The Brandt Proposals: A Report Card
Closely interrelated with the problem of poverty is population growth, which has a major impact on the quality of life in developing nations. Very simply, poverty contributes to high birth rates, and a booming population results in deeper poverty.
With less than two billion people on the planet at the beginning of the twentieth century, world population tripled during the next hundred years. Over the past four decades, the pace of the population explosion has slowed – from 2.1% in the 1960s to 1.3% in 2000 – and birth rates continue to level off in many developed countries. Still, 1.7 billion people were added to the planet between 1980 and 2000, and more than 90% of those births were in developing nations.
The Brandt Reports called for increased international assistance to provide for national population programs. These programs would strike a balance between social resources and population, making family planning services freely available to women in poor nations.
The Brandt Commission noted that family planning has proven successful throughout the developing world, but is only effective where there is already a basic level of community development, education, low infant mortality, and social status for women. Increases in world population lead to other consequences. Many people are forced to leave their crowded and impoverished homelands, some seeking employment, others political freedom. The Brandt Reports called for fair treatment of migrant workers, and greater international cooperation on emigration and immigration policies. Brandt also proposed that nations strengthen the right of asylum and legal protection for refugees, and expand international commitments for the resettlement of refugees.
The Brandt Commission was especially concerned that the rapid expansion of population in developing nations "compounds the task of providing food, jobs, shelter, education and health services, of mitigating absolute poverty, and of meeting the colossal financial and administrative needs of rapid urbanization" (N–S, 106). In countries where there are rapid population increases, half of all investment and development monies are spent simply trying to keep living standards from falling further.
Accelerated population growth also contributes to illiteracy and unemployment. Education and job opportunities are especially difficult for members of large rural families, whose children are expected to help farm the land from an early age. Smaller families give both mothers and daughters more of a chance of gaining an education, and fathers and sons an increased opportunity to find work outside the family structure.
Increases in world population also affect the economies of developed nations, where the idea of more people means the possibility of expanded markets. The key question is whether the earth has the capacity to continue to support human consumption at the present rate of population growth. The current pace of world population increase, along with increases in production, may greatly expand world economic growth in the future.
This assumes, however, that new and potential consumers will have income sufficient to buy the world's products. It also assumes that policies for sustainable development and environmental restraints can be adopted before the impact of overpopulation on earth's resources and the natural environment has destroyed the capacity for economic growth, threatening the survival and development of present and future generations.
Much progress has taken place since 1980. The United Nations, along with many government development departments, universities, and private agencies, have conducted successful international programs in communication, education, and family planning to stabilize world population growth. Programs for international population control, though highly effective, still require far more coordination in an expanded international context. The United Nations is the logical agency to take the lead in this effort, but to be truly effective, it must be part of a comprehensive multilateral plan to eliminate poverty and promote development.
Two decades ago, Willy Brandt cautioned, "The prospect of an overcrowded planet in the next century has little meaning to people who live on the margin of existence today" (N–S, 107–108). Years have been lost and many lives wasted. While it is widely recognized that underdevelopment encourages overpopulation, the international community has hardly begun to link programs that limit population growth with the creation of new economic and social conditions. It is not a difficult proposition: where people have adequate food, housing, health care, and education, birth rates fall.
The world had six billion people in 2000, and at the current rate of increase – 77 million a year – it will rise to 8 billion in another twenty years. As birth rates are projected to level off slightly in developed nations over that period, this new growth will take place entirely in developing nations, contributing further to their crowded and impoverished conditions. Only a comprehensive program to develop the economic infrastructure of poor nations can create a social climate that is healthy, secure, and informed enough to reduce fertility rates and birth rates, and thereby stabilize world population.
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