Demography Challenges

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The world population would be touching the seven billion mark by the end of this month according to an estimate by the United Nations Population Fund. By 2050, the population is further expected to expand to at least 9.5 billion, though many think this is a conservative figure and the number could be higher judging by current trends and fertility rates in the most populous countries of the world. Two hundred years ago, the world population was just one billion. Not only has the number increased but the growth rate too has been accelerating. From one billion 200 years ago it grew to three billion in the next 150 years but in the last 50 years the population doubled. The UN study also projects that by the turn of the century, world population could touch 15 billion. This is nothing short of alarming. Intellectuals like Jeremy Rifkin have been predicting for quite some years this could be the biggest disaster human kind is destined to face considering the finite nature of the capacity of the world to produce food from all the resources available on earth. In any case, even if the words of doomsday prophets were not to be taken without a pinch of salt, what is certain is there are tremendous challenges ahead for the world. Apart from the pressure on food and clean water, it imaginable what kind of impact this phenomenon would have on health care, housing, transportation, employment, education… and indeed in practically every field of human activities. The goings definitely is not going to be easy even if this were not to be another apocalypse.

What is also important to note is this is a global problem which also mean every region would be affected regardless of whether they belong to the major population expansion centres or not. There would be major population shifts induced, and after a critical point, the most prominent logic would be the old dictum: “necessity knows no law”. Migrations in search for greener pastures would come to break or at least mount insurmountable pressures on legal barriers nations put up against immigration. Competition for the economic slices of the world resources would take a different dimension too, making new forms of colonisation very tempting and thereby a very real possibility. This can also mean threats of wars would be even greater, and considering the technology as well as destructive powers of weapons of war has made quantum leaps since the last major wars the world has seen in the preceding century, the devastations can be predicted to be much greater.

There are other implications. Undoubtedly, in the coming decades, the attention of organisations like the UN would focus on issues of population control. Funding and philanthropic agencies too would shift in a similar direction, leading to the sprouting of non government organisations, NGO, working in the area. But even if these efforts bear fruits and the growth in population does come to be checked somewhat, what the world would be left with would be an increasingly geriatric population. For with the improvement in medical sciences as well as better living conditions, the average longevity would have increased considerably. This trend is witnessed everywhere. Life expectancy is increasing the world over. It is even said that many children born at the dawn of the 21st century would live to be hundred. The impact this would have on the economy of the world is nothing to trifle. There would also be other issues which are not generally taken seriously but definitely would be of great significance politically, economically and socially. Take the case of China’s one child policy which has been quite successfully implemented. In India the encouraged number of children is one or two as spelled out in the family planning slogan ek ya do bas. Consider only this aspect of the one child policy. Single children normally get pampered by their parents, so when a generation of single children come of age, it could be a generation of spoilt young men and women. This too, it cannot be said, would have no implications on social mores as well as any economy’s dynamism. Whether the future promises to be a “brave new world”, or its pun coined by Aldus Huxley, a “grave new world” can only be seen when the time arrives.

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