THREE decades ago, many pundits were saying that an ever-rising population could lead to global disaster. They argued that ecological catastrophe, resource wars and other tragedies were inevitable unless radical measures were taken to defuse the coming “population bomb”. Happily, a mixture of technological innovation, economic dynamism and successful population-control strategies have helped defuse that bomb, or at least delay its detonation.
As the United Nations commemorated World Population Day this week, there was reason for cheer. Population experts have been busy revising their long-term scenarios downward to account for falling fertility not only in wealthy Europe and Japan but also in poor countries like Bangladesh and Kenya. Stan Bernstein of the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) even insists that “this is one of the great development success stories of the last 40 to 50 years,” pointing out that the active use of family-planning techniques in developing countries has shot up from 10% to 12% in the early 1960s to over 60% today.
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