Population Matters

Failing, But Still Growing

June 22nd, 2010

Unsustainable population growth is not the only reason why a nation fails, but it may be the most common.

Every year Foreign Policy magazine and the Fund for Peace release a Failed States Index that looks in depth on how countries are managing…or not. In releasing the 2010 index, which looked at 177 countries using 12 metrics, the authors note that “for many of the 60 most troubled, the news from 2009 is grave.”

This year’s list of the top failing states does not contain many surprises. They include such headline-grapping failures as Somalia, Sudan Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and the Democratic Republic of Congo.  Some, however, like Chad and the Central African Republic are failing–and suffering–relatively quietly. 

One thing they all have in common is rapid and unsustainable population growth.  The Failed States Index rated every one of the top ten failed states for “demographic pressures” at 8.1 or higher on a scale of 1-10.  Somalia and Zimbabwe, the top two failed states, ranked 9.6 and 9.4, respectively.

The population of the top ten failed states, according to the Population Reference Bureau (PRB) was estimated at 397 million in 2009.  PRB’s projections show their collective population will rise to 560 million by 2030, a 40 percent increase, and to 810 million my 2050, a 104 percent increase.  Of the top ten countries on the 2010 Failed States Index, only one has a total fertility rate below 4.0   In six of the countries, women on average bear five children or more.  

There is, in fact, an alarming correlation between failing states, countries with rapid population growth, and those with severe hunger. Many failing countries are heavily dependent upon external food aid for their survival.  The U.N.’s World Food Programme (WFP) is currently helping to feed one out of four Somalis, but Somalia’s population is expected to jump by more than 150 percent in the next four decades. The Global Hunger Index lists the current situation in Niger as “extremely alarming,” but Niger’s population is expected to triple in the next 40 years.

Population is not the only reason states fail–corruption, conflict and political chaos are also major factors–but rapid population growth can make it a lot harder for countries to pull out of a downward spiral.  Corrupt leaders can be ousted, conflict can be ended, and order restored, but it can take decades to lower fertility rates, particularly in countries where family-size norms are slow to change.

Empowering women and expanding voluntary family planning services alone will not stop a failing state from becoming a completely failed one, but they are often indispensable–and often ignored–parts of the solution.  Investing more resources in women and giving them the power to control their own fertility should be a global priority.  Humanitarians concerns alone require it.

Too many failing states and pretty soon you have a failing world.

Posted by Robert J. Walker, Executive Vice President

One Response to “Failing, But Still Growing”

  1. Samuel mwaniki mwangi Says:

    No better measure than the conclusion on these article. INVESTING MORE RESOURCES IN WOMAN AND GIVING THEM THE POWER TO CONTROL THEIR OWN FERTILITY is required and very necessary to up lift these nations and to encourage FAMILY PLANNING .
    THESE RESOURCE INCLUDES,education,economic empowerment,better health among others

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