Population Matters

A “Vicious Cycle”

October 8th, 2010

It’s a “self-perpetuating vicious cycle.”  That’s how the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) this week described the situation in countries gripped by chronic and widespread hunger.  

In their 2010 report on the “State of Food Insecurity in the World,” the FAO and the World Food Programme examined the situations in 22 countries suffering from a “protracted crisis.”  These are nations that have reported a food crisis for eight or more years, received more than 10 percent of foreign assistance as humanitarian relief, and are on the FAO’s list of “Low-Income Food-Deficit Countries.”

The report attributed the high prevalence of hunger in these countries to “a combination of natural disasters, conflict, and weak institutions.”  The report, however, virtually ignores the role that population growth plays in the perpetuation of poverty and hunger, and the corresponding need for an expansion of family planning and reproductive health services in these nations.

According to the latest population projections published by the Population Reference Bureau, the total population of these 22 countries will double over the next forty years, rising from 448 million today to 997 million by 2050.  Twelve out of the 22 countries on the “protracted crisis” list have a total fertility rate of 5.0 or higher.  In four of the countries, women on average have six children or more.  And typical of most countries with high fertility rates, these countries also have appallingly high rates of maternal and infant deaths.  In Sierra Leone, a woman has a 1 in 8 chance of dying from childbirth or pregnancy related-causes.  Six of the countries on the list have an infant mortality rate (deaths per 1,000 births) of 100 or more.

The FAO’s report offers a number of very constructive steps aimed at achieving sustained improvements in food security, but unless more is done to meet the family planning and reproductive health needs of women in these countries, prospects for breaking the “vicious cycle” are not good.

Posted by Robert J. Walker, Executive Vice President

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