Beyond Malthus: Sixteen Dimensions of the Population Problem

Posted: 1 September 2000

Author: Lester Brown, Gary Gardner, Brian Halweil
Worldwatch Institute, Washington, 1998

This is a sobering analysis of the population problem, written with all the hard facts and clarity which we have come to expect from Worldwatch. As such, it is an excellent primer for all those who dismiss population as a central factor in the struggle for a sustainable future - or think the problem is well on the way to being solved.

The final chapter, in particular, would make useful bedtime reading for those members of the US Congress who recently voted to defund the UN Population Fund.

The central thesis of this chapter is that while 32 industrial countries are stabilising their population size, and 39 other countries (including China and the United States) are well on the way to joining them in the final stage of the demographic transition with low birth and death rates, over 100 countries remain in the transitional stage.

And as numbers press on resources, and diseases such as AIDS take hold, many of these are in danger of slipping back to stage one where tragically high death rates are accompanied by repeated childbearing.

Classic examples are Ethiopia, Nigeria and Pakistan all of which face a tripling of population over the next half-century, and all of which face critical water shortages. Water, indeed is a key factor in many regions, including the Middle East. Egypt, the Sudan and Ethiopia, all of which depend on Nile water, are projected to see their collective population grow from 157 to 388 million by 2050.

Equally startling are the figures given for the spread of AIDS in Africa, which could - the authors fear - force many countries back into the demographic Dark Ages.

The solutions offered, including optimum population goal setting and a new global commitment to the two-child norm, alongside the well-worn remedies of family planning and female emancipation, fall short of the broader vision for reform that is put forward by some others.

But, that said, this small book does a wonderful job in putting population back into the development equation, where it clearly belongs.

Reviewer: John Rowley

Worldwatch Paper 143 may be obtained from the Worldwatch Institute, 1776 Massachusetts Ave., NW,Washington, DC 20036-1904, USA. Tel (202) 452 1999, Fax(202)296 7395.
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