11 June 2005
In the first of Isabel de Bertodano’s two informative articles (The Tablet, 4 June) we learn that Cardinal Rodriguez of Honduras has been in London to lobby for more aid for Africa. Aid is a great help to development if it is well managed. But even well-managed aid – whether in Africa or in Honduras – will reduce poverty only marginally whilst the populations of Africa and Honduras continue to double every few decades.
Catholics do not like to ascribe poverty to rapid population increase and they will feel – quite rightly – that there is a lot of space in Africa and in Honduras and that, anyway, prosperity will bring a fall in fertility rates. Nevertheless, the progression 2,4,8,16,32…becomes a very big number very quickly, especially if you start in millions as in Honduras, or in tens of millions as in the countries of the Middle East, or in hundreds of millions as in Africa.
Honduras, with its wide-open spaces, has progressed roughly as follows: 1.5 million in 1950, 3 million in 1975, 6 million in 2000, and an estimated 12 million in 2050.
The comparable figures for the countries of the Middle East from Saudi Arabia to Pakistan are 80 million, 160 million, 320 million, and 640 million. For Africa the figures are 200 million, 400 million, 800 million and 1,600 million.
With this rate of population increase continuing poverty is certain, whatever is done about debt, aid, and trade. We have passionate and misleading campaigns about debt, which is an extremely complex subject, and no campaigns for effective family planning without which poverty in Honduras, the Middle East, and Africa will be permanent.
Many countries in the Far East can see this. They are controlling the rate of their population growth and are becoming prosperous. I wish Catholics, Muslims in the Middle East, and Africans could see this as well. But that, unfortunately, is still a long way off.
(Population figures are approximations of the US Bureau of the Census figures. The Bureau’s estimates for 2050 are all a little higher than the 2050 approximations in the three examples above.)