What 7 Billion Means for Africa
Seven billion people, up from six billion in just 12 years. An absolutely astounding figure. The announcement of the birth of the seven billionth person on Earth was met this week with cautious celebration, however, given the stunning speed at which we arrived at this milestone and governments around the world were faced with a problem we can’t afford to ignore much longer. It’s an undeniable fact that the world cannot accommodate much more than than this for much longer at our present rate of resource consumption and environmental degradation. So the question becomes how do we slow down Mother Earth’s astounding population growth rate?
Well an obvious starting point is to look at areas of the world with the highest population growth rates and find solutions to reduce said rates, which is exactly what New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof has done in his editorial this morning. Kristof cites high birth rates in countries such as Chad, the DRC, the Republic of the Congo, and Somalia as contributing substantially to the world’s high population growth rate and proposes more funding globally for contraceptives as the beginning of a solution. Although I absolutely agree with him that contraceptives should be freely available to women globally, I am hesitant to be optimistic on this solution’s potential.
For one, funding for this type of initiative would depend heavily on more developed, Western countries, like the United States. While these countries absolutely have the resources to finance such a ground-breaking initiative, it is unlikely to obtain enough support given the global economic problems they currently face, as well as the religious opposition to birth control and family planning in the United States. Secondly, before we begin to reduce population growth rates in less developed countries, especially in Africa, it is of critical importance that we examine why women are having upwards of five and six children in some areas. More often than not the children are needed for family support, especially in areas with economies heavily dependent on agriculture, or where diseases such as HIV/AIDS and Malaria have destroyed families and communities.
Addressing issues of poverty, disease, and education in conjunction with providing free contraception to women in poorer countries is a much more holistic solution to a globally relevant problem. Governments all over the world should take the 7 billion mark as an opportunity to push policies that manage and reduce the very problems that got us here. That way we as a global society learn something from this unprecedented milestone; otherwise, it just means perpetuated inequality, poverty, and environmental degradation for Africa and the world.