Millennium Post

World Population Day: Unity at the crux

Coordinated global effort towards harnessing the potential of people, leading to stabilisation of population and equitable distribution of resources, is the need of the hour

World Population Day: Unity at the crux

The world has seen tremendous advancement in the fields of science and technology. There was great hope that such awesome scientific progress would solve our problems and provide resources and facilities that would ensure the well-being of current and future generations. Supercomputers, communication at the speed of light and travel at the speed of sound, and a vast array of high-tech gadgets have led to spectacular material progress. Nanotechnology and Artificial Intelligence have opened doors for even greater progress whether it be agriculture, education, medical sciences, space exploration, interplanetary travel, and what-have-you. And yet human beings continue to grapple with some of the most basic issues surrounding our existential reality.

On the occasion of the United Nations' World Population Day let's recall the dire predictions of Thomas Malthus and Paul Ehrlich that led to skewed Government policies. The latter's 'The Population Bomb', 1968 revised in 1975, that overpopulation would result in widespread famines and a host of other serious problems, proved to be wrong. In India, one cannot forget the action by the then Government when some 8 million male adults were sterilized, many of them by force. China legislated a one-child policy that it has now overturned due to a shrinking able-bodied workforce with a significant portion of its more than 1.4 billion population having crossed 60 years or more. In essence: Ehrlich's 'The Population Bomb' was a wrong diagnosis resulting in wrong solutions. And yet, he must be credited for raising environmental awareness more than anyone else in the 1970s and 1980s.

The lesson learnt is that the art of predicting the future has proved to be other than an exact science. The world population increased dramatically in the 20th Century, from 1.6 billion in 1900 to 6.1 billion in 2000. Since then, we have added another billion every 14 years or so, a breakneck speed that looks set to continue for a while. By 2042, we will be 9 billion. Alarm bells are sounded from time to time, especially from the perspective of food security, economic disparities, migration and refugees, and disasters, there are concerns that underpopulation would cause serious challenges for sustainability. A recent study to explore current and projected population changes around the world states that Europe and Asia are shrinking, while Africa is still growing.

In 1989, the United Nations designated July 11 as a day to 'reflect' on population issues. The theme for 2022 is: "A world of 8 billion: Towards a resilient future for all - Harnessing opportunities and ensuring rights and choices for all". The world we live in does not provide a level playing field, and it has never been so in all of past history. At this critical juncture when the intractable problems confronting nations have been fused into one common concern, failure to tackle the population growth in tandem with a host of other challenges would be unconscionably irresponsible. Based on gender, ethnicity, class, religion, sexual orientation, disability and origin, too many people are still exposed to discrimination, harassment and violence.

The United Nations' 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) provided humanity with a framework that involved the largest consultation ever conducted by the world community in which over eight million people from 193 countries participated. Within this framework that accommodates a diversity of approaches, built on a commitment to unity and a shared ethic of justice, people everywhere were urged to implement the countless arrangements and formulations. Within such a framework, differences in political structure, legal systems and social organization are regarded as sources of potential insight in the search for new solutions in a spirit of mutual benefit. The central task encapsulated into 17 Goals, 169 targets and 238 indicators were disseminated to build capacity in more and more collaborators with the ultimate objective of promoting universal participation in establishing a unified global community.

Since the launch of Agenda 2030 in September 2015, much has been learnt along with many setbacks. Only eight years remain, despite the current grim scenario, what is urgently needed is a settled consensus and acknowledgement that the oneness of the human family is not to call for uniformity or to relinquish the wide range of established systems of governance. Just a look at two of the goals would be sufficient to understand where we are headed. Goal number 1 – No Poverty: "End poverty in all its forms everywhere"; number 2 – Zero Hunger: "End hunger, achieve food security and improve nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture". Last year the UN Secretary-General wrote in his World Population Day message: "In every corner of the world, we are seeing a reversal of hard-won gains and an erosion of women's reproductive rights, choices and agency. With the onset of the pandemic, resources for sexual and reproductive health services were diverted. These gaps in access to health rights are unacceptable... Let us pledge to ensure the reproductive health rights of everyone, everywhere."

There are spiritual principles, or what some call human values by which solutions can be found for every humanitarian or social problem. However optimistic one would wish to be yet there seems to be a paralysis of will on the part of world leaders. National agendas take precedence over global concerns and there is a deep-seated conviction of the inevitable quarrelsomeness among sections of the population, which has led to the reluctance to entertain the possibility of subordinating national self-interest and an unwillingness to face courageously the far-reaching implications of establishing a united world authority. It is also traceable to the incapacity of largely ignorant and subjugated masses to articulate their desire for a new world order in which they can live in peace, harmony and prosperity with all humanity. The task before the community of nations, then, is to ensure that the machinery of international policies and power is increasingly directed toward cooperation and unity so that the capacities latent in the people are harnessed for population stabilization and the finite resources of the planet are distributed more equitably. Time is running out and the choices we make are, therefore, an issue of unparalleled importance.

The writer is a social worker and independent researcher based in New Delhi. Views expressed are personal

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