Letter to Leicester Mercury

31 December 2006 | Leicester Mercury

Iqbal Ghodiwala, in his thought provoking letter about the fuelling of terrorism in the Middle East, advises against going back to the long history. (Mailbox December 26) That is good advice, especially as that interesting long history has been well covered.

There is, however, a factor in the tragedy of Palestine and the Middle East which is seldom discussed: that is the huge increase in the population of Palestine, and the Middle East in general, due to the dramatic fall in death rates as western medical expertise spread across the region after 1950. Here are just a few statistics:

The Gaza Strip, a little smaller than Rutland, has a population of over a million. That population has one of the lowest death rates in the world at under 4 deaths per thousand population per year. (European Union 10 per thousand) and one of the highest birth rates at over 30 births per thousand per year. (EU again 10 per thousand.) This means that, if it were not for emigration, the population of the Gaza Strip would double every 25 years.

Many countries in Africa and the Middle East also have populations rocketing upwards for the same reason; namely, the fall in death rates unaccompanied by a fall in birth rates. The population of Africa and the Middle East to Pakistan was 306 million in 1950; 1,151 million in 2000; and is estimated to become 2,320 million by 2050. (The figures can be seen at the United Nations site at http://esa.un.org/unpp).

This population increase is so huge and unmanageable that great poverty, high unemployment figures, and area wide frustration will be with us for the foreseeable future. And this would be so even if Israel had never existed, and even if there had not been a war in Iraq. The fact of the matter is that everyone prefers saving lives to providing family planning and so “the west” – wanting to help Africa and the Middle East – has put a huge effort into saving lives and little effort into providing family planning. The consequences we see every day in our newspapers.

In 1948, William Vogt in his book Road to Survival warned us that the Four Freedoms (freedom from want and fear, and freedom of speech and religion) depended on a Fifth Freedom – freedom from excessive numbers of children. We should have heeded that warning.

Dr Gerald Danaher