The Newman

31 January 2007 | The Journal of the Newman Association

(Issue No.70. Printed word for word.)

The excellent review of the economic causes of extreme poverty by Christine Allen of CIIR in your January 2006 edition prompts me to write in the hope that some of your readers may be interested in a non-economic cause of extreme poverty – rapid and repeated redoubling of huge populations.

This population increase in the last sixty years is mainly due to western medical expertise sweeping across the developing world causing death rates to fall dramatically. In sheer numbers this must be by far the greatest humanitarian effort in history. In Latin America, due to their young populations, all countries have death rates below that of the United Kingdom, many of them far below the UK rate. The same is true of most countries in Asia. And even in Africa, until the arrival of AIDS, death rates had fallen substantially.

Because they realised that a dramatic fall in death rates unaccompanied by a fall in birth rates must end in catastrophe, most Asian countries have made serious efforts to control their birth rates, and, belatedly, so have most countries in South America. However, in many countries in Africa and the Middle East, whilst death rates have fallen, birth rates have remained high, and this has inevitably caused a huge population increase. The resulting extreme poverty will soon be on such a scale that in many areas alleviation will be far beyond the capabilities of western aid. Here are just a few examples:

The population of Africa and the Middle East to Pakistan is increasing by a billion – 1000 million – every 50 to 60 years. (United Nations figures for this area are 308 million in 1950; 1,151 million in 2000; and an estimated 2320 million in 2050).

Uganda, which is the same size as the United Kingdom, is doubling its population every 25 years or less (UN figures: 1950 5 million; 1975 10 million; 1995 20 million; 2015 40 million; 2035 80 million and continuing).

In the Horn of Africa, the population has doubled twice sine 1950, and is expected to double a third time by 2050. The Economist, in its August 12 2006 edition, describes the horrific situation in the Horn, due in art to this population increase, and ends: “Tony Blair’s report on Africa last year hardly mentioned population growth. “It’s the unmentionable,” says a well-placed ambassador in Nairobi. “It’s the elephant in the corner of the room,” says another. It is time to start talking about it now.”

IN 1948, when the impending huge and rapid increase in population became obvious, William Vogt, in his book Road to Survival – his attempt to persuade America always to provide family planning help when it sent any aid – headed his sections on the medical profession, “Dangerous Doctors” and “The Menace of Medicine”. He believed that doctors were ecologically ignorant and were utterly unconcerned about the future of countries in which the population repeatedly doubled due to the spread of medical expertises. If he were alive today he may well have included in his criticism the many NGO’s working in developing countries, most of whom are oblivious to the fact that if death rates fall and birth rates stay high extreme poverty is certain.

At providing practical help to the extremely poor the Church is the most effective large-scale organization in the world. The work is heroic and the support we give to those working close to the very poor, inadequate though we may sometimes feel it is, may stand us in good stead one of these days. But we have not been good at providing effective family planning to the very poor, the lack of which is a major cause of the extreme poverty our practical help attempts to alleviate.

In 1953, Mgr Giovanni Battista Montini (the future Pope Paul VI) wrote, “Population problems are of extreme importance” and added “they have a vital bearing on world peace”. In 1969, Fr Edmund Flood OSB of Ealing Abbey wrote in a pamphlet with an Imprimatur and a Nihil Obstat, “So we see that rapid population growth causes very grave problems. It endangers the food supply. It slows down economic progress. And it poses other serious problems with regard to education, employment opportunities, housing, the quality of family life and the quality of human life itself.” In The Times 3 October 2005 David Coleman, Professor of Demography, Oxford University wrote, “Reducing population growth will not of itself solve Africa’s problems, but without it they will become insoluble.”

No Catholic organization that I know of is interested in this “extremely important” problem, which “endangers the food supply” and “slows down economic progress” and which, if not dealt with, will make Africa’s problems “insoluble”. In fact, this lack of interest – as the Economist discovered – extends to most non-Catholic campaigners as well. The reasons for this are numerous – I have a list of fifteen – but it seems only right that our Church should take some interest in this problem, even if it is only so as to prevent the wrong people being blamed for the distress of the poor, and I am grateful to you for publishing this letter.

Kind regards. Gerald Danaher

References: Mgr Montini. The Encyclical That Never Was. The Story of the Pontifical Commission on Population, Family and Birth 1964-1966 p43
Robert Blair Kaiser

Fr Edmund Flood – Poverty and Population
Pamphlet – World Poverty: the future 1/- 1969