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Countries with Overpopulation, and Some Losing Population

Aired April 21, 2010 - 15:00:00   ET



CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN ANCHOR: Tonight, the world's population is soaring. Nearly half of humankind is under 25 and that will soon produce another baby boom. So what, if anything, should be done to curb population growth?

Good evening, everyone. I'm Christiane Amanpour, and welcome to our program.

In the past 50 years, the world's population has more than doubled, to almost 7 billion people. And 40 years from now, our planet could be home to more than 9 billion people, overwhelming already crowded cities in developing countries and pushing fragile communities and ecosystems closer to the breaking point.

With literally billions of women in or approaching child-bearing years, some groups are calling for global reproductive health care education. But others say the threat of overpopulation is exaggerated and overconsumption is a bigger concern for our planet Earth's health.

In a moment, we'll explore all of this with three leading population experts who have differing views. But first, CNN's Sara Sidner reports on why women are having so many children in Bihar, one of India's poorest states.


SARA SIDNER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Kalarati Kumari (ph) cradles her baby boy, hoping her body has enough milk to satisfy him. She says she was simply too young to have a baby. It wasn't her choice. Her parents arranged her marriage when she was just 11 years old.

"I am very sad that my parents made me marry at such a young age," she says. "Girls older than me are still studying. I was trapped into marriage. I wanted to study more, too."

Instead, after puberty, she was forced to move in with her husband and in-laws. And then came the pressure to have children.

"I tried to explain to my husband and in-laws. My husband understood it was too early and started using contraceptives. But my in-laws started taunting me about having a child. So my husband said we had to stop using contraceptives.

(on-screen): In Bihar's villages, statistics show that by 18, 70 percent of girls have already been married. And by 19, 50 percent of them have had their first child.

(voice-over): The North Indian state of Bihar is one of India's poorest, and its population is growing rapidly. On average, women here have four children, twice as many as the Indian government recommends.

REMA NANDA, PATHFINDER: When you look at the rapid growth in population and combine it with the levels of poverty, you're going to see environmental degradation, you're going to see increasing poverty, because their economic opportunity is not growing as rapidly as the population is, and you're going to see an increase in women's mortality.

SIDNER: Dr. Rema Nanda works with a global organization called Pathfinder. Its mission is to educate both men and women about reproductive health here in India and in more than two dozen other countries.

After coming to Pathfinder's health classes, Rekha Kumari decided against early marriage.

(on-screen): What did your parents say when you said, "I don't want to get married at this age"?

REKHA KUMARI, DAUGHTER (through translator): I tried to convince my parents that, at a tender age, if you marry, your body won't be mature enough to have a healthy child. I'll be weak and fall sick. Still, my parents criticized me and wanted me to marry, but I was determined not to marry and to continue my studies.

SIDNER: It wasn't easy to defy centuries of tradition. Rekha's mother was married at 10 and had seven children. Her sister married early, too.

"Marriage is important to offload your burden to someone who will take care of your daughter," Rekha's mother says.

Girls are seen as a burden because a dowry must be paid to a husband's family. Rekha's desperate determination, though, has delayed all that for now.

"She must be getting enlightened by God to make her life progressive," she says.

Pathfinder initially faced skepticism here. Now, its work with children like Rekha is so successful that the government wants to expand the program.

But India still faces a human tsunami.


Its population is expected to surpass China's by 2025, becoming the world's most populated nation. And even though its economy is growing, about 410 million people live on less than $1.25 a day.

India is facing the question: How will it feed its rapidly expanding population?

Sara Sidner, CNN, Bihar, India.


AMANPOUR: So to answer some of these questions, I'm joined now by Gwyn Hainsworth, who's the health adviser to the Reproductive Health Care Education Group, Pathfinder International; by Purnima Mane, who's the deputy executive director of the U.N. Population Fund; and by journalist Fred Pearce, who's author of "The Coming Population Crash," which, we should also say, is called--



So let's take what Sara Sidner has posited already. Here we have in India, in one of the poorest areas, cultural and traditional pressure on young girls to get married and have children as quick as possible.

What can be done -- I know your group is working there -- to actually change the situation?

PURNIMA MANE, U.N. POPULATION FUND: I think a lot can be done, as the clip showed. Part of it is just making sure that young women are educated about their bodies and how conception even happens in the first place and also making sure that they have information on contraception. And what's key to this is that they have access to the services they need and can then implement the decisions they make.

AMANPOUR: Purnima, what -- when it comes to the U.N., obviously, you do a lot of the same kind of work and you have the same beliefs, but you're also very concerned, aren't you, about protecting people's cultures, not wanting to come in and dictate and -- and tell them what they should do? How much of an issue is the cultural part of all of this?

