The Tablet – Population, Poverty and Aid

2 July 2005 | The Tablet (Not published)

My letter published in The Tablet on 11 June 05 about population and poverty in Africa was given the unfortunate headline “Aid for Africa Won’t Work”. As this was as far away from what I meant as it is possible to get I wanted to clarify the letter and I asked the editor to publish the above explanation. Well-managed aid helps a lot (e.g. If you are penniless and hungry and someone gives you a fiver or even a loaf of bread). The catch is that government-to-government aid – involving much larger sums – is very often very badly managed and often does as much harm as good. I’m not sure if the letter will be published. Population statistics upset Catholics, and lots of other people.

In 1950, according to the US Bureau of the Census, the population of Europe and Russia was 546 million and the population of Africa plus the Middle Eastern countries from Saudi Arabia to Pakistan was 310 million. In 2050, according to the Bureau’s estimates, the population of Europe and Russia will be 658 million, and the population of Africa and the Middle East will be 2,514 million.

(All calculations exclude Turkey. A useful approximation for Africa and the Middle East is 300 million in 1950, doubling twice to 1200 million now, and doubling again to 2,400 million by 2050.)

Population changes are slow moving, rather like global warming, but in sheer numbers this is the biggest demographic drama in human history and it seems sensible to take note of it. How the mostly prosperous and relatively elderly 658 million Europeans and Russians will interact with the mostly very poor and relatively young 2,514 million Africans and Middle Easterners I do not know, but I hope we will still be giving the very poor well managed aid. Even though this will have only a marginal effect on the population as a whole, to those who receive it, the aid will be a Godsend.

Catholics especially should continue providing this aid, not only because the gospel demands it of us; not only because one of the causes of this great poverty has been our attempts, with others, to deny to the very poor effective family planning; but also because we have the organization to make the aid effective.

Person-to-person aid, parish-to-parish aid, and even diocese-to-diocese aid is nearly always well managed, and so is the aid from many non-political NGO’s. Of course, this generous Catholic aid would have been far more effective if some of it had been used to provide family planning advice in developing countries over the last fifty years.

Gerry Danaher