Not Just a Numbers Game

July 25, 1993

Every three years, enough people are added to the Earth to equal the population of the United States. But the vast majority -- 95 percent -- are being born in the countries least able to provide food, shelter, education and the means to earn a living. Concern about world population is not just a numbers game. The patterns of human growth produce trends that will shape living conditions all around the world. The pressures forcing desperate people to try any means, legal or illegal, to reach countries like the United States or Germany stem in large part from the turmoil produced when too many people compete for too few resources.

In its latest State of the World Population report, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) highlights one result of population growth -- the unprecedented numbers of people moving from poor countries to richer ones and from impoverished rural areas to overcrowded cities. The report warns that pressures created by such huge numbers of migrants could become "the human crisis of our age." That warning is too tepid; the crisis is already here. Worldwatch Institute reports that population growth has now reached the point where it is not simply interfering with efforts to eradicate world hunger, but is beginning to contribute to it.

HTC Migration for economic reasons is hardly new -- after all, it populated this country. But the vast frontiers that once beckoned energetic immigrants are fast disappearing. Since the mid-1980s, the world has seen for the first time a decline in per capita grain production, a disturbing indication (like dwindling water supplies) that the Earth may be reaching its limits in the population it can accommodate. There are equally disturbing signs that the world's economies may not be able to produce enough jobs for the people who need them. Another United Nations agency, the International Labour Organization (ILO) says that between 1950 and 1990, the labor force in industrialized countries grew by 50 percent, to 586 million people, and is expected to grow by another 8.5 percent over the next three decades. Meanwhile, job creation in those countries is not keeping pace.

Even so, developed countries are comparatively well-off in terms of job availability. Since 1950, poor countries have seen a 120 percent increase in the labor force, to 1.8 billion people, with another 61 percent increase expected by 2020. The bottom line: today's migration of people desperate for work is not a temporary phenomenon.

Overall, the world will add another 3 billion people over the next 30 years. Unfortunately, few governments in the world -- certainly not the poor countries where this growth will come -- appear capable of handling it.

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