MANE: I think one of the successes, in fact, of the United Nations Population Fund for which I work is that we take culture into consideration while we take some of these critical messages into countries.

There are several nongovernmental organizations that are already working on the traditional taboos and cultural practices that could be harmful to making access to family planning, for example, girls' education more accessible. The important element is to work with those organizations, but also to work with the positive elements of culture.

AMANPOUR: Let me read something by a population expert at Princeton University. C.S. Westoff said, quote, "There are numerous countries like Nigeria, Chad, Niger, Cameroon, where married women commonly want and have six, seven and more children. There, the issue is not only the provision of family planning services, but also the more complex set of traditional values favoring high fertility," which goes beyond just simple culture. It's -- it's a deliberate -- a deliberate method that they're using to have more children.

What can be done about that, Fred Pearce? And is it a problem, do you think?

FRED PEARCE, AUTHOR: It is a problem in many countries. But what strikes me is how much progress has been made. Women around the world, as an average, the developing world as well as the rich world, have two-and-a- half -- just over two-and-a-half children now. That's half as many as their mothers had. And in that--


PEARCE: the average is three now.

AMANPOUR: But does that -- but does that hold? Because these countries I've just mentioned are African, and the quotes are that sub- Saharan African women bear 5.3 children, which compares disfavorably with what you're saying--

PEARCE: That's right. There are two--

AMANPOUR: -- of the global average.

PEARCE: There are two holdout areas, one of which is rural Africa in particular, and the other area is parts of the Middle East, parts of the Muslim world, where there are -- there are serious issues there.

But in most of the rest of the world -- you can look at Latin America, you look at much of urban Africa -- certainly look at most of Asia, paternity rates are now falling very fast. Women that used to have five or six children are now having four, three, increasingly frequently, two.

Iran -- now you'd be amazed by this, but in Iran, they have women who used to have eight children after the revolution 30 years ago are now having less than two, extraordinary changes. The Islamic world is having the fastest fall in fertility rates around the world.

AMANPOUR: Why? And I can see you both want to jump in.

GWYN HAINSWORTH, PATHFINDER INTERNATIONAL: I guess, you know, when I hear you speak, one of the things I would challenge you on is many of the countries that Pathfinder works in, as you mentioned, Christiane, fertility is quite high. So in a country let's say like Ethiopia, where fertility rates are around five, you have huge unmet need for services. I mean, unmet need is over a quarter--

PEARCE: Oh, yes. Oh, yes.


PEARCE: I'm certainly not saying that the problem is solved or that everybody who wants access to contraception has access. There's lots of work that Pathfinder and other groups absolutely need to do to ensure that this revolution is carried through across the rest of the world.

What I'm really saying is that women are making real choices about how they live their lives. They know that, for the first time in history, they don't have to have five or six children for the next generation to be produced. They now can have two or three.


And in allowing them to -- to fulfill that and then have a life outside the home, as well--


PEARCE: -- that's the real challenge. And things are really happening.

AMANPOUR: That would be great, except that I've read, also, that, actually, many women don't know that they have that opportunity--

MANE: Exactly.

AMANPOUR: They don't know that there is the possibility of contraception.

MANE: Absolutely.

AMANPOUR: There aren't enough educational processes in place. And let me just say read for you, Purnima, what the Ugandan minister of planning has said. "While the rest of the world," he says, "is working in shifts, we in Uganda are going to bed early and then we complain that the population is growing."

And basically what he meant was that more than 90 percent of Ugandans are without reliable access to electricity, and the annual growth rate is explosive. It's one of the highest in the world.

The same issue in Nigeria. In fact, the acting president of Nigeria told me that one of his pressing concerns was to get more power. And I'm sure it's not about population, but how big a problem is that in just trying to address reproductive issues?

MANE: I think in addressing reproductive health issues, there are many issues that, you know, there's many needs that need to be met.

But I think the -- Gwyn hit upon the critical need, which is the fact that women do not have the need to access family planning being met right now. There are over 200 million women around the world that do not have the possibility of planning their family, deciding when to have it, though they actually want it. That's the difference. They want to plan their families, but they don't have the access. And I think it's critical to focus on this element.

AMANPOUR: And where does the responsibility lie, then, for giving the knowledge to these women? Is it from you and the international community? Is it from their local governments? Where is it? Is it trying to talk not just to the women, but to the fathers and the husbands and the brothers?

HAINSWORTH: I think the whole community.

MANE: Absolutely. I think the responsibility really lies in exactly what you've said. First of all, the woman herself, because she needs to know what her rights are.

You know, access to family planning is recognized universally as a human right. But in how many countries do women know that? In how many countries do parents know that? In how many countries do families know that?

And I think that's really important. And, of course, working with nongovernmental organizations such as Gwyn's, as well as bringing the government around, very important to get the government responsible for this area.

