WASHINGTON — THE earth's population is soaring faster than at any time in the history of mankind: -Up 3 people every second.
-Up 10,800 people every hour.
-Up 250,000 every day.
-Up 91 million every year.
Experts warn that the dangers of poverty, starvation, and environmental damage are increasing because of this uncontrolled growth. They say that the 1990s will be the last chance to prevent a tripling of the world's population that could bring terrible hardships to poor countries.
Currently, the world's population is estimated at 5.3 billion. That is up 842 million since 1980. Growth during the 1990s is projected at nearly 1 billion, which is like adding an entire China to the world's population.
Time is running out, according to a study released today by the Population Crisis Committee in Washington. But the report says there is still hope. With decisive action, world population growth could finally be halted at 9.3 billion people - or nearly twice as many as today.
But without strong steps during this decade, experts predict that worldwide population will spin out of control before eventually leveling off at around 14.2 billion.
Sharon Camp, vice president of the Population Crisis Committee, explains: ``If we do business as usual in the '90s as we did in the '80s, there is nothing we can do in the next century to prevent a tripling of the world's population.''
A congressional expert, who agrees with Dr. Camp's conclusions, says: ``Virtually everything we do with our foreign aid programs is going to be swallowed up by this problem unless we solve it.''
To the dismay of experts, the Bush administration has proposed a cut in the budget for population programs in the 1991 fiscal year.
Last year, President Bush requested $201 million for worldwide population assistance. Congress increased that to $220 million. But this year, Mr. Bush cut the request to approximately $197 million, a figure Congress will probably again try to raise.
THE US contributes more than any other nation to international population assistance. Japan ($57.2 million) and Norway ($48.7 million) are other major donors. However, on a per capita basis, the US (92 cents) lags far behind others such as Norway ($11.60), Denmark ($3.55), and Sweden ($3.38).
Nafis Sadik, executive director of the United Nations Population Fund, noted in a speech last week that the largest population increases are happening in the poorest nations - ``those least equipped to meet the needs of new arrivals and invest in their future.''
Mr. Sadik said: ``The 1990s will see faster increases in human numbers than any decade in history. The 1990s will be a decisive decade. All that Asian countries have struggled to achieve could be swept away.''
The Population Crisis Committee's report finds that worldwide spending on birth control programs currently totals $3.2 billion. Of that amount, the developing countries contribute 80 percent, while the industrialized nations put in only 20 percent.
The study concludes that to get the job done, spending would have to rise to $10.5 billion annually by the year 2000. Most of that increase would have to come from the US and other developed nations.
Experts single out several geographic areas as the most critical in the coming decade.
The Indian subcontinent, where rapid growth continues, is probably the most pivotal. ``If we can get India to meet its targets, we could be optimistic,'' Camp says. ``If not, the game is probably lost.''
Despite long-term efforts, India's progress has lagged. Only 40 percent of couples there use birth control devices, a figure that needs to rise to 75 percent to move toward stability.
Bangladesh and Pakistan are also worrisome. Bangladesh is trying hard, Camp says, but is hampered by poverty.
Africa also remains a big concern. Populations are rising swiftly in the dry northern regions, where water supplies restrict food output. In sub-Saharan Africa, birth control remains out of reach for most people because of widespread poverty.
Substantial progress is reported in China, South and Central America, and Mexico. In China, the number of children per family has dropped to 2.4 - near the replacement level, a fraction above 2.0.