Population Matters

A Population Boom on The Economist

August 31st, 2009

This week there has been a population boom on The Economist website. First there are two articles dealing with fertility rates in Africa, “The Lesson from Sodom and Gomorrah” and “The Baby Bonanza: Is Africa an Exception to the Rule that Countries Reap a ‘Demographic Dividend’ as They Grow Richer?” which both also appear in the print edition. The other part of the population boom has been the ongoing Economist Debate “Too Many People?” This debate featured John Seager, President of Population Connection and Michael Lind, Policy Director, Economic Growth/Next Social Contract Programme at New American Foundation, along with three featured guests Adrian Stott, Duff Gillespie, and Robert Engelman.

The two articles focus on whether or not Africa will be able to take advantage of their “demographic dividend.” Which they explain in “The Lesson from Sodom and Gomorrah”:

As birth rates decline, the proportion of children shrinks and the working-age population bulges, as is happening now in Africa. That can kick start industrialization. Factories employ low-skilled farmers fresh from the country, with increases productivity and prosperity, which creates demand, and so it goes on…The “dividend” is not automatic. It has to be earned. A productive, healthy workforce could lift large parts of Africa out of poverty, but an expanding cohort of jobless, idle and frustrated young men will create political and social instability.

“The Baby Bonanza” goes even further and looks at why Africa may or may not be able to take advantage of their demographic dividend. It stresses that unless Africa is able to find the correct policies and overcome many of its problems its demographic dividend will turn into a serious burden that could result in unrest and crime. The author sees three main reasons that Africa will not be able to take full advantage of its demographic dividend.

First, Africa already has difficultly feeding its people and that will worsen with climate change. Africa will need to have its own Green Revolution and help small farms in order to prevent hunger and poverty from limiting its ability to take advantage of the demographic dividend.

The second challenge is the amount of children and lack of jobs for those children. “A recent report by the African Child Policy Forum, an advocacy group, says that there are now 50m orphaned or abandoned children in Africa. It thinks the number could rise to 100m, meaning misery for them and more violent crime for others.”

The final challenge is “Africa’s political violence, corruption and weak or non-existent governing institutions…institutional quality is vital for converting growth of the working-age share into a demographic dividend.”

However the author does feel that Africa has some reason to hope. Africa can make use of innovations that other areas of the world were unable to make use of, witness the skip over landlines to cellular technology and they have the potential to do this in the energy sector as well skipping dirty technology and using renewable power. Another positive sign that the author points out is that some areas in Africa are already experiencing the demographic dividend.

Over the past year, the continent has had the fastest economic growth per person in the world, partly because it has been somewhat less affected by the collapse of world trade, but partly because of the small increases countries are seeing in the number of people of working age.

The conclusion of the article describes Africa’s uncertain future best:

Africa needs a green revolution; more efficient cities; more female education; honest governments; better economic policies. Without those things, Africa will not reap its demographic dividend. But without the transition that Africa has started upon, the continent’s chances of achieving those good things would be even lower than they are. Demography is a start.

Lastly in the population boom, The Economist Online has: The Economist Debates: Too Many People? The rigorous debate started Friday, August 21, 2009 and ends Tuesday, September 1, 2009. So there is still time to post your comments on the debate. It has been a good debate, and one worth taking the time to read over. In the end the moderator, John Parker has noted that while there is much disagreement, “both agree that everyone has the right to family planning and contraceptives.” The ability for both sides to agree on this point highlights the need for universal access to voluntary family planning.

Posted by Jennie Wetter, Program Manager

BBC’s “Perfect Storm 2030”

August 27th, 2009

The BBC news service is running a series of reports entitled “Perfect Storm 2030.”  The series is based upon a dire forecast made earlier this year by John Beddington, the United Kingdom’s chief science advisor.  Between 2008 and 2030, Beddington foresees population rising by 33 percent, demand for food and energy by 50 percent, and demand for fresh water by 30 percent.

Beddington, who emphasizes that the problems of food, water and energy are all closely related, told the UK’s Sustainable Development Commission in March of 2009 that, “There’s not going to be a complete collapse, but things will start getting really worrying if we don’t tackle these problems.”

The BBC series, which looks at both problems and solutions, examines a range of important factors, including population, urbanization, changing diets, climate change and biofuels.

In developing the series, the BBC interviewed other scientists to get their views on Beddington’s forecast.