AMANPOUR: Fred Pearce -- and we're going to go to a break in a moment, but I wanted to ask you -- so is there a crisis in overpopulation?

PEARCE: There's a crisis now, but we can see a way to the end of it. What I'm saying is that the -- that the groups working on this are having real success. They're having a -- there's -- there's something to celebrate here. You know, we're making this happen. We are defusing the population bomb.

There's a billion more to go. And I do agree that there are huge problems in many countries still. But we can begin to see the end of it.

AMANPOUR: All right. And we'll pick that up.

Next, when we come back, we'll examine the flip side of the population problem, countries that are literally running out of people. And that is when we return.




MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): They call him little Peter the patriot, born on Russian National Day and, in more ways than one, a blessing to his family. For their efforts, his proud parents received a brand-new SUV. In a country desperate for babies, cash prizes, even expensive gifts are on offer.


AMANPOUR: That was CNN's Matthew Chance reporting.

And Russia is fighting a losing battle to stop its population declining, in part, because of the country's morbid addiction to vodka, according to health officials.

Joining me again to discuss all of this is Pathfinder International's Gwyn Hainsworth; the U.N. Population Fund's Purnima Mane; and journalist Fred Pearce.

Fred, let me start with you, because you have a whole chapter in your book about Russia. Is it bad that the population there is declining?

PEARCE: It's very bad that people aren't living as long as they were even 10 or 20 years ago. There is, as you say, a vodka crisis in the country. And you can see how the amount of vodka that is drunk in Russia correlates really very closely with the life span of men. The number of men that are dying in their 40s and 50s is scary.

AMANPOUR: And what does that do to society, because I thought everybody wanted to reduce the population?

PEARCE: Well--

AMANPOUR: Obviously not by dying early, but by producing less babies?

PEARCE: Well, you combine this with a high death rate, with the fact that people are having less babies, and Russia is headed for a potentially quite serious population decline in the coming decades. Whole areas of Russia are emptying, not just the remote areas of Siberia, but even in -- in European Russia, villages are emptying. You know, the countryside is dying, in part. This is true of other parts of Europe, as well. It's not just Russia.

So we have an emerging new problem, from ultra-low fertility rates and in Russia compounded by rising death rates.

AMANPOUR: And coupled with that, we're going to go again and talk about the contraceptive issue. And let me just put up what the pope has said.


POPE BENEDICT XVI, VATICAN CITY (through translator): I would add that the AIDS problem cannot be solved by money alone. Even if necessary, it cannot be solved with the condom distribution. The condom distribution only makes matters worse. The solution can only be this: first, a humanization of sexuality and a spiritual renewal, which implies new behaviors.


AMANPOUR: What is that kind of instruction doing to the population growth?

HAINSWORTH: I think it's actually counterproductive to the work that Pathfinder and UNFPA is trying to do, which is to ensure that people have a full range of information, not just a particular message such as this one, and are able to make the decisions that are right for their lives.

AMANPOUR: But the thing is, this is a religious message which many, many people actually adhere to, so--


AMANPOUR: -- I guess the question is, how do you reduce the population without contraception? Has it ever been done? Is it possible?

HAINSWORTH: Not to my knowledge.

MANE: I think access to education is also important, access to family planning is important. But, Christiane, I just wanted to react to something that you said, that in our experience, in many countries, in fact, religious groups are working with us, organizations like Pathfinders, with the Population Fund and with the government, in fact, to spread messages about access to family planning, the right to decide when, you know, people can have children, as well as, you know, a wholesome family life, in a sense.

Obviously, the messages are tailored according to what works out for them in terms of their cultures. But nonetheless, there is much more openness that's coming, so while we look the glass as half-empty, let's also look at it as half-full.

PEARCE: I think one of the interesting things that is happening is even in countries where religious leaders and political leaders are opposed to family planning, it is still taking hold. You go to Brazil, where women -- despite the teachings of the Catholic Church -- now have just about two children each.

Mostly they're having -- they're being sterilized rather than any other form of family planning. But they are still making choices about their own lives. And I think this is a really heartening -- the Muslim world, too. And I think it's really heartening.

HAINSWORTH: If I can just interject, I mean, I think what's interesting when you're talking about working with faith-based groups is that Pathfinder works in northern Nigeria, which is very conservative and very religious.

But we've worked with local entities, such as Fanwan (ph), which is an entity of Muslim women. It's a network. They have chapters all around Nigeria, that are actually, you know, promoting family planning, but in a context that is appropriate.

So they're mostly focusing on healthy timing and spacing of pregnancy and what that means for the health of future children and what that means for the health of the mother. And within that context, that's an appropriate message, an appropriate way to talk about this.

AMANPOUR: So religious leaders, once you explain, you're saying mostly are on board?


AMANPOUR: Do you find that at the U.N.?

