Population growth and poverty

Essay, 2003

15 Pages, Grade: distinction


Population growth and poverty

Is the world overpopulated, and does population growth help explain the growth in world poverty and malnutrition?

In 2001 the UN had revised its past world population growth prognoses. Already in 2043 and not in 2052, nine billion people will live on earth. (Coiplet, 2001, Homepage). These prognoses are based on the fact that since 1960 the population of the world are more than doubled. In this rapid growth many positive developments are reflected, which improved the life circumstances of many people considerably. Thus the number of child deaths sank drastically worldwide. The life expectancy of 48 years in 1955 has risen to 65 years in 2000. People are on the average healthier and better nourished than ever before. The part of people, who suffer on chronic malnutrition in developing countries, sank in this period from approximately forty to twenty per cent. (DSW, 2001a, Homepage) Simultaneously the natural resources have changed dramatically. Water and air pollution increase as well as the overuse of farmland and the global warming. Besides the world population development creates new social areas of conflict (migration and refugee movements, poverty, etc.), as well as new political and economical conflicts (resource wars, risen gab between poverty and wealth, etc.).

This essay examines the development of the world population, their effects on the poverty and malnutrition, the causes of the population explosion and the present national and international activities and projects to contain this problem.

Is the world overpopulated?

99.9 percent of time since mankind exists, the total population did not reach twenty million people. The phenomenon of an exponentially growing population has developed since the last 300 years. Thus the first billion of people was reached in

1804, the second billion already in 1927, 23 years later the third and in 1974 the fourth billion. In 1987 the world population amounted five billion and finally the today's conditions of nearly 6.4 billion people has been reached. Therefore it becomes clear that the time intervals will shorten to the next billions. (Geoscience, 1998-2001, Homepage) Illustration 1 shows the world population trend until 2100.

It was frequently reverted to the “demographic transition theory" (Handwerker, 1986, p.2) to interpret the worldwide population trend, which develops from the experiences of the European population process. According to this theory, birth and mortality rates are very high in traditional societies (stage 1). (Simmons, 1988, p.92) Where a large number of child deaths is prevailed and the population is decimated by epidemics, hunger emergencies and wars, many children need to be born. Consequently the society remains in demographic balance. However this stable situation changes with the decrease of the mortality rate. Based on the medicalhygienic progress the mortality rate has been lowered, but the birth rate remains equivalent (stage 2). (Simmons, 1988, p.92) These resulting problems could be captured in Europe, because the agrarian revolution enlarged the food basis since the end of the 17th century and the industrial revolution created a large number of jobs. Also the exploitation of resources from the colonies played an important role. The large number of emigration, particularly to North America, facilitated the demographic pressure. Increasingly the economical and social modernisation process introduced social security systems. That decreased the existence threat through illness, accident or disablement risk. Thus the necessity was reduced to have many children, which introduced a change of the generative behaviour. The birth rate adapted to the mortality rate, a new demographic balance on lower level had arisen (stage 3). (Muenz, Ulrich, 2002, Homepage) Meanwhile this balance turns over toward a decrease of population in some parts of Europe.

The question is whether the demographic transition in developing countries could take place in a similar way as in Europe. After all 97 percent of the worldwide population growth are in developing countries. (Coiplet, 2001, Homepage) But there are substantial differences between the European and “Third World” development. Actually in the today's development countries there were no pre- increases in the agricultural sectors and the associated increase of the food production. The industrial revolution have not taken place in kind and extent, which would make it possible to create a large number of jobs for an increasing population. Migration possibilities are missing, as they were given to the Europeans by the new colonies in the last centuries. Instead of political and economical erroneous trends, insufficient development strategies and the strong population growth contributed to the emergence of mass poverty. That makes the demographic transition substantially more difficult in some regions of the world. Beyond that traditional, cultural and religious values have also influenced the family size. Therefore the demographic transition theory needs to be understood as a possibility to relax the situation of world population, but not as a “law“, that prognosticates surely.

But the demographic theory is not the first theory which tries to explain the dramatically population trend. There are many other explanation attempts, which cannot be designated in this essay. But one of the longest discussed theories is those of Robert Malthus.

Consequences of the population of over - hunger

The vision of an overpopulated and underfed planet had been developed by Thomas Robert Malthus in his “Essay of the principle of population as it affects the future improvement of society” in 1798. (Malthus, 1798, Homepage) That was a time, when England was characterized by the agricultural era and the industrial revolution began. Malthu’s doctrine stated that the population would grow exponentially, while the quantity of grain would increase only linear. Therefore it must inevitably lead to hunger emergencies.

Hunger is a problem without an end. Only the modern economy could reduce this lack. In addition it actually succeeded to reduce the percentage of those inhabitants, which suffer from malnutrition from 29 percent to 18 percent within the last 20 years. (Haas, 2001, Homepage). Due to the population growth the absolute number of undernourished people did not change particularly. About 815 million people are undernourished and 20,000 children starve every day. According to FAO the number of those people has risen considerably in most developing countries during the nineties (Haas, 2001, Homepage). Inevitably the question is been forced, if nevertheless Malthus is right, that those people could be help by an increase of food production?

Hunger is a problem of bad distribution and not of a lack in production. The first (most privileged) 10 percent of the population use 30 percent of the available food. Going further, about 23 percent of the population use half of the food, and half of the population uses 75% of the food. (Lutz, 2002, p. 207) In addition developing countries cultivate far more agricultural effective areas per capita than in Europe. The self-sufficiency degree of the developing countries sinks nevertheless. Reasons are the not only ineffective, but also wrong agriculture, which leads to poverty and hunger. On these large surfaces cash crops as coffee, tea, cacao, soy bone etc. are cultivated to achieve export incomes. (Brendel, 2003, Homepage). That happens mostly on best soils under intensive use of water, fertilizer etc.. Furthermore the predominant worldwide part of the grain, corn and the soybean are used as food for cattle. Also structural determinations cause hunger. Intensive farming are subsidized by the West and as a result the rice is pressed down in the Third World. Therefore each chance of survival is taken from the resident farmers. This dynamics can also been shown in developing countries, where large companies displace the small-scale farming’s and lead the population into dangerous dependence. (Brendel, 2003, Homepage) For the sake of the completeness it needs to be added that regional hunger disasters have also been activated by wars (Iraq, Afghanistan, the Congo, Liberia etc..) or the mismanagement of totalitarian regime (as in North Korea). “Hunger is both a violation of human dignity and an obstacle to social, political and economic progress. International law recognizes that everyone has the fundamental right to be free from hunger, and 22 countries have enshrined food rights in their constitutions. National governments must do everything possible to ensure that people have the physical and economic access to enough safe, nutritious food to lead healthy and active lives.” That is said in the World Food Summit 2002 Fact sheet. (FAO, 2002, Homepage)

Hunger is one of many other consequences of overpopulation. It has to be pointed out again that hunger is not under any circumstances the only result of overpopulation and that a country does not need to suffer coercive from hunger because it is overpopulated. However connections exist between these two facts.


Excerpt out of 15 pages


Population growth and poverty
La Trobe University Melbourne  (Sociology)
Development, Globalization and Culture
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ISBN (eBook)
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Population, Development, Globalization, Culture
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Olesja Büchner (Author), 2003, Population growth and poverty, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/22134


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