Today's Story Line

Our planet, say the head counters, is now inhabited by 6 billion individuals. It's hard to grasp the number, let alone the potential. If you're American, consider this: The US accounts for just 4.5 percent of the world's total population. Most growth continues in developing nations. India is closing on China as the world's most populous nation. But by educating women, one Indian state has nearly zeroed out its population growth. Other nations are also slowing the pace of procreation or are now grappling with shrinking or aging populations.

What happens when humanitarian workers become targets? Chechnya offers a cautionary tale. The kidnappings and murders of aid workers in recent years have left few willing to help as the latest battles in Chechnya create a fresh wave of refugees

Australia is having second thoughts about its military assistance in East Timor. Its leading role may be hurting its relationships in Asia. The Aussie government says that it wants to scale back its participation and hand control over to UN blue helmets (this page). Quote of note: "Australia is currently involved in the most important foreign policy debate since the end of the Vietnam War." - Robert Manne, La Trobe University.

- David Clark Scott, World editor

REPORTERS ON THE JOB *BACKWATER BOB: How do you unwind after a tough day of reporting in Kerala? The Monitor's Robert Marquand opted for a sunset boat ride, part of what local tourism officials are pitching as a "Backwater Vacation." The southern India state is blessed with countless rivers and inlets that wind past lush mangrove swamps, banana trees, rice paddies, and flocks of water fowl. An hour-long ride costs about $5. The red-tiled roofs of Cochin give the city a European feel, says Bob, and it boasts four-star hotels for $60 a night. The balmy weather and relatively undeveloped surroundings remind Bob of "south Florida of the '30s and '40s, where my Dad grew up," he says.

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