Washington — It's a world race between hunger and population growth. Making his annual appeal to Congress for US donations to foreign aid, Douglas J. Bennet Jr., administrator of the Agency for International Development (AID), told the House Committee on Foreign Affairs Feb. 6 that of the some 4 1/2 billion people living on planet Earth, about 1 billion are hungry or near starvation.
"Despite recent encouraging declines in birthrates," Mr. Bennett testified, "progress in all major fields continues to be frustrated by rapid population growth."
Here is the global picture he drew:
* Some 600 million people chronically hungry, if not starving.
* Another 400 million with food intake that "barely keeps them alive."
* Population growth "at a pace which threatens to undermine gains in food production."
* The world's readily available land reaching its limits.
At the same time, Mr. Bennet told of AID successes:
* In Thailand, AID has helped local health services curb rapid population growth.
* In Ecuador, it plans a $2.3 million water project. "Two-thirds of the population in developing countries lacks access to safe water," Mr. Bennett pointed out.
* In Swaziland, AID is contributing to a long-term effort to revise the primary school education.
* In Nepal, he said, "we plan a $3.3 million grant to help the government introduce improvements in grain, vegetable, and livestock production . . . ."
* In hundreds of similar efforts, industrial nations aid so-called "underdeveloped" (poor) countries through the United Nations. It is a race between population and seemingly finite resources.
Mr. Bennet said the Food for Peace program (US farm exports for humanitarian purposes) will be increased by $100 million because of the cut in grain sales to the USSR. The main goal, he said, is to help undeveloped countries feed themselves.
Seventeen industrialized nations in the UN's Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development are asked to give 7/10ths of 1 percent (0.7) of their gross national product for assistance. Sweden currently gives 0.9 percent; the United States budgets about 0.27 percent, ranking low on the list of 17. President Carter's 1981 budget asks about $8.5 billion for aid in all categories, but this includes uncertain variables like Food for Peace and refugee relief.