How to cope with 10 billion people

June 05, 2011, Sunday/ 13:11:00/ DOĞU ERGİL

A United Nations report released a few weeks ago says the world’s population is expected to exceed 7 billion in October, just 12 years after reaching 6 billion, but another prediction is more pessimistic; instead of stabilizing at the projected 9 billion in 2050, the world’s population may hit 10.1 billion by the end of the century.

An article in The New York Times stated that the population is expected to grow faster in certain places. For example, Africa’s population could more than triple, rising to 3.6 billion by the end of the century. The continent’s largest country, Nigeria, could see its population increase from the current 162 million to 730 million in 2100.

How will the world accommodate this kind of growth? Professor Joel E. Cohen, a celebrated applied mathematician at the Rockefeller University and Columbia University (author of “How Many People Can the Earth Support?”) says that the demographic future can be determined by humankind. “If women have, on average, half a child more or half a child less than assumed in the UN’s medium projection from now to 2100, the population projected for 2100 rises to 15.8 billion or falls to 6.2 billion, which was the world’s population around 2001,” Cohen claims.

Three critical investments seem to be necessary in coping with uncontrolled population growth. If people in wealthier countries with low fertility prefer a world of 6.2 billion prosperous people to a world of 15.8 billion mostly poor people in 2100, they should put their money toward developing the contraceptive industry and making products and training available (preferably free) to the 215 million women who want and need contraception, Cohen states. “They should invest in research to improve contraception for men and women. They should immunize, de-worm and educate all children well, at least through the secondary level. They should assure adequate food and perinatal care to pregnant women, lactating women and all children through the age of four,” he continues, noting that these are all relatively cheap initiatives.

The second area is nutrition. Cohen says: “In the 2009-2010 crop year, the world produced 2.26 billion metric tons of cereals. Approximately 0.2 metric tons of cereal grains provide the food energy an average human needs for a year. Dividing the 2.2 billion metric tons produced by 0.2 metric tons required per person shows that current grain production could feed 11 billion people.”

“Of today’s (almost) 7 billion people, nearly one billion are chronically hungry. Why? Roughly one third of grain is consumed by domestic animals. More than one sixth of grain goes into industrial products like biofuels and starch, seeds and other uses. Less than half of world cereal production feeds humans. The world chooses to feed its machines and its domestic animals before it feeds its people,” says Cohen.

Professor Warren Sanderson, a professor of economics and history at Stony Brook University, says that the only way to cope with population growth is to empower people through education, which will allow them to address changing needs, noting: “World population growth is coming to an end not because of an environmental calamity, but because people are voluntarily choosing to have fewer children.” Education and ensuing professionalism will empower and provide them with the socio-economic structures with incentives for those skills to be used for the common good. However, their first choice will be to increase their quality of life.

“Education works in several dimensions. More educated mothers have fewer children, reducing the rate of population growth. More educated adults are more capable of adapting to uncertain environmental changes. And more educated individuals have a greater potential for contributing to the solution of our environmental problems,” Sanderson says, continuing: “If we are to cope successfully with the additional people we are likely to have, it will not be through a single master plan, but rather through millions of educated people solving the problems that they face. The task is not simple, but neither is it impossible,” Sanderson says.