WITH world population approaching 5.6 billion and growing by nearly 100 million each year, it should be clear to participants at the Group of Seven (G-7) economic summit in Tokyo this week that any long-range remedy for global economic ills must include plans for slowing down the stork.
Any questions about prioritizing population on the Tokyo agenda should vanish after leaders consider that virtually all demographic expansion occurs in developing countries - those least able to accommodate such rapid growth. More than 90 percent of the poorest countries in the world are projected to double their current populations within the next 30 years.
The remedy to rampant population growth is universal availability and accessibility of modern family planning, established by a number of international forums as a basic human right. But according to the International Planned Parenthood Federation, an estimated 500 million women around the world who want to regulate their fertility do not have quality family planning information and services.
Governments of developing countries pay an estimated 80 percent of the costs of their national family planning programs. They depend upon industrialized-world assistance to make up the difference. While previous G-7 summits have paid lip service to the necessity of lowering world fertility, the time has come for stronger support.
President Clinton, participating in his first G-7 summit, is the logical world leader to call for that commitment.
Nine years ago, the United States stunned representatives to the International Conference on Population in Mexico City by announcing that population growth was a "neutral" factor in development.
The US, which had already cut contributions to the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF), then ceased all support to the United Nations Population Fund (UNPFA). The policy remained in effect through the Reagan and Bush administrations. IPPF and UNFPA are, respectively, the largest private agency and the largest multilateral organization providing population and family planning services to developing countries. The US had been the leading donor to both.
MR. Clinton has called the Reagan-Bush international population policy "shameful," an attempt "to appease the anti-choice wing" of the Republican Party. One of his first acts was to overturn the Mexico-City policy that prohibited organizations such as IPPF from supporting private organizations offering abortions overseas, even with their own private funds. The current administration's budget proposal calls for the first US funds for UNFPA since 1985.
A 1989 meeting of population experts, convened by the UN in Amsterdam, concluded that it would require a doubling of international population assistance from $4.5 billion to $9 billion annually by the year 2000 to stabilize the world's numbers at the UN medium projection of 11.2 billion. That increase could begin with the G-7 countries pledging to double their contributions. If Clinton is serious about reasserting US leadership to stem the tide of world population growth, he should urge economic summit l eaders to dedicate themselves to that goal.
Rapid population growth is one problem that can be solved by mobilizing political will and resources. Prudent investment in family planning would be less expensive than the disaster relief and human misery and suffering that are the inevitable toll of unchecked demographic growth.