Population Progress

WORLD population growth was the great untouched issue at the recent United Nations Conference on Environment and Development. But, as most of the participants at that global gathering would have acknowledged, sustained growth and reduced poverty can't be attained without tackling population.

The current yearly increase of 100 million people means that resources could be stretched to their breaking point in the decades ahead. And 95 percent of population growth is coming in regions of the world, particularly Africa and parts of Asia, least able to accommodate it.

The statistical evidence, as presented in the special report on world population in today's Monitor, is daunting. But as the report emphasizes, there's also considerable cause for hope.

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Overall, the developing world has significantly reduced its fertility rate since the 1960s. Behind this lies an international push to disseminate information about birth-control methods and a national recognition that population curbs are essential.

This work, however, has only begun. The advances already made must be broadened through even stronger international support. The United States, for one, could do much more.

Religion and ideology sometimes work against population control. But the exercise of intelligent choice in the formation of families is an elevation of humanity, not a denial of it. And wider third-world distribution of family-planning information is not an effort to reduce the numbers of non-Western people in the world, but an effort to raise the standard of living for all people.

It's true that technological breakthroughs like the "green revolution" enable mankind to sustain greater numbers. But such breakthroughs should go hand in hand with population control. Both are elements of progress.

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