The UN Population Fund's [The State of World Population 1993] reported that world population growth had settled at 1.7%, below its record pace of over 2% in the early 1970s. However, the explosive population growth of the past few decades means there exists more people of reproductive age than has ever before. As a result, the number of people added to the human population each year will continue to rise, peaking between 1995 and 2000 at about 98 million.
Most developing countries have rapidly expanding populations, and most already have great difficulty meeting their needs for food, water, health care, sanitation, housing, jobs, energy and productive land. Rapid population growth adds to these difficulties and undermines prospects for sustainable development, because governments must draw on scarce financial reserves or add to their foreign debt to meet needs. This in turn often prompts them to increase demands on their shrinking resources. It is widely agreed that the only way humanity can live within the carrying capacity of the Earth is to control and/or decrease the population.
In 1989, and UNCTAD report forecast that the two most critical population issues for the developing countries in the l990s and beyond would be: (a) the rapid increase of population resulting both from relatively "higher" levels of fertility and from successively expanding numbers of women in reproductive ages, which would continue well into the twenty-first century; (b) the rapid increase in the urban population, particularly in large metropolitan areas, brought about by both rural-urban migration and natural increase of population in urban areas. Although the additional socio-economic, political and environmental pressures that this will create are well there is a need for recognition that failure to reduce population pressures in the near future may lead to unsustainable social, economic and environmental costs in the long run.
A 1993 statement on world population issued by fifty-eight scientific academies dealt with consumption in a similar vein. The academies, which include the U.S. National Academy, the British Royal Society, the French, German, Swedish, Russian, and Indian Academies, and the Third World Academy, represent the global scientific community. They concluded: If all people of the world consumed fossil fuels and other natural resources at the rate now characteristic of developed countries (and with current technologies), this would greatly intensify our already unsustainable demands on the biosphere.... As scientists cognizant of the history of scientific progress and aware of the potential of science for contributing to human welfare, it is our collective judgement that continuing population growth poses a great risk to humanity. Furthermore, it is not prudent to rely on science and technology alone to solve problems created by rapid population growth, wasteful resource consumption, and poverty.
Around the world people are choosing to have fewer and fewer children -- not just in China, where the government forces it on them, but in almost every nation outside the poorest parts of Africa. Population growth rates at the end of this century are lower than they have been at any time since the Second World War. In the past three decades the average woman in the developing world, excluding China, has gone from bearing six children to bearing four. In Bangladesh the average has fallen from six to fewer than four; in Iran it has dropped by four children. If this keeps up, the population of the world will not quite double again; United Nations analysts offer as their mid-range projection that it will top at 10 to 11 billion, up from just under six billion at the moment. This assumes that women in the developing world will soon average two children apiece.
National policies to lower fertility rates have been introduced in 85 countries (1997). Past interventions have had some effect. The annual rate of population growth in developing countries peaked around 2.53% in the 1967-1968 period. If that rate had continued, the population of developing countries at the beginning of 1989 would have been 4,200 million as against the actual 3,900 million.
The potential impact on global population size between no additional intervention at all and pursuing an expanded, aggressive and rigorous population programme between now and through the early decades of the next century could be a difference of almost 2,000 million persons by the year 2025. Aiming future population activities at achieving a low population projection would imply, for developing countries as a whole, an annual growth rate of 1.56% by the year 2000 and 0.73% by 2025. It is not unreasonable to expect to achieve this scenario if comprehensive population programmes effectively strengthen information, education and services; improve the role and status of women; and complement development projects which have the greatest demographic impact. If successful, this would mean that the world population in the year 2025 would be 7,600 million, rather than 8,500 million.
The 1994 Cairo Population conference plan of action focused both on population and on development. It broadens the scope of population policy from the narrow focus on family planning and fertility to other issues of sustainable development and empowerment of the individual, particularly women, to make decisions.
