We have often read and heard of the miraculous economic transformations that have taken place in the Asian countries of Singapore, Taiwan, South Korea and People’s Republic of China. What is seldom referred to, is the drastic cuts that have been made on the population growth rates of those countries. Had population growth rates and economic growth been equally vibrant the standards of living of those countries would have been less impressive.
Though the population densities in Asia are higher than in Africa and Latin America, population growth rates are higher in latter countries. The current growth rate in Asia is 1.8 percent per annum, which is much higher than rates of the mature industrialised countries of Europe (0.2 percent) and North America (0.8 percent). In Africa, the population growth rates shoot up on average to 3 percent, while in Latin America it is 2.1 percent. Thus Africa has the highest population increases such that, Malawi is one of the most densely populated countries with one of the highest growth rates.
Population problems are being tackled through the scientific discipline called demography. It studies the causes and effects of changes in human population. Demographers are invariably mathematicians who study such things as the rates of birth and death, the flow of migrations, the age and sex distribution of a population.
Birth rate is the number of babies born per population of one thousand persons. Similarly the death rate is the number of people who die per thousand.
Demographers also study the total fertility rate, which is an estimate of the number of children a woman is likely to have in her life time. The average woman’s fertility rate in an industrialised country is about 1.9 children whereas in a poor country it can be as high as 3.9. Hence the quip; developed countries become richer underdeveloped countries beget children.
National populations usually consist of half male and half female. Even though the female population may be bigger the difference is by a narrow margin. Demographers also study the replacement rate, which is the number of children each woman have to keep the population from growing or from declining.
Discussion about populations whether in sociology or economics invariably made a difference to a Cambridge University don called Thomas Malthus who in 1798 published a book titled Essay on the Principle of Population in which he observed that human populations naturally increase more rapidly than the food supply. While the population increases by geometrical progression (1,2-4-8-16). Food increases only by arithmetical progression (1,2,3,4). Because of the mismatch between population and food growth rates, population is and can be kept in check by famines, disasters, pestilences and war.
Pundits at that time denounced Malthus predictions. Until very recently they continued to say Malthus had not foreseen the changes that were to take place in the industrialised countries where populations of Europe and North America enjoy higher living standards because technological advances have increased food production beyond what Malthus imagined. Thomas Malthus’ views are no longer dismissed in view of the problems being experienced in developing countries due to population pressure. While in industrialised countries wealth and population were increasing side by side in developing countries populations grow faster than economies thereby generating high levels of poverty.
No matter how much capital investment may yield as regards gross domestic product (GDP), population growth rates being too high make it impossible for standards of living to improve. There are perpetual shortages of social services such as health, education, potable water and housing.
Religious beliefs have sometimes hindered birth control, known as family planning. There are some religious leaders who are always comparing the size of their denomination with others and want to become or remain the biggest by discouraging family planning.
Scientific methods of birth control have not reached most people both in rural and urban centres. Those who have heard of pills find them too expensive. In urban centres people understand better the burden of having too many children because no ones salary is based on family size. But even in rural areas people are now suffering land shortage because of population explosions. They can be receptive to appeals for smaller broods.
People must be told that though some of them may be transferred from more congested areas or districts to the less congested, there is really little room to spare. Permanent solution lies in minimising birth rates. At independence in 1964 Malawi had a population that has been doubling every twenty five years while the land has never increased and its natural fertility has depreciated because of environmental degradation.
To convince families the need for only one or two children there must be positive incentives such as old peoples homes. n