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Too many people

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

On the eve of World Population Day, here is a look at why it is imperative to cut down our numbers

Tomorrow, July 11, as countries across the globe mark World Population Day, here are some sobering facts.

According to United Nations estimates, the world population this July stands at 7.6 billion people. Every year, approximately 83 million people are being added to this number globally and by 2030, there will be 8.6 billion people on the planet.

India, which is currently the second most populous country after China, accounts for 17.74% of the world’s people but with a population growth rate at 1.2%, we could well be at number one by 2030. By that year, we are expected to have more than 1.53 billion people, jostling for every resource that the country can offer, from food to water, to clean air and health services. A shortage of any of these elements has a direct impact on the health of the people who depend on them.

Already in our country, the population density is 455 per km2.  The UN says that together, India, China and Nigeria will account for 35% of the projected growth of the world’s urban population between 2018 and 2050. By 2050, it is projected that India will have added 416 million urban dwellers, China 255 million and Nigeria 189 million.


In our country, as Dr. Dewaram A. Nagdeve states in a study titled Population Growth and Environmental Degradation in India, “Population growth and economic development are contributing to many serious environmental problems in India. These include pressure on land, land/soil degradation, forests, habitat destruction and loss of biodiversity, changing consumption pattern, rising demand for energy, air pollution, global warming and climate change and water scarcity and water pollution.”

A huge population, as all of us in Mumbai know from personal experience, also leads to a host of other problems such as pressure on infrastructure—with everything from slums to trains bursting at the seams and other issues like unemployment, coupled with all the poverty-related problems it leads to; poor access to healthcare, among them.

A shortage of fresh water

Though 75% of the earth is covered in water, only 2.5% is freshwater, according to UN-Water, and much of this is divided into glaciers and ice caps. With most freshwater resources being too inaccessible or polluted, less than one per cent of the world’s freshwater (0.003% of all water on earth) is readily accessible for human use. The Global Outlook for Water Resources to the Year 2025 report says that by 2025, more than half of the world population will face water-based vulnerability. A report jointly produced by more than two dozen U.N. bodies states, "By 2030, nearly half of the world's people will be living in areas of acute water shortage." We are consuming fresh water at least 10 times faster than it is being replenished in regions of northern Africa, the Middle East, India, Pakistan, China, and the U.S.

Pressure on land

According to a 2016 Ecologise report, since 1995-96, the average size land holding in India has decreased from 1.41 hectares to 1.15 hectares, which accounts for the decrease of 30,000 hectares of cultivable land each year. The pressure on agricultural land in the country is enormous; one report notes that every million hectares of land supports more than seven million people. Less cultivable land means less food to go around even as the number of people who require it keeps growing. And when food production cannot catch up with demand, it means costs go up, a fact that we see all the time.

Global warming

The American President may not think it’s a big deal but global warming and climate change are huge threats to the planet and the ever-growing population is only making things worse. As the US-based Center for Biological Diversity, observes: "The largest single threat to the ecology and biodiversity of the planet in the decades to come will be global

climate disruption due to the build-up of human-generated greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. People around the world are beginning to address the problem by reducing their carbon footprint through less consumption and better technology. But unsustainable human population growth can overwhelm those efforts, leading us to conclude that we not only need smaller footprints, but fewer feet.”

Short Takes

  • India, which is currently the second most populous country after China, accounts for 17.74% of the world’s population
  • As more people jostle for limited resources such as food and clean air the world over, it has a direct impact on the health of those who depend on them


The concern over a burgeoning population is not a new one; experts have been ringing alarm bells for decades. In 1968, the International Conference on Human Rights for the first time globally affirmed family planning to be a human right. When the Teheran Proclamation stated that “parents have a basic human right to determine freely and responsibly the number and spacing of their children”, it also highlighted a game-changing realisation—that women and girls have the right to avoid the exhaustion, depletion and danger of too many pregnancies, too close together.

Now, 50 years later, in a situation that is far more explosive, the World Population Day theme for 2018 is: ‘Family planning is a human right’, It highlights the fact that such decision-making should be informed under conditions of full privacy and confidentiality, and that family planning measures should be available, accessible, acceptable and accurate; also that health systems and policy-makers must be accountable. Our own Indian National Health Portal notes that 225 million women in developing countries who want to avoid pregnancy are not using safe family planning methods.

Though India was the first country in the world to have launched a National Family Planning Programme way back in 1952, its success has clearly not been ideal. Family Planning 2020, a vision document prepared in 2014 in India, states that it is “not just about providing contraceptive services to an additional 48 million users but aversion of 23.9 million births, 1 million infants deaths and over 42000 maternal deaths by 2020”. The document was the result of the London Summit 2012 where over 60 developing countries pledged access to family planning services for 120 million (12 crore) additional women, a sizeable 40% of which would have to be generated from India.

The document also says that India is committed to allocate over `12000 crores (2 billion USD) of federal funding alone from 2012 to 2020 on family planning. “Voluntary family planning is one of the great public health advances of recent times,” said C K Mishra, in the vision statement. “Enabling women to make informed decisions about whether and when to have children reduced unintended pregnancies as well as obviates maternal and new-born deaths. It also increases education and economic opportunities for women and leads to healthier families and communities.”

Since the initiative still has a long way to go in India as is clear from our growing population, this is a good time to remember these aims.

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