MANE: In the U.N., we have actually brought them together, along with other partners, to discuss this in terms of how they can present these messages, once inform and once recognizing that their constituencies, so to speak, are -- is going to be affected, you know, adversely if they do not take this on board.

They do take it on board.


And, in fact, they talk -- we created a platform for them to talk to each other in terms of how they can communicate these messages within their cultural context.

AMANPOUR: Let me ask you a little bit about what overpopulation means to -- to individuals, particularly since so much of the world is under the age of 25 and there's so much unemployment in so many countries?

Listen to what the prime minister of China has said, currently the most populous country.


WEN JIABAO, PRIME MINISTER, CHINA (through translator): We must always remember that developing the economy is inseparable from improving people's well being and safeguarding social fairness and justice.


AMANPOUR: Is it possible to safeguard social fairness and justice without trying to control the population? And do you think China has managed to safeguard social welfare and justice as it's controlling its population in the most draconian way?

PEARCE: I think control is the wrong word, because I think women really are making choices about their lives, and they're making the right choices. So we don't -- I think we need to change -- the population planners for years were held back by this word "control"--

AMANPOUR: But in China, to be fair, they haven't been able to make those choices. It's been dictated to them.

PEARCE: Oh, in China, it has. But if you look at other Chinese communities around the world, if you look at Hong Kong, if you look in Singapore, if you look in Taiwan, large Chinese communities also have very low fertility rates, very low numbers of children.

So while it has been and is extremely unpleasant, the population policies, the enforced population policies in mainland China, actually, Chinese women elsewhere in Asia have been doing remarkably similar things. So control is the wrong word. We don't need the control.

HAINSWORTH: But I think critical to this issue, which we're not specifically calling out -- and I think we really need to -- is that you keep talking about the vast number of young people under the age of 25. And my question would be, what are we doing to reach those young people with the information they need and the services they need? Because they're largely overlooked.

AMANPOUR: So what do we do?

HAINSWORTH: Well, Pathfinder actually has programs for young people in the 25 countries where we work. And it really is a vast array of programs. So some of them are like comprehensive sexuality education that teach them about their bodies and sexuality and how to use contraception, but we also do a lot of work on delaying the age of marriage and keeping girls in school, for example.

AMANPOUR: Let me ask you, quickly, because we brought it up, some are saying that it's not necessarily overpopulation, but it's overconsumption that is the big issue. I know you -- you take that on, don't you, Fred?

PEARCE: Yes, I talk about this quite a lot in the book. It seems to me that, if we're looking ahead, if we're looking at how the world is going to grow, the economy is going to grow, economists say probably the economy -- the global economy will grow fourfold by 2050.

Now, if that's the case, only about a tenth of that is going to be due to increasing numbers. And I think numbers is the issue now. Numbers -- it's consumption.

We are -- we really are defusing the population bomb. We have not begun to defuse the consumption bomb, the way we all live our lives and the way -- I agree -- the Chinese and the Indians would like to live their lives. We've got to find ways of living with a smaller impact on the planet. It's a big challenge.

AMANPOUR: Last word to you, Purnima. Is there a human tsunami? I know you're saying defusing the population bomb, but is there still a threat or not from a human tsunami?

MANE: I think we have to recognize that the world is diverse and in different parts of the world, we have different situations. For -- and there are parts of the world where people are living longer and having less children and have -- they have a crisis of health and social security for the senior citizens.

In other parts of the world, you have lots of young people. You know, the population has grown in terms of young people and not enough education for them, as well as not enough babies being born. So it is a very diverse world--

AMANPOUR: All right.

MANE: -- and, you know, characterizing it as a human tsunami is not where I would like to go.

AMANPOUR: All right. Well, on that note, thank you all very much, indeed, for joining us.

And continuing this debate, which African nation is expected to vault past Bangladesh and Brazil to become one of the world's most populous nations? Log onto to find out. And see how overpopulation is already affecting this country's biggest city.

Next, our "Post-Script." We'll take a look at one consequence of overcrowding in a country where the number of people is declining. That's when we return.



AMANPOUR: And now our "Post-Script." When it comes to overpopulation, there is no better example than the world's biggest city, Tokyo. It has 35 million people; that's a larger population than most countries. And that's putting a huge strain on the city's transportation system.

This is what happens every day on Tokyo's trains: Commuters are jammed into carriages like sardines in a tin can, by a small army of white- gloved attendants, as you can see, doing everything possible to ensure the trains run on time. It's standard practice in Tokyo, but imagine how commuters in London or New York would react if the same thing happened to them.

And the irony is that Japan's overall population is declining by more than 75,000 people a year due to a falling birth rate.

That's it for now. We'll be back with the next big story. And until then, watch our program on the go on For all of us here, goodbye from New York.