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President’s Message

A startling analysis of the numerous global problems caused by population growth concisely itemizes the various problems facing the planet and presents extensively referenced evidence of the central role of population growth in driving these problems to the crisis stage.

The crumbling infrastructure of many urban centers in the less developed countries underscores American author Bruce Sundquist’s conclusion that each one percent growth of population requires a capital investment of 12.5% of a nation’s gross national product just to keep its educational, industrial, commercial and transportation infrastructure, plus housing, land development and utilities at current per capita levels.

Worldwide, developing nations now require about $1 trillion per year in new infrastructure development just to accommodate their population growth – a figure that is very far from being met and is effectively impossible for these countries to generate. This explains why developed-world humanitarian aid and loans to developing nations of $56 billion per year have been ineffective in improving their infrastructure and why the infrastructure of the developing world is sagging under the demands of the equivalent of a new Los Angeles County in additional population numbers (9.5 million) every six weeks.

The correlation between external debt of developing countries and population growth rate is strong. Of the 41 countries designated as “heavily indebted poor countries” by the World Bank, 39 fall into the category of high-fertility nations, where women, on average, bear four or more children. Similarly, the 48 countries identified by the U.N. as “least developed” are expected to triple their population by 2050. As a whole, the developing world is struggling to make payments of $270 billion per year on its $2.5 trillion external debt – a debt that is increasing by another $1 trillion every decade.

The capital shortages caused by population growth make it increasingly difficult for developing countries to keep pace with the growing need for schools. One of the main reasons for the CIA’s pessimistic forecast for the Middle East is the region’s weak educational system – a capital cost associated with population growth. This produces generations lacking in the technical and problem-solving skills required for economic growth. On top of this, massive rural to urban migration in developing countries is making the situation in large urban centers increasingly desperate, with growing slums that lack basic sanitation and water. In fact, Sundquist’s report points to the potential for this migration to greatly increase in future years. As agricultural systems become more capital-intensive, huge numbers of people in rural areas will become unemployed. Given higher rates of population growth in rural areas, projections of rural to urban migration over the next 30 years are startling. During that time, as many as four billion people may migrate from rural areas of developing countries either to join the one billion living in urban slums or emigrating to developed nations, such as the United States. This is a formula for political, social and economic instability worldwide.

Sundquist’s report also analyzes the disastrous effects of rapid population growth on soil erosion, depletion of forests, increased flooding, overgrazing of grasslands, salination of soil through irrigation, exhaustion of underground aquifers (used for irrigation), destruction of coral reefs, siltation of dam backwaters, and species extinction. In addition, many of the world’s fisheries face collapse – in large part, because the world’s fishing fleet has a fishing capacity twice that of the sustainable yield of the world’s wild fisheries.

“Using the media to motivate family planning, AIDS prevention and respect for women.”Data from demographic surveys worldwide make it clear that non-use of family planning is not primarily the result of lack of access to contraceptive services. Rather, the leading reasons people cite for not using family planning are the desire for more children, fear of side effects from contraceptives, perceived or actual male opposition, religious opposition, and the belief that one does not have the right or ability to determine the number or spacing of children. These cultural and informational issues can only be addressed through communication strategies, such as those of Population Media Center, that change societal norms.

The cost in human suffering that results from excessive childbearing is staggering:

- 600,000 women and girls die worldwide every year from pregnancy and childbirth – a figure equal to U.S. deaths in World War I, World War II, the Korean War and Vietnam combined. Most of these women are in their teens and early twenties, forced by their societies into bearing children at a young age and far too frequently.

- 140,000 women bleed to death each year during childbirth. Tragically, many die within reach of medical facilities because their relatives refuse to allow them to be treated by male doctors.

- 75,000 women die each year trying to end their pregnancies. The U.N. estimates that worldwide, 50,000 women and girls try to induce abortions on themselves each day (18.3 million per year). Many of those who survive face life-long, disabling pain.

- Approximately 100,000 women die each year from infection, and another 40,000 women die from the agony of prolonged labor. And those are only the fatalities. UNICEF’s statistics show that for every woman who dies, 30 survive with gruesome injuries and disabilities. That’s more than 17 million women per year.

Add to that the exhausting burden of repeated pregnancies and births, and you have a global picture of suffering on the part of women that demands global response.

What is infuriating is that these deaths and tragic injuries are almost entirely preventable. Since these figures were compiled, however, U.S. support for preventive family planning information and services has been slashed. Given the worldwide shortage of funds for such programs, the very cost-effective mass media strategy used by Population Media Center makes more sense than ever.

It is likely that the world will experience a nearly 50% increase in its population over the next 50 years, taking the global total to about 9 billion. Even this projection assumes continued declines in fertility rates from current levels. And yet, two-thirds of the population of sub-Saharan Africa lives in countries with an average of five children or more per woman. Countries like India, Bangladesh, Egypt and Argentina have had their fertility rates plateau above replacement levels, some for decades.

Population size is a multiplier of per capita impacts on the climate. Net growth of the world’s population by the equivalent of a new Ethiopia every year (around 78 million) is offsetting gains in energy efficiency. Ultimately, all countries will need to stop population growth because of the limits to energy, fresh water, ecosystem services, forests and agricultural production. Developed countries have the highest per capita impact on the climate, so they should play a leadership role in global population stabilization and reduction rather than providing incentives for increasing fertility.

