Population: at the root of conflict

22 November 1996 | Catholic Herald (Heading by Catholic Herald)

Turmoil and distress in central Africa is in the news again. Once cause of this – unprecedented population increase – gets little coverage in the Catholic press. I wonder if it is time to give it an airing.

The rapid fall in mortality rates and increase in life expectancy which we have seen in all “third world” countries throughout this century must be – because of its effect on population – one of the most important events in social history.

Latin American countries are doubling their populations every 40 years or so and their capital cities every 20 years or so.

Even in those few countries (e.g. Zambia) where there has been a reversal of the previous improvement in mortality rates and life expectancy, population increase is likely to remain substantial.

Just two examples: since 1950, El Salvador, the most densely populated country on the American mainland, has almost trebled its population, while Rwanda, the most densely populated country on the African mainland, has more than trebled its population.

From Catholic sources, over the last 20 years or more, I have read a lot about troubles in El Salvador and, more recently, a good deal about Rwanda. I have never heard population increase mentioned as a problem. I wonder why this is?

The future Pope Paul VI, in 1953, in a letter to the Twenty Sixth Italian Social Week, wrote “Population problems are of extreme importance”. If the Catholic Church had taken these words to heart 40 years ago we would have saved the poor of Latin America and Africa a lot of misery and conflict.

Gerald Danaher