New Delhi: “Excessive population growth may reduce output per worker, repress levels of living for the masses and engender strife.” – Confucius, Chinese philosopher and politician (c. 551 – c. 479 BCE)
What Confucious foretold 2500 years ago has happened. World population reached eight billion in 2022. It will reach ten billion by 2058. Earth cannot provide enough food and fresh water for ten billion people; and certainly, cannot provide them homes, schools, hospitals, and roads.
For everybody in the world to have the same lifestyle that people in the West have today, will require four additional Earths in resources. What is even more alarming is that the highest population growth will be in the poorest places. The population there will triple by 2050.
Population rise is unsustainable. It will pose challenges of poverty, famine, hunger, disease, riots, insurrection, war, and environmental destruction. If we do not reduce population peacefully, by choice, nature will do it brutally.
Ill effects of Overpopulation
- Strain on Resources: Overpopulation puts immense pressure on Earth’s finite resources such as freshwater, arable land, energy sources, and raw materials. The increased demand for these resources can lead to depletion, scarcity, and competition, exacerbating issues like water and food shortages, deforestation, and resource conflicts.
- Environmental Degradation: Overpopulation contributes to environmental degradation in various ways. Rapid urbanization results in the destruction of natural habitats, loss of biodiversity, and increased pollution. Increased industrial activities to cater to the growing population can lead to pollution of air, water, and soil, as well as climate change due to higher greenhouse gas emissions.
- Struggles with Food Security: Feeding a rapidly growing population becomes a challenge. Overpopulation strains agricultural systems, leading to the need for increased food production. This often involves unsustainable farming practices, deforestation, and excessive use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides, which can degrade soil quality, harm ecosystems, and threaten long-term food security.
- Overburdened Infrastructure: High population densities can overburden infrastructure systems such as transportation, housing, healthcare, and sanitation. Inadequate infrastructure can result in overcrowded cities, inadequate access to essential services, increased traffic congestion, inadequate waste management, and compromised public health.
- Economic Challenges: Overpopulation can create economic challenges. The demand for jobs often outstrips the available opportunities, leading to unemployment and underemployment. The strain on public resources and social services also increases, making it harder for governments to provide adequate education, healthcare, and social welfare to their citizens.
- Social and Political Tensions: High population densities can lead to social and political tensions. Competition for resources and opportunities can exacerbate inequality and lead to conflicts, social unrest, and migration. Overpopulation can strain social cohesion, exacerbate existing social problems, and put pressure on governments to manage the challenges effectively.
Women and Population Growth
Women’s status and empowerment play a crucial role in influencing population dynamics, though the relationship is complex.
A few key points are:
- Fertility Rates: Women’s reproductive choices and access to family planning services have a significant impact on population growth. As women gain access to education, employment opportunities, and reproductive healthcare, they tend to have fewer children. This phenomenon, known as the demographic transition, is observed as societies progress from high birth and death rates to low birth and death rates, resulting in stabilized population growth.
- Education and Empowerment: Education is a crucial factor in empowering women and influencing population growth. When girls and women receive education, they are more likely to delay marriage, have greater control over their reproductive choices, and participate in the workforce. Educated women often have fewer children and are better equipped to make informed decisions regarding their health, family planning, and overall well-being.
- Health and Family Planning: Women’s access to reproductive healthcare and family planning services is essential in enabling them to make decisions about their fertility. Access to contraceptives, safe abortions, and maternal healthcare allows women to plan their pregnancies and space their children according to their preferences. It can help prevent unintended pregnancies, reduce maternal and infant mortality rates, and contribute to overall population stabilization.
- Gender Equality: Achieving gender equality is not only a matter of human rights but also has implications for population growth. Societies that promote gender equality tend to have lower fertility rates. When women have equal rights, opportunities, and decision-making power in areas such as education, employment, and politics, they are more likely to have fewer children and invest in their own well-being and that of their families.
- Economic Development: Economic development can also influence population dynamics. As countries experience economic growth, living standards improve, healthcare services become more accessible, and education levels rise. These factors contribute to lower fertility rates and population stabilization. Moreover, women’s participation in the labor force can boost economic growth, leading to improved living conditions and reduced pressure on population resources.
The tipping point has been reached. There can’t be more people on the Earth than we can feed. -Sir Bob Geldof, musician has said.
Population management demands a multifaceted approach that includes sustainable development, access to family planning and reproductive health services, education, poverty reduction, and environmental conservation. By addressing these issues, societies can achieve a better balance between population size and the capacity of the Earth to support a decent standard of living for all its inhabitants.
The relationship between women and population growth is complex. It is influenced by cultural, social, and economic factors. But women empowerment, gender equality, and access to education and reproductive healthcare are vital components of sustainable population management strategies.
(About the Author: Dr (Prof) Sadhana Kala is India’s well-known gynaecologist, robotic and laparoscopic surgeon based out of Delhi. She was National Gynaecologist 2022, and National Icon Endoscopic Surgeon 2019.)
Disclaimer: These are the personal opinions of the author.
NDTV – Dettol have been working towards a clean and healthy India since 2014 via the Banega Swachh India initiative, which is helmed by Campaign Ambassador Amitabh Bachchan. The campaign aims to highlight the inter-dependency of humans and the environment, and of humans on one another with the focus on One Health, One Planet, One Future – Leaving No One Behind. It stresses on the need to take care of, and consider, everyone’s health in India – especially vulnerable communities – theLGBTQ population,indigenous people, India’s different tribes, ethnic and linguistic minorities, people with disabilities, migrants, geographically remote populations, gender and sexual minorities. In wake of the currentCOVID-19 pandemic, the need for WASH (Water,SanitationandHygiene) is reaffirmed as handwashing is one of the ways to prevent Coronavirus infection and other diseases. The campaign will continue to raise awareness on the same along with focussing on the importance of nutrition and healthcare for women and children, fightmalnutrition, mental wellbeing, self care, science and health,adolescent health & gender awareness. Along with the health of people, the campaign has realised the need to also take care of the health of the eco-system. Our environment is fragile due to human activity, which is not only over-exploiting available resources, but also generating immense pollution as a result of using and extracting those resources. The imbalance has also led to immense biodiversity loss that has caused one of the biggest threats to human survival – climate change. It has now been described as a “code red for humanity.” The campaign will continue to cover issues likeair pollution,waste management,plastic ban,manual scavengingand sanitation workers andmenstrual hygiene. Banega Swasth India will also be taking forward the dream of Swasth Bharat, the campaign feels that only a Swachh or clean India wheretoiletsare used andopen defecation free (ODF)status achieved as part of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan launched byPrime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014, can eradicate diseases like diahorrea and the country can become a Swasth or healthy India.