Though the countries of South Asia (India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Nepal, and Sri Lanka) are often lumped together, these five nations have quite different demographic histories. In Pakistan and Afghanistan, birth rates have barely begun to decline, and the total fertility rates of these countries is between 5 and 6. At current birth rates, Pakistan and Afghanistan can expect their current populations to double in size in just 25 to 30 years time. In India and Bangladesh, birth rates have been slowly coming down for the last 30 years, but progress has been slower than in other regions of Asia (Korea, China, Vietnam) and average family size is still over 3 children. Because India already has a population of 1 billion people, even with falling fertility it is expected to add well over 300 million more people to the world's population over the course of the next 25 years -- with another 250 million people to be added in the 25 years after that. Sri Lanka, on the other hand, already has a total fertility rate of just 2.1, making it the first country in Southern Asia to achieve replacement level birth rates. Though Sri Lanka's population of 20 million will continue to grow for the next 50 years due to demographic momentum, the total population addition is likely to be less than 3 million over the course of the next 50 years. How did Sri Lanka do it? According to W. Indralal De Silva at the University of Colombo (Sir Lanka), the government "relied heavily on population information, education and communication programmes" while at the same time "more and more resources were devoted to contraceptive service delivery particularly voluntary sterilization" which increased dramatically when cash incentives were offered. The government also took a "cafeteria approach whereby clients could select the contraceptive method of their choice from a wide assortment made available" by the government and various non-governmental organizations.
2. The reasons for recent rapid population growth are pretty clear: the industrial revolution, followed by the public-health revolution and its spread to the Third World at the end of the Second World War. It is much harder to explain why the growth is now slowing. Experts confidently supply answers, some of them contradictory: "Development is the best contraceptive" -- or education, or the empowerment of women, or hard times that force families to postpone having children. For each example there is a counterexample. Ninety-seven percent of women in Oman know about contraception, and yet they average more than six children each. Turks have used contraception at about the same rate as the Japanese, but their birth rate is twice as high. And so on. It is not AIDS that will slow population growth, except in a few African countries. It is not horrors like the civil war in Rwanda, which claimed half a million lives -- a loss the planet can make up for in two days. All that matters is how often individual men and women decide that they want to reproduce.
2. At the Cairo population conference the USA delegation offered the world's poor IUDs, suction pumps, condoms and Norplant. Once America stood for freedom, liberty and a Judaeo-Christian moral order. Now it is a country defined by promiscuity, contraception, 1.6 million abortions a year, VD, AIDS, soaring divorce rates and other social calamities. Why should the black, brown and yellow peoples who look to inherit the Earth follow the example of self-indulgent Westerners who are committing racial suicide?< 3. Today an important part of policies which favour life is the issue of population growth. Certainly public authorities have a responsibility to "intervene to orient the demography of the population". But such interventions must always take into account and respect the primary and inalienable responsibility of married couples and families, and cannot employ methods which fail to respect the person and fundamental human rights, beginning with the right to life of every innocent human being. It is therefore morally unacceptable to encourage, let alone impose, the use of methods such as contraception, sterilization and abortion in order to regulate births. The ways of solving the population problem are quite different. Governments and the various international agencies must above all strive to create economic, social, public health and cultural conditions which will enable married couples to make their choices about procreation in full freedom and with genuine responsibility. They must then make efforts to ensure "greater opportunities and a fairer distribution of wealth so that everyone can share equitably in the goods of creation. Solutions must be sought on the global level by establishing a true economy of communion and sharing of goods, in both the national and international order". This is the only way to respect the dignity of persons and families, as well as the authentic cultural patrimony of peoples. (Papal Encyclical, Evangelium Vitae, 25 March 1995).
4. But there are many today who maintain that the increase in world population, or at least the population increase in some countries, must be radically curbed by every means possible and by any kind of intervention on the part of public authority. In view of this contention, the council urges everyone to guard against solutions, whether publicly or privately supported, or at times even imposed, which are contrary to the moral law. For in keeping with man's inalienable right to marry and generate children, a decision concerning the number of children they will have depends on the right judgment of the parents and it cannot in any way be left to the judgment of public authority. But since the judgment of the parents presupposes a rightly formed conscience, it is of the utmost importance that the way be open for everyone to develop a correct and genuinely human responsibility which respects the divine law and takes into consideration the circumstances of the situation and the time. But sometimes this requires an improvement in educational and social conditions, and, above all, formation in religion or at least a complete moral training. Men should discreetly be informed, furthermore, of scientific advances in exploring methods whereby spouses can be helped in regulating the number of their children and whose safeness has been well proven and whose harmony with the moral order has been ascertained. (Second Vatican Council. Gaudium et Spes, 1965).