Causes of poverty in Third World

18 May 2005 | The Times


Sir, Religious leaders campaigning for the cancellation of the international debt of poor countries (letter, May 16) use improvements in Tanzania and Uganda as examples of the benefits. Better government is probably a more important cause of this improvement.

Arguments about debt and aid are important, but they are relatively minor problems and deflect us from dealing with the underlying cause of poverty in Uganda and Tanzania: dramatic demographic change. For Uganda the population figures are roughly: 6 million in 1950, 12 million in 1975, 24 million in 2000, and 48 million well before 2050. For Tanzania the comparable figures are 8 million, 16 million, 32 million, and 64 million. This rate of population increase makes poverty certain.

Unfortunately, as Professor John Guillebaud pointed out when writing about his boyhood country, Rwanda (letter, March 17), population changes are so often a taboo issue. We have emotional campaigns about international debt, which may or may not be a cause of poverty in poor countries, depending on the debt/aid ratio, and no campaigns about the urgent need for effective family planning.

My own religious group (Roman Catholic) supports large numbers of medical centres across many of the poorest countries in the world, as do many of the other groups whose representatives signed the letter about debt. If effective family planning and reproductive health advice were provided at each one of these centres, extreme poverty in these countries would no longer be the certainty it is now.

Yours sincerely,