The climate crisis is an urgent and important problem. It is one of the symptoms of human numbers outstripping the planet’s carrying capacity, and it is becoming so urgent that some people are switching from addressing the population issue to preparing to adapt to an overheated world.

These issues are two sides of the same coin. As Chris Rapley, the head of the Science Museum in London, said, “Saving a gigaton of carbon by reducing our 2050 population by 1 billion, through education for women and family planning information and services, would cost 1,000 times less than any of the other technical options – nuclear power, renewables, or increased car efficiency.”

John Guillebaud of Oxford wrote, “One less baby in the family, in the UK, equates to NOT driving 3 million miles (in a low carbon Toyota Prius!).

These are just two illustrations of the importance of population growth as a driver of increasing carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere.

Given the problems of poverty, water and resource shortages, loss of wilderness, species extinction and global warming (to mention a few), 50% growth in human numbers could well be disastrous for the world environment and its people. This is especially true if consumption rates by developing countries continue to climb with their expanding economies. The poorest countries may experience 100% population growth or more in the next three to five decades, adding to the poverty, unemployment, and environmental degradation that currently are driving people into desperation in parts of Africa, Asia and the Middle East.

The reduction in fertility rates that has occurred in many countries in the last several decades did not just happen. It was the result of dedicated efforts to make family planning services available, to popularize small family norms through the mass media, to elevate the status of women and girls, and to promote economic development.

The world has no long-term option other than to stop population growth and to begin the process of population decrease toward a sustainable level. And yet, the developed world as a whole has failed to come close to meeting the commitments made at the International Conference on Population and Developement, held in Cairo in 1994. The developing world is so capital-starved due to its high population growth rate that allocating some portion of government budgets to reproductive health care is often extremely difficult. Both developed and developing countries would need to triple their contributions to come close to what they committed to in Cairo. The lives of billions of developing-world people are being rendered increasingly desperate by being denied access to family planning information and services that they want and need.

The cost-benefit analysis of different strategies for addressing population growth carried out by Sundquist shows that by far the most cost-effective and humane strategy is to provide information, motivation and clinical family planning services that will prevent this horrendous toll of human suffering and will provide a “demographic bonus” with regard to infrastructure demands on governments struggling to stay even with growing populations.

It is, indeed, in the area of information and motivation that the greatest shortfall is occurring globally. And yet the behavior-change communication strategies used by Population Media Center have been demonstrated to be by far the most cost-effective means of averting births. At the same time, these strategies expand the options and rights of women and girls far beyond their current fate of early and repeated childbearing.

Meeting the entire need for family planning information and services of just $15.2 billion per year for several decades could reap a long-term benefit of over $1 trillion per year in reduced need for developing world infrastructure growth. The point of this analysis, according to Sundquist, is that donors who care about population issues should support groups like Population Media Center as a much higher priority and at greater levels of support than sinking large amounts of money into amelioration of problems after the fact.

There is no more cost-effective use of charitable dollars than in preventing unplanned and unwanted births and reducing birth rates worldwide through information and motivation.

We are pleased by the phenomenal growth Population Media Center has experienced in the last several years and the recognition accorded PMC by the United Nations, broadcasters and NGOs in developing countries, and by the many individuals, foundations, corporations, and governments supporting our work. Our programs make a difference in the lives of individuals who may have no other means of learning how smaller families can improve the quality of their lives.

An indication of the impact of our programs is that in countries where PMC has programs on the air, a third to over half of new reproductive health clients coming into clinics say they are there becasue one of PMC’s serial dramas. Our programs make dramatic differences in the health and welfare of millions of individuals, as well as contributing to economic improvement in some of the world’s poorest countries.

PMC is helping people understand the importance of responsible parenthood, rights of women, education of girls, and communication between husbands and wives about the future of their families. PMC’s founding members have been leaders for decades in the population field and have literally created the highly effective genre of entertainment-education serial dramas. PMC continues to innovate and use the media to mobilize massive, society-wide attitude change regarding issues affecting families, communities and the planet.

PMC seeks your help in bringing our programs to countries in need. If you would like to support this work, please donate now.

The work of PMC is helping prevent the needless suffering of millions around the world. Population Media Center is proud to be acting for change.

-Bill Ryerson


2010/2011 Annual Report

In 2010-2011, PMC had projects in Brazil, Burkina Faso, Caribbean, Ethiopia, Mexico, Nigeria, Papua New Guinea, Senegal, Sierra Leone, the United States, Vietnam and a worldwide electronic game.

2010/2011 Annual Report (PDF, 5.5 MB)

Soap Operas for Social Change to Prevent HIV/AIDS

This training guide is designed to be used by journalists and media personnel to plan and execute the production and broadcast of Sabido-style entertainment-education serial dramas for HIV/AIDS prevention, especially among women and girls.

Using the Media to Achieve Reproductive Health and Gender Equity

In 2005, as a companion piece to the training guide, PMC developed a manual documenting best practices in the application of the Sabido methodology of behavior change via entertainment-education.

Read more about these guides and download »