A TIDAL WAVE OF HUMANITY
People are pouring into the world at spectacular speed. In the minute it takes to read these words, 150 babies will be born. In one year they will be joined by 80 million others -- the equivalent of another Mexico. In just 16 years world population will swell to 6 billion people, concentrated mostly in the poorer, overcrowded two-thirds of the world where life is already extremely difficult -- Chinese cities, Bangladeshi villages, Kenyan slums, Nigerian hovels , Latin American shantytowns, and on the open, teeming streets of Calcutta and Bombay.Skip to next paragraph
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What is to be done? Can third-world men and women be given the same opportunities to have fewer children that adults in richer nations have long taken for granted? Can the status of women be raised and their chances for education be increased? Can the fear of infant mortality and of old age without large numbers of sons be overcome?
As the second United Nations World Conference on Population opens today in Mexico City. the Monitor begins a five-part series that asks, and tries to answer, these vital questions based on research in the villages and capitals of nine countries on four continents.
He Li-Lian in Peking knows it. Her daughter has one child, ''and if she came to me saying she was to have another,'' she says flatly, ''I would order her not to.''
Saroj Bala, a tiny figure in a blue and yellow sari in a New Delhi slum, knows it. Married to a poor picture-framer, she is in her early 20s but has limited her family to two children.
Neneng Nasir in Jakarta, knows it. She has three daughters, ''and three is enough,'' she says.
Yet many people in the affluent Western world still don't know it - or they've heard it so many times that they have tuned out:
The already overcrowded third world - Asia, Africa, and Latin America, where some 3.6 billion people, or three-quarters of the globe live - is still adding so many people at such a dangerous speed that the quality of life there is seriously threatened.
Much has already been done to combine economic development with available family-planning methods and information. Rates of growth for the world as a whole dropped from 2 percent to 1.7 percent a year in the decade to 1984.
Yet that fall was mainly in the Western, developed world and China.
Everywhere else, much, much more remains to be done.
A sheer and growing weight of numbers is combining with other factors to thin out food and water supplies, to swamp schoolrooms, to pour ever more rural illiterates into the teeming shantytowns of mushrooming cities, to heighten tensions, and to contribute to restlessness and violence.
Each year the world as a whole is adding the equivalent of another Mexico (almost 80 million people) - and 73 million of them are in the third world.
The rate of growth in poorer countries since World War II is unprecedented in history, as the World Bank Development Report for 1984 points out.
By 1990 the globe will be adding another Nigeria (90 million) a year: that means 250,000 daily, or some 10,417 new people every hour.
The population in the third world alone, the World Bank says, is expected to soar to 5 billion by the year 2000 (more than the entire population of the world today) and to 7 billion by 2025.
Already about half of the third world is aged 16 or less. Forty percent (1.4 billion) is under 14. These youngsters will soon be bearing children and looking for jobs.
It took Europe hundreds of years to achieve the kind of growth that is occurring in the third world today. When Europe was building the factories of its industrial revolution, its population was growing at about 1.5 percent a year. It had wide open spaces of land, and those who wanted to emigrate had the world to choose from.
Today, large-scale emigration from the third world is simply not possible: Habitable places in the developed world are crowded too. Fertile land is at a premium.