Sunday, March 30, 2008

A Plea: How Do We Help Poor Nations?

Demographers at the United Nations and the US Census Bureau project that the world's population will reach a peak of over nine billion by about 2050. That's an increase of about three billion, or 50%, over the present population.

The situation looks grim. Peak oil is at hand and oil prices are over $100 per barrel. Grain production has not met grain consumption in seven of the last eight years, and now will fall even shorter as it is diverted for ethanol-fuel manufacture. If we're having trouble now, how will we possibly cope with another three billion people?

The nub of the problem is that almost all of this growth will come in the developing world. Their growth rates are much higher than those of developed, industrial countries, who are near to stabilizing their populations. This is a recipe for international disaster. Poor countries, especially in Africa, are already struggling. How can they possibly survive with massive population increases?

As Lester Brown says, "failing states are a sign of failing society." Tensions between rich and poor nations will escalate. Terrorism will become rampant. There is a desperate need for programs to help poor nations, not only with family planning programs but also to lift them out of the quagmire of poverty.

Yet the world is a topsy-turvy place. The United States has imposed a "global gag" rule that prevents the US from providing family planning programs to poor countries, and also pressures other nations to follow suit. It encourages population growth in countries that cannot offer their young people a decent future. No better policy could be invented to promote future terrorism and societal breakdown.

We need to completely rethink how foreign aid is disbursed. We need to think and act outside the box. How can we devise programs that work in partnership with and are welcomed by the receiving countries? That are effective in empowering and educating women? That effectively but humanely lower birth rates?

I welcome your ideas.

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