Here are some of their comments:

Professor Dave Pink, Warwick University:

It’s definitely one scenario, though it’s the worst possible scenario. In general terms, he is right. All these things are coming together. There is some argument over population growth but the bottom line is that it’s going up and food supply is going to be more of a problem. The developing world is growing, and its people are getting richer. There will be more demand for foods we have automatically assumed we will have access to. We are not going to be able to buy in everything we need and the price of food will go up.”

Professor Jules Petty, Essex University:

The general premise, that we have a number of critical drivers coming together, is correct. The date 2030 is rhetorical. We don’t know whether things will become critical in 2027 or 2047, no-one has any idea, but within the next generation these things are going to come to pass unless we start doing things differently. That is the urgency of this set of ideas. When governments talk about reducing emissions by X% by 2050, I despair. We need to do it by next week. Humankind has not faced this set of combined challenges ever before.”

Antony Frogatt, Senior Research Fellow, Chatham House:

“It’s true that all these things, and more, are interconnected. I study the connection between climate change and security of energy supply. For example, if you switch from coal to gas to slow the pace of climate change, the energy supply crunch comes more quickly. John Beddington is right to underline the dependence of agriculture on energy – I’ve heard it said that one in four people in the world is fed on fossil fuel, because gas is fundamental to the production of fertilisers.”

As reflected by this BBC series and the work of the UK’s Sustainable Development Commission, the issue of sustainability is gaining greater attention in the British Isles.  It deserves more attention here in the U.S.

Posted by Robert J. Walker, Executive Vice President

Update on Asia’s Water Crisis

August 21st, 2009

A new report (“Revitalizing Asia’s Irrigation:  To Sustainably Meet Tomorrow’s Food Needs”) released this week by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the International Water Management Institute (IWMI) warns that “without major reforms and innovations in the way water is used for agriculture, many developing nations face the politically risky prospect of having to import more than a quarter of the rice, wheat and maize they will need by 2050.”

With shrinking water levels and a population expected to increase by 1.5 billion over the next 40 years, the report notes that Asia requires “dramatic increases in water productivity.”  And because the scenarios presented in the report do not factor in climate change, which is expected to increase drought and flooding, the IWMI warned that “even the study’s pessimistic assumptions may prove overly optimistic…”

Because of growing population and greater consumption of meat and dairy products, FAO and IWMI are projecting that Asia’s food and feed demand will double by 2050.  To meet that demand, the report projects that farmers will have to increase by 30 percent the amount of irrigated farmland in South Asia, and 47 percent in East Asia, and “Without water productivity gains South Asia would need 57 percent more water for irrigated agriculture and East Asia 70 percent more.”

What concerns agricultural experts more than anything else is what one observer called “an alarming rate of groundwater depletion.”  As a result of the intensive irrigation that was introduced in India and China and other parts of Asia during the Green Revolution, underground aquifers in many areas are being rapidly depleted, forcing farmers to drill deeper and deeper for water.  Recent reports also indicate that the glaciers of the Himalayas, which provide much needed water runoff in the growing season, are receding due to global warming and may be gone entirely by 2035.

Unless Asian farmers rapidly increase water productivity, many Asian governments will have to boost food imports. The report warns, however, that relying upon on trade to meet a large part of the demand for grain would “impose a huge and politically untenable burden on the economies of many developing countries.”

A large boost in Asian food imports–assuming the demand could be met–would not just boost world grain prices, it would also accelerate the destruction of forests  and the loss of biohabitats in other parts of the world.   This is a report that demands the attention of policymakers everywhere.

Posted by Robert J. Walker, Executive Vice President

Is Rapid Population Growth Impeding Progress on the MDGs?

August 18th, 2009

A news story, “Soaring Population May Swamp Anti-Poverty Goals,” released today from Inter Press Service looks at the effects increased population growth will have on the ability for underdeveloped countries to reach their Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by 2015.

According to the latest projections from the U.N. and the Population Reference Bureau, the world is going to reach a population of 7 billion by 2011, just 12 years after the 6 billion mark was passed.  With much of that population growth occurring in poor nations, it has large implications for the ability of developing countries to reduce severe poverty, improve health, and meet the other MDG goals. When asked about the growing world population, Jose Miguel Guzman, chief of the Population and Development Branch at UNFPA states in the article:

Many developing, and particularly the least developed countries (LCDs), will face a continuous increase in the demand for services, specifically in education and health.

That means there will be an increasing need for social investment just to catch up with population growth, giving fewer opportunities to increase the quality of the services, which is needed to generate the changes requested to attain the MDGs.

