World Population Day
8 BILLION AND COUNTING
Why the world’s population matters
On November the 15th, we woke up to the news that the total population of the world has hit the eight billion mark. This piece of news is basically for developing or underdeveloped countries, as they cause 85% to 90% of the total increase in the world population. To understand this criminal tragedy, you don’t need to go far, only three countries in South Asia, i.e. India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, have an annual increase of 23 million people, which is almost 25% of the total increase in the whole world, and this increase is, undoubtedly, dangerously and deadly high. Similarly, the Muslim world is way ahead in the list of countries with the highest annual total population increase, better called explosion, in the world.
You can make a simple estimate of this by saying that until 1950, the number of Muslim countries in the world’s top 20 most populous countries was only five, while in the present era, this number has grown to seven and in the near future, there will be eight Muslim countries in this list. This can be exactly calculated from the share of the Muslim population in the world population; in the year 1900, Muslims were only 12.5% of the world’s total population but that share has now increased to 25 percent. Another thing that becomes clear here is that on the day the world population reached eight billion, the total population of Muslim countries reached two billion. In the Muslim world, apart from Pakistan, Nigeria is the country where the population is increasing at a great pace. It is the only Muslim country that will soon surpass not only Pakistan but also Indonesia and the United States, to become the world’s third-largest country by population.
As for Pakistan, it was the 14th largest country by population in the world at the time of independence, but now it is the fifth largest. Countries that Pakistan crossed in this ranking include Russia, Japan, Bangladesh, Germany, the United Kingdom, France, Italy, Mexico and Brazil. This is, indeed, a hazardous and polluting change, and better to be called a catastrophe than a change. It should be clear that population, once, was a form of resource, but that period ended with the invention, and the use thereupon, of machines in human life; almost two centuries ago.
A vital point to bear in mind is that developed countries in the world have zero population growth (ZPG) rates. Likewise, there are only a few countries that are suffering from population decline and they are also encouraging people to increase their population, – examples are Iceland and Russia. But remember regarding Russia, its population is decreasing instead of increasing, so this country is forced to ask people to increase population. These two countries are mentioned because some people in Pakistan, unfortunately, still use the names of these two countries, to put forward a bizarre argument that population growth is not a problem yet.
Now let’s talk about China, the world’s most successful country in terms of population control. This country adopted and implemented the world’s strictest birth-control policy in the form of a law in 1979, under which people were forced to follow the “One Couple, One Child” policy. This was the time when the population of China was about to touch the magic figure of one billion – China became the world’s first county to have one billion population in 1981-82, while the total population of India at that time was 680 million (0.68 billion). The situation now is that within two years, India will become the largest country in the world – by crossing China – in terms of population.
On the other hand, momentous news that will come in 2 to 3 years will be something like this: China has become the largest economic power in the world, in terms of economic output, by surpassing the United States. By the way, another great example of population control is none other than former East Pakistan, i.e. Bangladesh. At the time of separation in 1971, this country’s population was about five million more than ours, but now it has about 60 million fewer people than Pakistan. Likewise, China has prevented an increase of about 450 million) in its population with the help of one-child policy. Although China has, of late, allowed couples to have a second child (in 2016), their people now have assimilated to having only one child. The main reason for this is that instead of believing in predestination, the Chinese people believe that in today’s age, raising and educating a child requires so much resources that a couple can afford only one child. A fully educated and skilled person is a resource for his country; otherwise, Ze (one) becomes an incomplete, undereducated and unskilled burden on not only the national economy but the environmental budget as well.
In the contemporary era, one aspect of population growth that forces world countries to keep their populations under complete control, i.e. to keep growth rates in check, is the environmental burden. This is also called the “Carrying Capacity of the Earth “. This is an indubitable fact that every individual needs pure air, safe water and clean land first; food, shelter and clothing are next or number-two priority/need.
To understand the water budget of a certain country, say Pakistan, we must know that the average total amount of rain that a country receives on its total area remains fixed. Now, if the global population continues to grow, like in Pakistan, there will soon be a point where we may face water shortage. It means water availability per person, also called “gallons needed per person per day” will see a drastic decline.
Now the most dangerous aspect is that the situation has reached a point where Pakistan is not only facing water shortage but at the same time people, too, are using (even drinking) polluted or contaminated water. Similar tragedies are being faced in terms of air for breathing, as according to experts, breathing in major cities of Pakistan is like smoking 20 cigarettes a day.
To understand this, we need to keep in mind that, in Pakistan, around 0.5 million new houses are built annually to meet the needs of a growing population of 5.5 million people per annum. Now, it can be well imagined why we have lost hundreds of thousands of acres of agricultural land to housing societies. As a result of this havoc, the vegetated area is converted into concrete buildings. One pertinent point to be considered here is that in terms of the total annual increase in population, Pakistan has become the second largest country in the world, by crossing China and being second only to India in this context.
“Earth Overshoot Day” (EOD) is the next academic term or a concept you need to understand the issue of overpopulation or the “Carrying Capacity of the Earth”. This year, the EOD was marked on the 28th of July. This concept was first introduced in 1971, when OSD was first marked on 28th December. According to this concept, the Earth’s total environmental capacity to produce food to feed the total population exhausted three days earlier, in 1971. In the following years, due to the growing population of the world, this capacity shrank and now this capacity exhausted this year on the 28th of July. If we put this concept in a simple way, it means that the Earth as a whole has become overpopulated. It narrates that the point of “how much is too much” was reached way back in 1971. In an even more simple way, the EOD tells that if the carrying capacity of the Earth is taken in number as 100, the world population has grown to 170, which means that around 70% population of the world has already become an extra burden on the planet.
Concluding this, it must be remembered and borne in mind that due to environmental collapse, life in the developing world is getting destroyed, while moderately developed, and especially highly-developed counties, are in general safe. This can be well imagined by the difference found on and along the bank of drainage channels and a garden on the bank of a freshwater canal or lake. To put it in a simpler way, developing countries, especially the South Asian region, have become biological and environmental gutters, where the water is a slow poison and air to breathe is like a killing smoke. World intellectuals believe that South Asia is more likely to be destroyed by population bomb than by nuclear bombs, and the next diaspora of this region will be due to environmental chaos and that, too, will be of the wealthy class only. Last but not least, in the modern era, the civilization of this region will be the first one to collapse. One astonishing variable of the destruction of this region is that in urban areas of South Asia – India, Pakistan and Bangladesh – life expectancy has started to decline by 7 to 10 years.
The writer is a professor at the University of the Punjab, Lahore.