10/31/2011 11:33 EDT | Updated 12/31/2011 05:12 EST

World's Population Is a Growing Crisis


We have reached an unprecedented milestone. According to the United Nations, the world's population has reached seven billion people. It's been clear for the last few years that the seven billion mark was imminent. And because we've been inching toward it for some time, many will ignore its larger implications.

Since the very beginning, approximately 100 billion people have lived and died on this planet. From that earliest moment until 1800, only one billion had accumulated. By 1920 the two billion mark had been reached. Things were changing fast. Scientific advances, better diet, and a lower rate of child mortality were having their effect. The UN reports that the human race reached three billion by 1959, four billion by 1974, five billion by 1987 and then quickly got to six billion in 1998. That means we have just added another one billion in just a little over a decade. Our world is transforming.

How will we handle all this extra demand for resources? Three billion more people will be added by the end of this century, many of them in countries that face crushing poverty. That reality presents governments, NGOs and international organizations like the UN and the World Bank with a diabolical dilemma. In a time of diminishing returns, when governments and funding institutions continue to cut back on their contributions to foreign aid and international development, a global crisis of poverty is staring us in the face. It is proving to be a direct challenge, not only to global prosperity, but to the survival of the human race.

On the positive side, more and more families in the developing world are using family planning methods, which ultimately reduce the heavy climb of population growth in many countries. But such developments remain linked to growing family income and access to medical and educational services. But there is a severely limiting negative side. Almost half of the world lives on less than $2 a day. Food insecurity is now growing at an alarming pace, with almost one billion people suffering from such a challenge every day. Clearly, as long as poverty remains, or even grows, our ability to limit the explosion of population becomes more limited year by year.

The United Nations Population Division expects eight billion people by 2025, nine billion by 2043, and, finally, 10 billion by 2083. India will have more people than China sometime around 2020.

And what to do about sub-Saharan Africa? By 2040 it is expected to have more people than India, while a great many of the Africans living in abject poverty. The world community is quickly becoming aware of the heavy challenge this will provide to all of us. Why then are we cutting back on international development? Why the reticence to assist the over 40 sub-Saharan nations to expand their educational, health, productivity and economic potential to stave off the crisis? Countries like Canada have either frozen or reduced their development dollars in an effort to cut deficits, but this is merely a short-sighted response. Unless a more robust global effort is amassed to the assist the sub-Saharan region, our own fragile economic recovery and hoped-for future prosperity will eventually be swallowed up by that one global force we refused to competently address -- abject poverty.

We are reminded that there is enough food to feed this planet and that there can be a necessary amount of water for all, should we start living more responsibly. But cutting aid and development, however, we have failed to marshal the world's political, environmental, humanitarian and economic forces in a manner that can responsibly guarantee necessary results. By ignoring Africa, we are denying ourselves a more prosperous future. The two are linked and the growing crisis requires visionary and intelligent leadership rather than the numbing self-preservation ideologies running through the western world at present.