Page 38 - Foreign Service Journal - April 2012

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Western world. Crime, drugs, disease
and instability are all highly exportable.
The Battle over Birth Control
How did we lose the population bat-
tle? Back in 1968, Paul and Anne
Ehrlich wrote in
The Population Bomb
that the planet faced mass hunger and
upheavals due to overcrowding. But
these predictions were dismissed by ex-
perts and leaders who believed the
world could utilize modern agriculture
techniques such as the Green Revolu-
tion to keep up with the growing pop-
ulation.
Later, family planning was dragged
into a cultural and religious war that
erupted in the 1980s, when anti-abor-
tion activists successfully conflated fam-
ily planning with abortion. In fact,
population experts say that an addi-
tional $3.9 billion in funding for family
planning could prevent 22million abor-
tions a year.
Social conservatives sometimes
maintain that when people have access
to birth control, they become more
promiscuous. A turning point in that
debate came at the 1994 Cairo Popula-
tion Conference, when Nils Daulaire,
who served as senior international
health adviser for the U.S. Agency for
International Development from 1993
to 1998, and other Clinton administra-
tion officials joined with representatives
of other donor countries to support
proposals to boost aid for family plan-
ning programs. The hope was that such
programs, and efforts to empower
women through education and health
care, would limit births.
Instead, the U.S. delegation was
blindsided by an unholy alliance against
family planning led by Muslim,
Catholic and evangelical Protestant
leaders. Putting aside their doctrinal
differences, these groups decided to
work together to block international ef-
forts to provide family planning to hun-
dreds of millions of families and to
protect the rights of women.
Opposition to family planning was
around long before then, of course.
Some opponents claim birth control is
meant to limit the number of people of
color, part of a scheme by Europeans
and Americans to retain world domi-
nance. Other opponents of contracep-
tion are in a population competition,
seeking to bring more Muslims, Chris-
tians or Arabs into the world and in-
crease their clout.
We saw the latest skirmish in the
family planning wars in February when
the Obama administration ordered
Catholic schools and hospitals to pro-
vide birth control to employees as part
of their health insurance. The Roman
Catholic Church, conservative Chris-
tians and Republican presidential can-
didates all attacked the proposal, even
though the vast majority of Catholic
women have used contraceptives at
some time during their lives. Under
fire, theWhite House backtracked, rul-
ing that health insurance companies
would pay the $600 per year cost of
birth control.
But as the world failed to facilitate
or encourage the use of birth control,
and modern antibiotics helped millions
of babies survive childhood, poor coun-
tries found themselves with hundreds
of millions of young people who lacked
classrooms, books, training, food and
jobs. In Cairo one evening last year, I
found six young men in their 20s seated
on a bench behind the register at my
hotel. All were university graduates but
still had to work the night shift at $1 per
day doing nothing. No good job was
available without family connections,
they told me.
The tragic impact of overpopulation
is becoming more and more apparent
all over the globe. As many as three bil-
lion people have no regular access to
toilets, or even to a latrine. They sim-
ply defecate in the open. Insects and
animals then spread diseases.
Population growth also means farm-
ers have to divide their land into
smaller and smaller parcels to give to
their many children. Those that get no
land go to marginal holdings, such as
steep hillsides and flood plains, to grow
food. When storms hit, even those
areas are washed away, along with the
fertility of the soil.
Growing populations sell their tim-
ber, leaving hillsides vulnerable to ero-
sion and flooding. The megacities of
China need electric power, so coal-fired
power plants are built, spewing pollu-
tion that leaves millions coughing.
Food Fights
In February 2011, the highest food
prices on record increased the global
ranks of the hungry to one billion peo-
ple. To feed billions of mouths, farmers
resort to chemicals and other tech-
niques, leaving soils depleted and yields
declining.
Despite such efforts, every day
160,000 children die of hunger, ac-
cording to Shenggen Fan, director gen-
eral of the U.S.-funded International
Food Policy Research Institute. As the
global population continues to bur-
geon, that horrific toll will only mount.
There are various reasons that food
production has not been able to keep
up with population, despite the eu-
phoria over the Green Revolution.
China and India now both consume
more meat; droughts related to global
warming have hit China, Australia and
Pakistan, among other countries; U.S.
ethanol production consumes 40 per-
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F O R E I G N S E R V I C E J O U R N A L / A P R I L 2 0 1 2
When billions of people
fall into poverty, despair,
disease and conflict, these
problems soon cross
borders and affect even
highly developed nations.