Demographics of Poverty

2 October 2010 | The Tablet

Abbé Ambrose Tina’s absorbing article (‘More aid, better spent’ 18 September) is full of excellent statistics. However, the demographics, by far the most important statistics, have been left out. In Senegal, Abbé Tina’s own country, the population has increased fivefold since 1950, and by 2050 it is likely to have increased tenfold. (2.4 million in 1950; 12.8 million now; 26 million in 2050) Most other extremely poor countries follow the same pattern.

Abbé Tina fears that Senegal may not attain the Millennium Development Goals. He is right to be anxious. While those countries that have controlled population growth are likely to reach these Goals, those that have made little attempt to control population growth will not. Hunger and deprivation will continue and there will be little reduction in maternal and child mortality.

Over the last forty years, no one has dared to campaign for the provision of family planning in developing countries, but in March this year “Save the Children” broke the taboo and published a six page ‘Policy brief’ on population, in which they state:

“Given its detrimental impact on poverty reduction, it is surprising that the issue of population growth has received so little attention over the last decade from development donors, agencies and developing country governments alike. For example, the Millennium Development Goals, agreed in 2001, made no reference to population growth, while the influential Commission for Africa report, published in 2005, had almost nothing to say on the subject. Yet there is overwhelming evidence of the damaging impact that rapid population growth has on poverty reduction efforts.”

Is it too late to give some hope to mothers overburdened with so many children that high infant and maternal death rates and extreme poverty are virtually inevitable? I hope not. Catholics at least should try to help, as over the decades we have earned a reputation for being indifferent to this cause of suffering.

Gerald Danaher

Note: The decades long silence about the need for family planning is illustrated not only by a Catholic (Abbé Tina) but also by others. (Millennium Development Goals and Commission for Africa authors). Before the arrival of Political Correctness in the 1970’s many Catholics voiced their concern about the dangers of population growth.