Page 37 - Foreign Service Journal - April 2012

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A P R I L 2 0 1 2 / F O R E I G N S E R V I C E J O U R N A L
37
his planet is getting seriously over-
crowded. You can see it when you visit
teeming megacities such as Mexico City,
Bangkok, Shanghai, Cairo and Lagos,
where millions live in tin shanties with-
out power, water, sanitation and jobs.
And all over the world, fromWashington
to Hong Kong, billions of commuters stew in gridlocked traf-
fic each day.
When I studied in Paris in the 1960s, I could wander into
Notre Dame Cathedral any hour of day or night to contem-
plate its beauty. Last time I went, I had to wait in a line of
tourists four abreast and a hundred yards long.
In the 1980s, you could dive into the Andaman Sea off the
Thai coast and view spectacular coral reefs with colored fish
darting in the sunlight. Today, those reefs are dead, coated in
silt fromoverfishing, tourism, or coastal degradation and global
warming.
When I was a kid, the planet held about two billion people.
This October, the planet’s population officially crossed a new
threshold — seven billion people. And at the current rate of
growth—about 80 million people each year—another three
billion humans will join us on our merry trip through the uni-
verse by the year 2050.
The most recent United Nations Population Report, issued
inMay 2011, predicted that we can still reverse the trend. But
time is running out.
Two Competing Visions
If the planet decides to do something serious to achieve a
low growth rate, such as putting one to two billion dollars a
year into additional aid for family planning, the planetary pop-
ulation could actually peak at 7.5 billion and then fall to 6.2
billion by 2100.
But if, instead, political leaders cut the current level of sup-
port for international family planning, and religious move-
ments further gut or block foreign aid for family planning, the
human population could climb as high as 15 billion by the end
of this century.
Most of the population growth will occur in the very poor-
est countries on earth — countries that cannot feed and edu-
cate their people today.
To give an idea of what that situation would look like, con-
sider the following projections. Nigeria’s 2010 population of
158 million would reach one billion people at the end of the
century. The Democratic Republic of the Congo would quin-
tuple in population from 63 million to 314 million. And
Bangladesh, the size of Wisconsin, would grow to 314 million
people.
Bear in mind that these are countries that already fail to
provide basic health, education, water, food, roads and secu-
rity for many of their citizens. As has long been understood by
U.S. and world leaders, when billions of people fall into
poverty, despair, disease and conflict, these problems soon
cross borders and affect even the stable, wealthy nations of the
S
EVEN
B
ILLION
AND
G
ROWING
T
HERE IS STILL TIME TO TURN BACK THE POPULATION SURGE
.
B
UT IT COULD ALSO BUILD UP INTO A TRUE DISASTER
.
B
Y
B
EN
B
ARBER
Ben Barber writes about the developing world for McClatchy
Newspapers, and has also contributed to
Newsday
, the
Lon-
don Observer
, the
Christian Science Monitor
,
Foreign Af-
fairs
, the
Washington Times
,
USA Today
and Salon.com.
From 2003 to 2010, he was a senior writer at the U.S. Agency
for International Development. His photojournalism book,
Ground Truth: Work, Play and Conflict in The Third World
,
is to be published later this year by de.MO Design.org.
T