Two agencies disagree on whether growing population is a problem

A new report issued by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) contends that population growth has resulted in human misery and environmental ruin throughout the world. UNFPA claims these problems will become calamitous unless women gain access to reproductive services, which includes abortion.

UNFPA’s annual State of the World Population (“Footprints and Milestones”) issued in November almost completely contradicts a report issued a month earlier by the UN’s official statisticians, the Population Division of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs. In World Population Monitoring 2001, Population, Environment and Development, these statisticians highlight key improvements in human living conditions and predict continuing improvements. They conclude that population growth has not been primarily responsible for environmental damage, and that growth will not overwhelm food supplies for the next 50 years.

The ultimate message of UNFPA’s “Footprints and Milestones,” is that the world must slow human population growth in order to save the environment.

The Population Division report comes to the opposite conclusion, saying, “Even for those environmental problems that are concentrated in countries with rapid population growth, it is not necessarily the case that population increase is the main root cause, nor that slowing population growth would make an important contribution to resolving the problem.”

UNFPA claims that population growth has led to intractable poverty, and that “poverty persists and deepens.” The Population Division disagrees saying, “From 1900 to 2000, world population grew from 1.6 billion persons to 6.1 billion. However, while the world population increased close to four times, world real gross domestic output increased 20 to 40 times, allowing the world to not only sustain a four-fold population increase, but also to do so at vastly higher standards of living.” The Population Division adds that, “even many low-income countries have achieved substantial improvements in the quality and length of life.”

According to the UNFPA report, “In many countries population growth has raced ahead of food production in recent years.” And because of population growth, “some 800 million people are chronically malnourished and two billion people lack food security.” The Population Division, however, disagrees, contending that food is not scarce. They report that “over the period 1961-1998 world per capita food available for human consumption increased by 24 per cent, and there is enough being produced for everyone on the planet to be adequately nourished.” The Population Division also insists that hunger is not caused by population growth. “People have inadequate physical and/or economic access to food as a result of poverty, political instability, economic inefficiency and social inequity.”

UNFPA is considered a very controversial and ideological agency. The Population Division, however, is considered to be a more authoritative and non-ideological source. Population Division head Joseph Chamie today said “UNFPA is a fund; they have an agenda. The Population Division does not put out a report that has any advocacy role.”