Growing Population and Reducing Resources Increases Poverty Worldwide

Development Policy08 Jun 2011Sjoerd Nienhuys

Sjoerd Nienhuys responds to the background article “Going global” in the context of the online debate about Dutch development cooperation triggered by the report Less Pretension, More Ambition by the Dutch Scientific Council for Government Policy (WRR).

The WRR report and following discussions present a broad perspective of problems and options for development aid, as well as a number of shortcomings or areas for precision according to the perception of some contributors. The complexity of international development, and with that the complexity of development aid is well underlined, and no simple or short term solutions are available. On ‘Getting the basics right’ I like to stress one important factor which has been largely snowed under in the discussions, or has been avoided because it is politically inconvenient, being: the continued population growth. For every new human being about 50 years of resources are needed.

Development aid in The Netherlands started after World War Two as government activity, building on the information the Christian mission has brought us from far away countries, and was also strongly based on Christian concepts. With annually increasing government funds, the activity became streamlined and a business for many of the actors involved; policies and operations changed to improve coverage, results or accountability. Many new policies and also actors tried to improve the quality or effectiveness of the aid, with sometimes good results at micro and meso level. However, history and close analysis suggest that the good results are outnumbered by low, zero and negative results on all levels; micro, meso and macro, providing the arguments for the critics to reduce the public spending on development aid. Strategic restructuring the international cooperation is necessary to bring back the confidence to the public that the aid helps on both sides of the border, them and our selves; that we do not send funds into a bottomless pit. A comparison can be made with “helping” Greece, when in reality we are also helping ourselves with stabilizing the Euro and the economy. Development aid, however, should be more than personal economics alone, but also look at the countries’ sustainability of resources and environment, human welfare, justice and peace.

The Broker has an article about abandoning the GDP, because it does not measure adequately the development in social welfare. This is partly due because the percentage of GDP is not reduced with the percentage of population growth. A country may have a 2% GDP growth, but when population growth over the same period is 3%, the overall growth of the country is actually –1%, being negative. In addition many GDP calculations do not calculate peoples own subsistence produce (e.g. farmers) or voluntary work (e.g. social work), both omissions also distorting the real growth figure. All countries should develop a GDP corrected with population growth (-) and non-monetary inputs (+).

Already in the 1980’s the reports “Limits to Growth” and “Club of Rome” outline dramatically that the earth’s resources are limited, making it impossible to bring everybody (5 billion people at the time) to the same welfare and consumption level as West Europe or the USA; simply there are not enough resources, even given some allowances for technology development. Now we are going towards the 10 billion people and many wise people continuously try to point out that we are destroying nature with its eco systems, exhausting the oceans, reducing forests, terminating mineral resources and over extending arable land. While funding for development aid is annually moving more towards disaster and conflict reduction, it seems to escape many of the developers that these disasters, conflicts and also poverty are the results of ever more limited resources, competition for land or territory, and striving for more political/economic influence. People dealing with human disasters can confirm that almost all are related to too many people living in the wrong place and under poor circumstances caused by poor planning and local economics favouring a few economic powers. Good governance alone, however, would not avoid or limit these (human) disasters, when not linked with population reduction.

Thirty years ago the signs and symptoms of the worlds overpopulation were already strongly visible, but many professionals in the development aid still think that the food resources problems can be resolved with irrigating the deserts and further exploiting Africa. It will temporarily help feeding the masses, but not solve the basic problem, any disturbance will be a new human disaster. Still, even today, some governments are stimulating population growth for internal economic or religion reasons. Many poor individuals are in dire need for large birth figures so that several children will survive in order to provide old-age security. The point here is that our societies need new social systems that allow lesser consumption, particularly of non-durable goods, improved resources recycling, a gradually reducing world population, and social models that take improved care of youngsters and old age people. Because of the monetizing of our societies, traditional models of mutual care have disappeared and been substituted by individualized capitalised systems which are vulnerable with economic crisis.

In Europe some parties are stimulating better society models, but if we look at the economic mess of the last years which was caused by lack of control on greedy bank leaders and capitalists, and the political differences in solving national problems by which party leaders are being pushed around by populist motivations rather than by long term and sustainable planning, it becomes rather doubtful if we can formulate adequate policies and measurements to get other far-away countries out of their excessive population growth figures, corruption, ecological disasters and misery for the disadvantaged people. People involved in development aid need a good insight in the problems of our own society because many leaders in those “developing countries” are looking to the worlds wealthiest countries for modelling their own societies.

The complexities are large and education on all levels of society is required to make women, men and children as well as local decision makers and leaders understand these complexities of the improved society models, without falling back on simplistic rulers like the dictatorships, communist, Maoist and also the narrow minded fundamentalist influences. Hanging a couple of satellites over selected regions with well-balanced educative programmes on all levels and themes may aid general education and understanding, better than dozens of films and cartoons in which crime or horror is the main theme and in which people are killing each other. On the longer term this will work better than giving people subsidised tools or free food. Currently, in the worst developed countries, the largely illiterate people are continuously brainwashed with either poor, false and/or distorted information on their own society, religion and government actions. These poor information’s need to be counteracted with better and practical information brought by locals, without the bringers being accused of intervening in local affairs or insurgency. Practical information includes a new way of dealing with copyright and authorship and making good solutions reproducible locally.

I support the concept posed already several times that sharp and elaborate analyses are required for each (developing) country, taking all possible aspects of their societies into consideration, and, based on those analysis, present coherent solutions and directions. For local politicians many of these advises may not be favourable, but having the reports publically accessible, explaining their reasoning, may bring intelligent people from their own societies forward that will assist steering those countries into the right direction. The MDG are an example of practical recommendations, but also are only part of the solution. Constant adjustment of these country papers by independent (and possibly partly externally financed) professionals and is necessary, because when one element is not being dealt with, it will unbalance the results. Practically, having a local parallel parliament (think-tank), based on consensus and focussed on sustainability seems to be the recommended model. That should not be organised on a bilateral country relationship, but at least on a Europe cum UN and target Country relationship, assessing the regional context of that country.

‘International Cooperation for Sustainable Development’ seems to be a better focus than ‘Development Aid’, because the latter suggests a dependency position of the receiving country. Also the long used ‘Development Cooperation’ (ontwikkelingssamenwerking) suggests that there is cooperation, being rather a wish than a fact. Social development aid, following our Christian principles should continue and should remain to be tax deductable, but government financed or subsidised international cooperation should be focussed on macro issues and lead to sociually improved and sustainable society models, also if the technical, social, legal and monetary advises are not always convenient for the local politicians, such as reducing population growth.

An important task for our own society in The Netherlands and Europe is to arrive at a sustainable society model without the need for continued population growth (including import of people) or increased consumption of wasteful and non-durable articles. Actually, an economically healthy society with a slightly reducing population is needed world wide to reduce world population numbers to under the 5 billion and allow a more equal access to resources for everybody. We al know that there are not enough resources to bring people world wide to the welfare level of Europe; several times the size of the globe may be required. Alternatively the world population needs to be reduced, and the theme should be on the top of the development agendas. If not, the number of poor and disadvantaged will only grow worldwide, conflicts and disasters will increase and economic wars over resources will become rampant. Before we do not have our own house reasonably in order, we are not in a strong position to tell other people how to arrive at a better society.