World population hits 7 billion, but there are easy ways to curb growth
Water, food, and resource shortages, environmental degradation, poverty – population growth is endangering people and planet alike. By 2050 we'll need two planets just to contain us. The good news: Population growth does not have to rise as fast as projected.
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Lack of access to contraceptives, however, is only one of the reasons that women are not able to prevent pregnancies in developing countries. The larger challenge is delaying the age of marriage. Child marriages lead to early and dangerous pregnancies and high birth rates. Shockingly, an average of 25,000 girls a day become child brides. In rural Yemen, for example, girls are often married at the age of 9 or 10. That is why a group of former presidents and world leaders, called the Elders, has launched the international “Girls Not Brides” campaign aimed at ending the practice of child brides through partnerships with aid and nongovernmental organizations all over the world.Skip to next paragraph
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Child marriage is already illegal in most countries. What is urgently needed are programs that make it worthwhile for parents to keep their girls in school. The UN’s World Food Programme, for example, provides school lunches for girls and, in some cases, allows food to be taken home.
There are also proven, low-cost strategies for changing social norms. Targeted efforts aimed at ending such harmful practices as foot-binding in China and female genital mutilation in Senegal have been successful. Similarly, by role-modeling the benefits of smaller families and delaying marriage, entertainment programs have achieved transformational results in countries such as Mexico and Brazil. Today, radio soap operas reaching remote villages in poor developing countries can inform women about their family planning options, and improve attitudes and behaviors towards girls and women.
Combined with family planning services and information, these kinds of education and social-change campaigns can lower birth rates, decrease maternal and child mortality, empower women, boost food security, improve economic prospects, and save the environment.
Some have argued that because of declining birth rates, concerns about population growth are a thing of the past. But hitting the 7 billion milestone is no reason to “pop the champagne,” as one commentator suggested.
In a world struggling with climate change and rising energy and food costs, we underestimate the impact of population growth at our peril. But it’s not an insurmountable challenge, and addressing it would constitute a "win-win-win" proposition for people, posterity, and the planet.
Robert J. Walker is the executive vice president of the Population Institute, a nonprofit organization seeking to achieve a world population that can live in harmony with the planet.
ANOTHER VIEW: Sustainable population, minus the control