Out of the deep, my child, out of the deep, From that true world within the world we see, Whereof our world is but the bounding shore Out of the deep, Spirit, out of the deep, With this ninth moon, that sends the hidden sun Down yon dark sea, thou comest, darling boy. – Oscar Wilde, De Profundis.
On New Year’s Day, 2020, an estimated 392,078 babies globally born, with India recording the highest number of births at nearly 67,385 followed by China (46229) as reported by the United Nations Children’s fund (UNICEF). Nigeria registered 26,039, Pakistan 16,787, Indonesia 13,020, and the United States 10452 newborn babies. UNICEF iterated the need for their protection, safety and called on nations to ensure every newborn’s fundamental right to health and survival.
It bears recall that in 2018, about 2.5 million babies died in the first month of their lives. The year also marks the 30th anniversary of the adoption of the Convention on the Right of the Child, advocating the imperative to save every child by providing quality healthcare. It is gratifying that UNICEF has appealed to world leaders to give adequate cognizance as well as to equip health workers with the knowhow and equipment to ensure the safety of every newborn child. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, the number of children born on New Year’s Day was estimated to be about 10,247 and in Ethiopia 8,493.
“The beginning of a New Year and a new decade is an opportunity to reflect on our hopes not only for our future, but the future of those who will come after us. As the calendar flips each January, we are reminded of all the possibilities and potential of each child embarking on her or his life journey ~ if they are just given that chance”, said Henrietta Fore, UNICEF Executive Director. Stabilizing the population problem, generating employment opportunities, alleviating poverty pose a formidable challenge to India along with many other developing countries. India is trying relentlessly for several decades to mitigate its extremely forbidding population issue. But nearly all our policies have proved to be ineffective.
According to the UN population reference agency (UNFPA), population growth in India has assumed alarming proportions and if, the present trend persists, India’s population would be virtually double in the next 20 years… reaching around i.e. 2.56 billion. Malthus had once predicted that burgeoning population hinders environmental sustainability and sustainable development. There is a strong debate even today regarding Malthus’s inference and it is difficult to correlate the increase of population and degradation of the environment on a national scale.
World population is also increasing at an incredible pace, about 100 million a year and it is estimated that the planet will be home to ten billion people by 2050. The estimated population of India as on 2 January 2020, according to UN data, is 1,373,270,210 (1.37 billion). Ratio of female and male is 943/1000 and 51 births in a minute. India represents 17.31 per cent of the world’s population i.e. one out of six people in this planet lives in India. While this population growth rate in the country has assumed the proportion of escape velocity like a rocket (1.58 per cent), it is predicted to be more than 1.53 billion by the end of 2030. An estimated 72.2 per cent of India’s people live in villages and 27.8 per cent in towns and the urban agglomeration. Senior citizens, 60 years and above, account for 7.4 per cent of the total population in India with males 7.1 per cent and females 7.8 per cent. Only 36 per cent of Indians have sanitary access with density of 386 people/ square km. The scenario of Pakistan is more dismal; the number of children per woman is 5.6. The situation in Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and China are also far from satisfactory. The present population of China is 1.36 billion.
According to the UN Commission on Population and Development, India, Pakistan and China are among the five countries that account for half the annual growth of the world’s population. Indonesia and Nigeria are the other two countries. However, it must be acknowledged that China has launched a commendable family planning programme and has been able to control population growth to a great extent. It is estimated that China’s population will increase from the present 1.36 billion to approximately 1.5 billion in 2025.
India and many other developing countries are lagging far behind so far as implementation of effective family planning programmes are concerned. Obviously India’s population will cross China’s within the first quarter of this millennium, if not controlled. In fact, many demographers predict that India will have the pride of being the most populous nation of the world by 2040. A pertinent question arises. Apart from CAA and NRC, how does the government cope with a billion mouths by providing adequate food, employment, education, healthcare and social security? The developing countries, particularly the economically backward states, are succumbing to a vicious cycle of poverty, population explosion and environmental degradation.
If explosion of population remains uncontrolled and pragmatic strategic actions are not taken immediately, how India will foster its public health programme, manage water resources, universalize primary education, and implement overall development programmes with a holistic approach? What will happen to India’s headway towards industrialization? It is argued that for rapid industrial growth, the developing poor countries need to cross three steps. The first step is the stabilisation of population when death rates are high. Second, because of improvement of public health engineering and medical science, the death rate may be low but the birth rate increases rapidly, so also the entire population. Third, both birth and death rates decline and the country stabilizes its population, ensuring social security and economic freedom.
Unfortunately, many developing countries including India are not in a position to bring about a cogent environment for reaching the third step. India has remained blindly static in the second step that is repeatedly impeding our development programmes. The links between health, nutrition, and family planning are strong. The smaller the size of the house, better the overall health, and a reduction in the number of births can be expected. The driving force behind improved maternal and infant health and nutrition may be entirely due to the small family size. Poor nutrition may be the major cause of morbidity and death. The urban poor, particularly in the slum areas, have larger families. These people have more children mostly from economic insecurity and due to limited access to education, family planning, health and other social services. Inculcating higher levels of education minimizes the fertility rate.
Therefore, family planning programmes would definitely yield better results, if they are reinforced with proper educational programmes. Education should be regarded as a powerful weapon to combat increase in fertility rates, poverty and unemployment. Educating women, underprivileged weaker and backward sections of the society would help lower the fertility rate. In Kerala, where the literacy rate is remarkably high, there has been a simultaneous decline in the population growth rate. A shift of gear in meaningful contraceptive application is also necessary. That is, the contraceptive research and its longterm effect should be aimed at men rather than women.
The unprecedented population pressure requires to be controlled in order to strengthen the existing human resources and to improve lifestyle. This is important, because man himself is an endangered species and under the threat of extinction. The human population growth must come to a halt to restore the interdependence and harmony with other biotic living species, in which the Homo sapien is a member and not a master.
(The writer, a former Reader in Chemistry, Presidency College, Kolkata, was associated with the UGC and UNICEF)