prospective measures which can check population control include:
· Education: The most proactive strategy to drive home this point is proper education. It can be reiterated that it is because of the general public’s coyness and nescience that this spun out of control. In Kerala, the state having the highest literacy rate in India, a survey uncovered how literate women preferred to keep a smaller family of two children as they were perfectly aware of the challenges of having a big family. This is a simple example of how even primitive, basic education can contribute in a long way of ingraining such ideas.
· Contraception: Contraception is achieving birth control through the usage of drugs and other methods which can potentially prevent the onset of pregnancy in a woman. Although this method is still a taboo in many developing countries, it is slowly gaining popularity as one of the effective ways to curb the birth rate. The contraceptive methods are broadly classified into — hormonal, barrier, and intrauterine.
Hormonal contraception comprises oral pills, implants under skins, injections, patches, IUDs — all of which are aimed at regulating the hormonal changes (of estrogen in women) to inhibit ovulation.
Barrier methodology primarily focuses on deterring the process of fertilization (fusion of eggs and sperm). For this purpose, condoms, spermicides, or cervical caps may be used.
Intrauterine devices are small devices, often ‘T’-shaped, containing either copper or levonorgestrel, which are inserted into the uterus. They serve to hinder the implantation of a fertilized egg to the uterus.
· Surgical Methods & Abstinence: Other preventive measures include vasectomy (in men) and tubectomy (in women) which involves surgical removal of reproductive organs which can sterilize individuals. Voluntary abstinence from indulging in any intercourse can also pave the way for birth control.
· Social Measures: Measures such as raising the age of marriage, raising the status of women in our society, raising the standard of living, offering social security effaces the need of having more children. There should also be advert campaigns, shows, media highlights to spread general awareness. In the words of ChanderShekher, “Hurry for the first child, delay the second child, and avoid the third. ”The most notable (also notorious, as it was barbaric) example incorporates China’s one-child policy which mandated each family to have only one child. This was put in place in the 1980s but was later scrapped as it was deemed to be too harsh, in 2015. Since then, China has been following the two-child policy. Many other countries follow identical policies of mandating birth control by having limited children or enforce sterilization measures.
All the above-listed measures are not exhaustive. But they’re very effective in nature. We often perceive that the population is expanding in many nations, but there are some notable exceptions like Japan and Italy, where the problem of aging and shrinking population persists; as a result, they have a negative growth rate.
On the occasion of World Population Day, we believe that enterprising steps should be taken up to mitigate this predicament of the rising population.
- Priyanshu Mohanty (CC Member, Ayuda NGO)