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Web-only Exclusives
November 30, 2000

From Our Correspondent: Hirohito and the War
A conversation with biographer Herbert Bix

From Our Correspondent: A Rough Road Ahead
Bad news for the Philippines - and some others

From Our Correspondent: Making Enemies
Indonesia needs friends. So why is it picking fights?

Asiaweek Time Asia Now Asiaweek editorial

OCTOBER 29, 1999 VOL. 25 NO. 43

Six Billion People
Asia, in particular, must curb its burgeoning population


    ALSO IN ASIAWEEK
Population
Asia, in particular, must curb its burgeoning population

Post-Coup
Pakistan's generals should seize the chance for fundamental reform

More editorials:
Accident After the latest plant mishap, Japan needs to rethink its nuclear-power program
Visions Toward a clean, creative Hong Kong
China A rising power that certainly matters
AFTA Delaying the ASEAN free market is a bad idea

  RELATED STORIES
Monitor: Human Numbers Soar
An estimated 78 million babies, equivalent to the entire population of Germany, were born last year

CNN
Chinese witness: Beijing forces sterilizations, abortions
June 11, 1998

The United Nations' decision to arbitrarily name a Bosnian baby as the six-billionth person on earth was somewhat out of line with current population trends. Chances are, the infant was Asian. And it is even more likely the seven-billionth will be from this region. Half of the world's people now live in Asia, and by 2050, six out of ten will. Though birth rates are slowing and some Asian countries are even worrying about a decline, overall expansion is still too high. Half the planet's population growth in the next 50 years will come from Asia - 18% from India alone.

If consumption patterns continue, the extra bodies will put a profound stress on limited land, food and energy supplies - particularly in developing countries. The most important resource at risk, though, is clean water, not only for drinking, but also for food production and control of hygiene-related disease. Already supplies are strained in some areas, as a result of pollution degradation or overuse in wasteful farming and industrial practices. India is thought to be draining aquifers twice as fast as they are replenished, which points to water shortages. Water tables are falling in China too, particularly in the northern plain, the country's main agricultural area. Conservation is the only realistic way to prevent catastrophe.

But a bigger goal is curbing population growth in overcrowded areas. The Chinese government points proudly to its one-child policy, which it says delayed the birth of the six-billionth child by four years. True, over the past two decades China has cut its birthrate faster than any other country in history. It is now projecting zero growth by 2050. But stringent mandates like Beijing's exact human and social costs. The more beneficial approach is to empower women with education, better access to family planning, and improved economic opportunities. Experience has shown repeatedly that women who are so equipped choose to have smaller families.

Progressive parts of South Asia provide a dramatic example of the link between female literacy and birthrates. India's Kerala state is a paragon. Its stress on education has given it a female literacy rate of about 85%, against the national average of 40%. Fertility rates, in turn, have declined so that births now do not exceed deaths. In Sri Lanka, 90% of whose women are literate, population growth is only 0.65% a year. Other Asian communities have achieved comparable results by providing vocational training and small business loans for women. Even China is considering a more voluntary approach to birth control, after seeing that in urban, well-educated areas, some couples are choosing to go the official policy one better by having no children at all.

That brings up another problem. China, along with more developed Asian countries like Japan, Singapore and Korea, must now think about how a smaller new generation will provide for an expanded old one. The ramifications will be particularly acute for China because it lacks the economic resources of its richer neighbors. The solution is increased productivity, boosted by the use of more efficient technology. It is critical that people receive the proper education now for a knowledge-based economy in the future. The elderly should not be written off either. With improved health care, workers can be productive later in life, especially those who are highly skilled. Asia needs all these measures in order to thrive amid its own demographic changes.


This edition's table of contents | Asiaweek home

AsiaNow


Asiaweek Newsmap: Get the week's leading news stories, by region, from Newsmap

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TIME:

COVER: President Joseph Estrada gives in to the chanting crowds on the streets of Manila and agrees to make room for his Vice President

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JAPAN: Japan's ruling party crushes a rebel at a cost

SINGAPORE: Singaporeans need to have more babies. But success breeds selfishness


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