45th Session Issues
Rapid Growth in Global Population
The rapid growth in global population is not caused by any single reason. The frequent appearance of the subject in different United Nations Conferences such as the Conference on Environment and Development and the International Conference on Population and Development reflects the complexity of the problem. Population growth is so intricately intertwined with international economic imbalances and environmental degradation that none of the problems can be solved individually without improvements of the others. Therefore, keeping the situation in mind, it is necessary to stabilize the population growth in order to achieve the common goal of human survival.
Through most of human history, the world's population remained below 300 million. Sometime after the year 1600, it slowly started turning upward. Accompanied with the improvements in agriculture and other technologies, and then with the Industrial Revolution, the world population grew faster than before through the eighteenth century. It took the earth eighteen centuries to reach the first one billion inhabitants. The population increase continued into the twentieth century at a much faster pace, and since the end of World War II, the earth has been experiencing the steepest population growth in human history.
Today the earth holds about 5.7 billion people. According to United Nations' predictions, by 2050, the world will probably have at least 7.9 billion by the "low variant" projection and 9.8 billion by the "mid-range" projection; and the largest figure predicts the population will grow to be 12 billion. More than 90 percent of this projected growth will occur in developing countries. South Asia, which includes India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Iran, will have the largest numerical increase, from 1.2 billion today to 1.5 billion people by the end of the century. Africa will experience the greatest percentage increase–38 percent–from 650 million today to 900 million by the year 2000.
This population growth matters because it has enormous impact on human life. The more people the world has, the more natural resources the earth has to supply. In just 20 years, the world will need to feed a population 40 percent larger than today's. Some experts also estimate that around two-thirds of recent tropical deforestation can be related to the population growth, largely through its impact on the demand for more agricultural land for food production. Furthermore, the tropical deforestation is known to be one of the major causes of greenhouse effects which also have significant affects on human life. Although nobody has come out with an estimate of the exact limit of the earth's life supporting capacity, there is an increasing concern that the world's population will exceed the earth's carrying capacity sometime in the future.
In order to achieve early population stabilization, the United Nations International Conference on Population and Development was first held in Bucharest, Romania in 1974. At the conference, the issue of how to slow the population growth was divided into two sides by developed nations and developing nations. Developed nations argued that the only way developing countries could get runaway population growth under control would be to institute family-planning programs. The developing nations responded that little could be done about population until economic and social conditions were improved.
When the second International Conference on Population and Development was held in Mexico City in 1984, most developing nations came to understand the need of family-planning to solve the population problem. When Cairo hosted the third Population Conference in 1994, participating nations endorsed a new strategy for stabilizing the world's population, mainly by giving women more control over their lives. The Conference also adopted the final draft of the World Population Plan of Action, which included policies to stabilize population growth.
In order to stabilize the world's population growth, it will be necessary to balance birth and death rates. To do so, the access to safe and effective family-planning services for needy people takes a crucial role.
One of the best examples of a family-planning success story is Thailand, where the fertility rate has dropped from more than 6.5 births to 2.1 per woman in 25 years through the use of contraceptives. The Thai government concludes that lowering the population growth rate enhances the prosperity of the nation. Also, individuals in Thailand have realized that having fewer children enhances the prosperity of their families.
Beside Thailand, nine other nations with successful family planning were announced at the Cairo conference. Those countries were Bangladesh, Colombia, Egypt, Indonesia, Kenya, Mexico, Morocco, Tunisia and Zimbabwe. In Indonesia, a Southeast Asian nation with the world's largest Muslim population, the birth rate has dropped from 5.6 births per woman to 3.0 between 1971 and 1991. In Colombia, a Catholic country, the total fertility rate has dropped from 7.1 children for each woman to 2.9 in past thirty years. These countries prove that birth control is becoming more widely accepted than before by the Muslim, Catholic, and Buddhist countries.
The international community does not consider abortion as a part of family planning, however, people's ideas toward abortion have been changed a little in the past twenty years mostly because of the serious economic and social problems people have been experiencing in each nation. At the Bucharest Conference in 1974, abortion was not mentioned at all. The Mexico City Conference in 1984 alluded to abortion only once. At the Cairo Conference, even though the Vatican and Islamic fundamentalist groups still objected the abortion issue, the Conference achieved the biggest breakthrough by approving the text of paragraph 8.25 on abortion, which states, "In circumstances in which abortion is not against the law, such abortion should be safe." This measure will help to prevent unnecessary deaths of women from unsafe abortion.
Status of Women
The Cairo Conference put the women's issue in the center of the discussion. Two aspects of the situation of women which have received major attention, particularly in the context of population policy, are education and labor force participation. (Review and Appraisal of... 19) In many parts of the developing nations, women are still spending most of their time working on farms and collecting natural resources and they can not afford education. Those women tend to have a large number of children because they still think that children are the only source of status and eventual old-age security.
The Cairo conference's final document provides population policies which include the empowerment of women. Those policies will give women and their partners the ability to limit the size of their families, and provide women better health services, better educations and equality with men. People need to know that the large unplanned size of family aggravates many of their social and economic problems.
The increasing size of international migration is one of the consequences of the rapid world population growth. The resettlement of undocumented immigrants has become a controversial issue in immigrant receiving nations of Europe and North America. In order to control illegal immigration and prevent its continued increase, measures, including more careful border controls, stricter admission requirements, steeper penalties for traffickers and employers of illegal immigrants and regularization schemes have been proposed in numerous countries. The migration of labor will probably escalate as long as the population growth continues.
Estimates say that the amount of spending on population policies will need to increase more than threefold by the year 2000 from its current $5 billion to some $17 billion. Of that amount, some $5.7 billion would come from the wealthy donors and the rest from the poor recipients. These payments will be extremely difficult for the developing nations who have huge debts already. The distribution of the money for family-planning is complicated and the channels vary; through non governmental organizations, international agencies, and agreements between governments.