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Rising Population Threatens Global Security
Thalif Deen

UNITED NATIONS, Jul 8 (IPS) - The world's rapid population growth, predicted to rise from the current 6.5 billion people to about 9.1 billion by the middle of the century, could have "serious security consequences" not only for a country or region but for the entire world, a new report warns.

The rising global population -- specifically in the midst of poverty and hunger in the world's poorer nations -- "creates national security problems, including civil unrest and terrorism," says the Washington-based Population Institute, in a report released to coincide with World Population Day next week.

The study, titled 'Breeding Insecurity: Global Security Implications of Rapid Population Growth,' points out that population growth leads to large youth bulges, rapid urbanisation and resource scarcity, all of which can lead to insecurity and instability.

"Large groups of unemployed young people, combined with overcrowded cities and lack of access to farmland and water, create a population that is angry and frustrated with the status quo, and thus more likely to resort to violence to enact change," the study warns.

The vast majority of the growth is expected to take place in the world's 50 least developed countries (LDCs), described as the poorest of the poor, where fertility rates can be as high as eight children per woman.

The study, written and researched by Katherine Weiland, a public policy fellow at the Population Institute, predicts that populations of some of the LDCs, including Afghanistan, Burkina Faso and Uganda, will triple over the next 50 years.

Anwarul K. Chowdhury, U.N. Under-Secretary-General and High Representative for Least Developed Countries, said that though overall population size in most of the 50 LDCs is not big, the high rate of growth in many of them "is a serious constraint on their development efforts."

"The fight against poverty, hunger and disease waged by the LDCs is being seriously hampered by rapid population growth and its 'dragging' effect upon all of their social and economic development objectives," Chowdhury told IPS.

Recognising this fully, the Brussels Programme of Action for the development of LDCs during the present decade devotes a whole section to the "population" issues in the context of building human and institutional capacities, he added.

"Revolution and other manifestations of political unrest are likely to originate within groups of youth looking to change the current political system," Werner Fornos, president of the Institute, told IPS.

Today, nearly 40 percent of the world's population is under the age of 20. Eighty-five percent of these young people live in the developing world, where jobs, resources and educational opportunities are scarce, he added.

Fornos also cited the U.S. National Intelligence Council, a panel that advises the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), as saying that large youth populations potentially threaten U.S. interests in Afghanistan, Colombia, Iraq, Mexico, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the West Bank and Gaza.

He said that comprehensive family planning programmes, as part of an integrated development strategy, will reduce the security risks associated with rapid population growth.

"Family planning programmes help reduce poverty and promote development because smaller families are generally healthier and more economically stable, leading to healthier, happier, more sustainable communities," he added.

Asked if the international community is keeping its pledges to implement family planning programmes, the Executive Director of the U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA) Thoraya Ahmed Obaid told IPS: "We have seen increased commitment to population issues since the 1994 Cairo International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD). Donor funding to these issues has been rising quite a bit."

However, Obaid said, it is still short of what world leaders promised at that conference. Donors have given only about half the amount that they agreed would be needed to implement the ICPD Programme of Action, and this is impeding its implementation.

"However, we expect funding to rise even more as governments are giving increased commitment to development, as we have seen during the last few months," she added.

The ICPD Programme of Action estimated that 18.5 billion dollars would be needed by the year 2005 to implement the budgeted components in reproductive health, including family planning, maternal health and prevention of sexually transmitted diseases. But donor assistance and domestic expenditures amounted to slightly more than 15 billion dollars in 2003.

"This makes reaching the ICPD target of 18.5 billion dollars in 2005 possible -- if both donors and developing countries continue to increase funding as in recent years," Obaid said in a report to the UNFPA Executive Board in mid-June.

But she warned that "it is questionable, however, whether the 18.5 billion dollars would be sufficient to cover ICPD implementation as health care costs have risen and the HIV/AIDS crisis is far worse than anticipated in 1994."

Obaid said she was happy to note that UNFPA income from regular resources reached "an all-time high" of 331.6 million in 2004. The current projections for 2005 are 360 million dollars.

Asked about the world population growth, Obaid told IPS: "We can see that globally, the rate of population growth is slowing because the average family size has declined from six children per woman in 1960 to around three today, as family planning has become more accessible and widely used."

However, she warned, the actual numbers are still increasing dramatically. Each year, 77 million people are added to the planet -- 146 every minute -- and most of them are being born in the developing world. The population of the poorest nations is expected to nearly triple in the next 45 years, she said.

Asked whether the U.N.'s much-ballyhooed Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) have ignored the population equation, Obaid said: "I do not believe that the MDGs ignore the population factor. The MDGs were built on the U.N. global conferences of the 1990s, including the ICPD."

She said that it is widely acknowledged that the implementation of the ICPD Programme of Action, with its emphasis on population, gender and reproductive health and rights, is key to the attainment of the MDGs.

"It is also evident that investing in reproductive health and rights is crucial for achieving the MDGs to reduce poverty, improve maternal and child health, curb the spread of HIV/AIDS, promote gender equality, and ensure sustainable development," she added.

The MDGs include a 50 percent reduction in poverty and hunger; universal primary education; reduction of child mortality by two-thirds; cutbacks in maternal mortality by three-quarters; the promotion of gender equality; the reversal of the spread of HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases; the protection of the global environment; and a development partnership between the rich and poor nations.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan has pointedly said that the MDGs, particularly the eradication of extreme poverty and hunger, "cannot be achieved if questions of population and reproductive health are not squarely addressed."

"And that means stronger efforts to promote women's rights, and greater investment in education and health, including reproductive health and family planning," he added. (END/2005)

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