Looking at how rapid population growth could affect specific MDGs, Karen Hardee at Population Action International indicates that MDGs 1 and 7 (Eradicating Poverty and Hunger, and Ensuring Environmental Sustainability) will be significantly  affected, due to more people competing for limited farm land.  She also warns that the goal of achieving universal primary education (MDG 2) is jeopardized by rapid population growth. She is quoted as saying:

If this growth outpaces governments’ abilities to provide schools – which is the case in many developing countries – educational quality diminishes, fewer have access to education and opportunities for employment.

As was reported on August 7, 2009, in a Population Matters blog post about the Millennium Development Goals Report 2009, far too little progress is being made on MDG 5, which seeks to reduce maternal deaths and provide universal access to reproductive health services. In the end, it may be the most critical of all the MDGs.  The failure of the U.S. and other donor nations to make good on promises to expand voluntary family planning services, more than any other single policy failure, could impede progress on all the other MDG goals.

Slowing down the growth rate of countries that are growing quickly will help enable those countries meet the MDGs instead of pushing the goalposts ever further away. It is time for donor countries around the world to step up their commitments on providing universal access for voluntary family planning, or population growth may prevent many countries from meeting the other MDGs.

Constella Futures/USAID

Constella Futures/USAID

Posted by Jennie Wetter, Program Manager

The Real Losers in the Afghan Elections: Women

August 17th, 2009

Voters in Afghanistan will head to the polls this week to elect a new president, but regardless of who wins it appears that Afghan women will lose.

A report from the BBC indicates that the Afghan parliament has just approved a new law, now in effect, that permits a man to withhold food from his wife if she refuses his sexual demands.  Under the new law, a woman must also get her husband’s permission to work, and fathers and grandfathers are given exclusive custody of children.

The new law, which applies only to the Shia Muslim minority in Afghanistan, was enacted with the support of President Hamid Karsai, who desperately needs the support of Shia religious leaders in his bid for re-election.

The original legislation, withdrawn in response to international protests earlier this year, required Shia women to have sex with their husbands every four days, and essentially condoned rape by removing the need for consent to sex within marriage.

While the new law is likely to elicit fewer international protests, it is still a flagrant violation of human rights, and one that further sets back the cause of women’s rights in a country that is already terribly abusive of women.

Due to poverty, malnutrition and lack of reproductive health services, female life expectancy at birth is only 44 years.  Afghan women, on average, bear six children and suffer from shockingly high maternal death rates. Access to modern methods of contraception is very limited; the prevalence rate is less than 10 percent.

With a population that, despite war and severe poverty, is on track to nearly double over the next 40 years, Afghanistan is moving in the wrong direction on women’s rights.



Posted by Robert J. Walker, Executive Vice President

Drawing Much Needed Attention to the Situation in the DRC

August 14th, 2009

This week Secretary of State Clinton traveled to the Congo and along with her trip came stories drawing attention to sexual and gender based violence issues. Unfortunately, while the U.N. has estimated at least 200,000 cases of sexual violence against women in the Congo since the conflict began in 1996, the plight of the women has not captured much attention other than a brief news story here or there. Most people are unaware of the conflict let alone the toll it is taking on the women of the Congo. Secretary Clinton’s trip will hopefully help to shine a spotlight on the use of rape as a weapon of war and the particular tragedy that is taking place in the Congo.

Secretary Clinton’s remarks at a roundtable with NGO’s and activists on sexual and gender based violence in Goma, Democratic Republic of the Congo show that the U.S. is ready to take steps to address this issue.

I have just come from a meeting with two survivors of sexual attacks. The atrocities that these women have suffered, which stands for the atrocities that so many have suffered, distills evil to its basest form. The United States condemns these attacks and all those who commit them and abet them. And we say to the world that those who attack civilian populations using systematic rape are guilty of crimes against humanity. These acts don’t just harm a single individual, or a single family, or a single village, or a single group. They shred the fabric that weaves us together as human beings. Such atrocities have no place in any society.

Amid such abject inhumanity, we have also seen the hope and the help that you represent. We have seen survivors of these attacks summon the courage to rebuild their lives and their communities. We have seen health care workers sacrifice comfortable careers so they can treat the wounded. We have seen civil society leaders come together to combat this appalling epidemic.

In the face of such evil, people of good will everywhere must respond. The United States is already a leading donor to efforts aimed at addressing these problems. And today I am announcing that we will provide more than $17 million in new funding to prevent and respond to gender and sexual violence in the DRC.

