Getting more crowded

April 18, 1999|By Stephanie Salter

SAN FRANCISCO -- By Oct. 12, this unique blue planet of ours is expected to reach an awesome and dangerous milestone: A population of 6 billion.

Seeing as how it took us until 1804 to reach 1 billion, and how as recently as 40 years ago there were but 3 billion of us, we are talking about cataclysmic acceleration.

This news is not as bad as population experts predicted five years ago. The global birthrate is increasing but not as quickly as was expected. Declining birthrates in 61 nations have contributed to the slowdown. At the current pace, 10.7 billion people will crawl the Earth by 2050.

However, the cultural and social changes that aided the slowdown are themselves impeded. In 1994 at the miraculous International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo, 11,000 delegates from 179 nations agreed that the better off women are the less they will contribute to overpopulation.

(Odd how that works: Offer a woman proper medical care, education, nutrition and the freedom to control her own reproduction, and she rarely produces passels of children.)

As a means to this desired end, the nations pledged to spend $17 billion per year by 2000 on population and related issues.

Two-thirds of the money was to come from developing countries, the folks who most need to put the brakes on the rate of birth.

The other third was to be contributed by industrialized nations like the United States. Funding is based on percentages of gross national product.

The reality? Only five countries -- Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Finland and the Netherlands -- have managed to meet their funding goals.

As for the mighty United States, the total funding for population issues has actually dropped from $583 million per year to $385 million.

What difference does it make?

According to the United Nations Population Fund, if donor nations match their current "below-target" rate of funding, there will be a shortfall next year of $2.1 billion.

That translates into some tragic projections:

* Abortions will increase by 50 million.

* Deaths of women in childbirth will increase by 300,000.

* At least 97 million women and men who would have availed themselves of contraception will be denied access to it; 130 million unintended pregnancies will result.

Oct. 12 looms.

Stephanie Salter is a columnist for the San Francisco Examiner.

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