UN Population Report: Opening Volley for '90s

THE world holds 5.3 billion people today. That number will double or triple before population growth stops around the year 2100. A United Nations Population Fund report released today recommends that governments make radical choices to control population growth. Such moves would provide options for future generations.

The report concludes that policymakers should focus on a comprehensive strategy including choices that slow population growth, attack poverty, and protect the environment.

The first three decades of active family planning (1960-90) brought significant cuts in population growth. Contraceptive availability and use has risen from 9 percent worldwide in 1960-65 to an estimated 50 percent in 1990, the report says.

But the UN Population Fund finds that ``in many cases it has proved relatively easy to cut the fertility rate from six children per woman to four ... [But] it has often proved much harder to pull off the next phase of cutting fertility from four to two, since this requires a deeper change in the desired family sizes.''

South Korea, Indonesia, and Zimbabwe have demonstrated that national governments can provide effective leadership in slowing population growth. Successful local involvement is also noted in programs in Bali, Mexico, and Kenya.

According to the UN report, if only $9 billion was spent annually on population management, it would bring a major reduction in environmental damage caused by burgeoning growth.

``Slower population growth would provide a `time cushion' - a period in which to find cleaner technologies,'' the report says. It cites UN Environmental Programme findings that show extensive deterioration of cropland and rangelands. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization reports that ``18 percent of all cropland could be lost completely if no conservation measures [are] taken.''

A ``time cushion'' provided by slower population growth would allow for efforts to control the damage.

But population control strategy is only part of an overall program for development, the report observes. It says ``human resource development is the only sector of development that is both a means and an end in itself. An end, because it improves equity and the quality of life. A means, because it is the foundation of sustainable economic growth.''

Between 90 million and 100 million people will be added to the world each year in the '90s, the report says. Their prospects hinge on decisions made now. -30-{et

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