As Secretary Clinton said in her remarks in Goma “this problem is too big for one country to solve alone.” It is time for the countries of the world to speak out and take action to stop the use of rape as a weapon on war, while also giving higher priority to women’s rights, gender equity, and universal access to family planning and reproductive health services.  Secretary Clinton and Melanne Verveer, the new Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues are to be congratulated for their continuing leadership in this area. Let’s hope the world is listening.

L. Werchick/USAID

L. Werchick/USAID

Posted by Jennie Wetter, Program Manager

The Other World Population Day

August 13th, 2009

World Population Day is July 11th every year, but for anyone seriously interested in the subject of population, yesterday was the other world population day. Yesterday, the Population Reference Bureau released its annual World Population Data Sheet, a detailed compilation of analysis and data on country, regional and global population patterns.

This year’s PRB release focuses on the growing youth population (ages 15-24)  in Africa and Asia, but the data sheet and the accompanying report,contain a number of important findings and projections:

  • World population is still growing rapidly. PRB’s projection shows world population, currently, 6.8 billion, reaching 9.4 billion in 2050, notably higher than the U.N.’s 2008 projection of 9.1. billion.
  • Global population is “on track to reach 7 billion in 2011, just 12 years after reaching 6 billion in 1999.”
  • Ninety percent of the world’s 1.2 billion youth are in developing countries. Eighty-two percent live in Asia or Africa, and that trend is accelerating.
  • The average number of lifetime births (total fertility rate or TFR) for women in the world’s poorest countries is 4.6 percent.
  • It’s projected that two of the poorest nations in the world, Uganda and Niger, will more triple their populations over the next 40 years.
  • The average number of lifetime births for women (TFR) has dipped in Afghanistan to 5.7, but it’s population is still projected to nearly double over the next 40 years, jumping from 28.4 million today to 53.4 million by 2050.
  • Pakistan’s population is projected to jump from 181 million in 2009 to 335 million by 2050.
  • In response to government financial incentives, Russian birthrates have risen in recent years, but its TFR (1.5) is still below the replacement rate.  Russia’s population is projected to drop from 142 million top 117 million by 2050.
  • The U.S. has the “highest teenage fertility rate in the developed world and 82 percent of U.S. teen pregnancies are unplanned.”

Congratulations to PRB for its continuing contribution to an informed public debate on population.

Posted by Robert J. Walker, Executive Vice President

The APA Weighs in on Population and Climate Change

August 11th, 2009

The debate over what to do about climate change has a new entrant: the psychology community. A new report (“Psychology and Global Climate Change”) by the American Psychological Association’s Task Force on the Interface between Psychology and Global Climate Change suggests that psychology “can help understand what drives population growth and consumption and clarify the links from population and consumption to climate change while attending to global and regional inequities.”

While the bulk of the report is focused on how psychology could contribute to reduced consumption, the task force acknowledges upfront that consumption and population growth are both “major contributors to the impact of humans on the environment and on CO2 levels in particular.”

With respect to population, the task force notes that:

Psychologists’ knowledge about beliefs and how they influence individual and policy decisions, causes of and ways to address social dilemmas, decision making in interpersonal relationships, and a variety of gender related belief systems could all provide useful information for discussions that involve individual and social decisions that influence population size. For instance, restrictive gender roles that define women’s status by the number of children they have, limit women’s access to alternative roles, give others control over women’s decisions to have children, and devalue female children creating greater demand for more children to ensure having male children, have been implicated as causes of population growth in India (Bhan, 2001; Sen, 2003). Psychological research into beliefs about sexuality, the acceptance of birth control, masculinity and male dominance, and psychologists’ expertise on the increasing sexualization of girls, the effects of abortion on women’s well-being and various types of subtle and implicit sexist beliefs are relevant to discussions about population.

In identifying specific areas where further psychological research might be beneficial, the APA’s task force suggests that:

Psychologists could contribute to research about population size, growth, regional density, etc. Psychologists have examined research on population in terms of crowding. However, psychologists could contribute more to the area given the importance of topics such as gender roles and relations to this domain. Further, a number of beliefs systems may influence evaluation and support for population policies.

Posted by Robert J. Walker, Executive Vice President

A Tale of Two Studies

August 10th, 2009

Two studies released this month–one demographic, the other environmental–pose significant questions for those concerned about the future of the planet.

The demographic study (“Advances in Development Reverse Fertility Declines”), published in the August 2009 edition of Nature, suggests that rising levels of economic and human welfare in highly developed nations may be leading to higher, not lower fertility rates.

The environmental study (“Reproduction and the Carbon Legacies of Individuals”), published in the August 2009 edition of Global Environmental Change, reports that having a child in the U.S. significantly increases an individual’s carbon “legacy” or footprint.

Taken together, these two reports suggest that efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions may be facing a tougher than expected demographic challenge.

It has long been assumed by many that rising global prosperity (while increasing per capita consumption of resources) ultimately leads to lower birth rates and thus may contribute to a more–not less–sustainable world. That may be true for the developing world, but the Nature study suggests that it’s not true for many economically advanced nations. The authors of the report conclude that:

Whereas a decade ago Europe, North America and Japan were assumed to face very rapid population ageing and in many cases significant population declines, our findings provide a different outlook for the twenty-first century. As long as the most developed countries focus on increasing the well-being of their citizens, and adequate institutions are in place, the analyses in this paper suggest that increases in development are likely to reverse fertility declines—even if we cannot expect fertility to rise again above replacement levels. As a consequence, we expect countries at the most advanced development stages to face a relatively stable population size, if not an increase in total population in cases in which immigration is substantial.

The study appears to suggest that as incomes rise in advanced nations, many couples decide that they can afford to have a larger family size…and do. That conclusion appears consistent with earlier reports from Western Europe that the family size of households where both husband and wife work is trending higher than in households where only one spouse works.

These findings may help to allay fears of a sharp population decline in Western European and other economically advanced nations, but what does it mean for environmental concerns about greenhouse gas emissions and resource depletion?  Higher than anticipated population levels in wealthy countries could make the transition to a more sustainable world even more difficult to achieve.

The Oregon State study that appeared in this month’s edition of Global Environmental Change estimates that an environmentally conscious person in the United States could save about 486 tons of CO2 emissions during their lifetime by taking such steps as driving less, increasing their car’s fuel economy, and replacing single-glazed windows with energy-efficient windows. But, if that person “were to have two children, this would eventually add nearly 40 times that amount of CO2 (18,882 t) to the earth’s atmosphere.”

The authors went on to stress that, “This is not to say that lifestyle changes are unimportant; in fact, they are essential, since immediate reductions in emissions worldwide are needed to limit the damaging effects of climate change that are already being documented.” The authors concluded, however, that, “Ignoring the consequences of reproduction can lead to serious underestimation of an individual’s long-term impact on the global environment.”

The great tragedy, of course, is that even in economically advanced nations, there are still many women who want to reduce their fertility, but who lack access to, or adequate knowledge of, modern methods of contraception. In the U.S, where fertility rates are on the rise again, teenage pregnancy rates are climbing again after a 14-year decline. So even if the desired family size is increasing, there is still much that can be done to prevent unwanted and unintended births. And doing so is a both a human and an ecological imperative.

Posted by Robert J. Walker, Executive Vice President

The Lost MDG

August 7th, 2009

The world came together in 2000 to outline a plan to eradicate extreme poverty by 2015 leading to the creation of the Millennium Development Goals (MDG). This July the U.N. released “The Millennium Development Goals Report 2009,” a report nine years later that evaluates how close we are to achieving the MDGs. While the picture is not all bleak and progress is being made in meeting these important goals, it is clear that one of the goals is being left far behind.

MDG 5: Improve Maternal Health with targets to reduce by three quarters the maternal mortality ratio and to achieve universal access to reproductive health by 2015.

The report says:

…fallout from the global financial situation may be compromised funding for programmes to improve maternal health, the goal to which there has been least progress so far. Since the mid-1990s, most developing countries have experienced a major reduction in donor funding for family planning on a per woman basis, despite the undeniable contribution of such programmes to maternal and child health.

…the available trend data indicate that there has been little progress in the developing world as a whole—480 maternal deaths per 100,000 births in 1990 compared to 450 deaths in 2005—and that small decline reflects progress only in some regions…Very little progress has been made in sub-Saharan Africa, where women face the greatest lifetime risk of dying as a result of pregnancy and childbirth.

At a time when one woman dies every minute from pregnancy or childbirth related causes it is more important than ever to not let this MDG fall even further behind. In order to meet MDG 5 donor countries need to make maternal health a priority and increase funding for family planning.  The U.S. this year is poised to provide $648 million for international family planning assistance in 2010, 40 percent higher than the 2008 level.  If the goal of achieving universal access to reproductive health services is to become a reality, other nations need to do their part.

By: Jennie Wetter, Program Manager