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Delusions will not make poverty history

Contents: Massive aid programs have not ended African poverty, Wars and genocide in Africa, Population growth ignored, Problems compounded by wealthier nations' land grabs, Botswana, with its stable population, a model to follow?, Can further aid programs solve poverty if population is not stabilised?.

It is 25 years since Ethiopia's globally publicised famine and Bob Geldof's famous 'Feed The World' campaign. In 2005 world leaders and celebrities, stirred again by the plight of Africa, pledged to increase taxpayers' support and cancel debts. Now the aid bucket is rattling again, as east Africa endures its worst hunger crisis in eight years. Will it make any difference?

Massive aid programs have not ended African poverty

Africa has had more than ten times the Marshall Aid given to Europe since the Second World War - a trillion dollars, or $5,000 for every African alive today. Yet many African countries are poorer now than in the 1980s.The UN has admitted that it won't meet its Millennium Development Goals in Africa but fails to explain the underlying causes for pessimism. Commentators point out that Africa has had more than ten times the Marshall Aid given to Europe since the Second World War - a trillion dollars, or $5,000 for every African alive today. Yet many African countries are poorer now than in the 1980s.

Half of Africa's 700 million people live on 40p a day or less. Nigeria has squandered much of its oil wealth and Zimbabwe has moved from a relatively prosperous country to the brink of collapse.

... for every dollar the West lent Africa between 1970 and 2000, eighty cents was recycled back to off-shore bank accounts by African elites, while the World Bank estimated in 2004 that 40 per cent of the world's aid budget was going on paying consultants.We read that for every dollar the West lent Africa between 1970 and 2000, eighty cents was recycled back to off-shore bank accounts by African elites, while the World Bank estimated in 2004 that 40 per cent of the world's aid budget was going on paying consultants.

Wars and genocide in Africa

Much of the continent has staggered from one bloody turf war to the next, whether genocide in Rwanda and Sudan, chopping off arms and legs of children in Sierra Leone or shoot outs in the Congo over control of mineral wealth. It is a testament to the resilience of African people that they manage to pick up their lives and carry on. Now, more and more have Europe in their sights, seeking a better life.

Population growth ignored

Yet one huge issue is largely ignored. In 1950 the population of Ethiopia was just 16 million. By 2005 it had increased to nearly 78 million and is forecast to increase a further 80 million over the next 25 years, confounding the media image of people starving to death, though this is also true.

The country already has massive unemployment and not enough food. How will it provide all the schools, jobs, hospitals and food to feed a population that is set to double in size? Across Africa, similar facts unfold.

UN estimates point out that worldwide food production needs to double by 2020 to feed an estimated global population heading well over eight billion. Nowhere is that pressure felt more keenly than Africa.

... over 80 per cent of Africa's cultivated soils are seriously degraded and risk 'permanent failure' because the rapid increase in population has forced farmers to grow crops on the same fields rather than leave land fallowThe director of Food Security at the Rockefeller Foundation, Gary Toenniessen, warned that over 80 per cent of Africa's cultivated soils are seriously degraded and risk 'permanent failure' because the rapid increase in population has forced farmers to grow crops on the same fields rather than leave land fallow. Even fertiliser no longer helps.

Problems compounded by wealthier nations' land grabs

Lured by cheap labor and untapped potential, desert countries with rapidly rising populations, such as Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait are snapping up farmland in underdeveloped African nations to grow crops for consumption back home.Amid this crisis, some of the world's richest nations are coming to Africa to farm. Lured by cheap labor and untapped potential, desert countries with rapidly rising populations, such as Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait are snapping up farmland in underdeveloped African nations to grow crops for consumption back home. The Emirates government recently signed a deal in Sudan for up to 70,000 acres south of Khartoum.

In June 2008, the depth of environmental devastation across Africa was revealed for the first time by the United Nations Environment Program. Using satellite photos, taken over four decades, geographers constructed an atlas of environmental change. It reveals an image of destruction on a vast scale - of disappearing forests, shrinking lakes, vanishing glaciers and degraded landscapes.

The fact that the Blair/Brown Africa Commission report said almost nothing in its 177 pages about the need to tackle demographic pressures while giving £8 billion of UK taxpayers' money to the continent is astonishing.

In mid-2007, sub-Saharan Africa had 788m people, but will soar to 1.8 billion by 2050 according to the UN's 2006 population projections.Rapid population growth will fatally jeopardise Africa's development efforts. The large number of young Africans - 2 out of 3 people are under 25 - and persistent high fertility levels imply that high population growth will continue despite the Aids epidemic. In mid-2007, sub-Saharan Africa had 788m people, but will soar to 1.8 billion by 2050 according to the UN's 2006 population projections.

Obstruction of population control programs may cause population to exceed even UN projections

However, all this assumes a decrease in the continent's birth rate to 2.5 children on average, against an average 5.5 today. This rapid decline in fertility levels is far from guaranteed given the lack of recognition of the population issue by both the UN and aid agencies. A population of well over 2 billion in the region by 2050 is plausible if a major food crisis doesn't cause mass starvation first. In its latest 2008 report, the UN admits that its population projections for Africa will likely be subject to future upward revisions if fertility fails to decline.

In March 2008 Nigeria's Catholic dominated Anambra State made it illegal to encourage the use of condoms and other forms of contraceptives. This in a country of 148 million people, set to double by 2050, where the average birth rate is 6 children per woman and its demand on resources is 40% greater than its bio-capacity. More than 3.9 percent of the adult population also have HIV/AIDS, and the rate is rising by around 300,000 a year, according to a 2006 estimate by the UN programme UNAIDS.

Despite the International Conference on Population and Development's call for universal access to reproductive health in 1994, reproductive health and population was omitted from the UN's Millennium Development Goals and remains neglected.

Botswana, with its stable population, a model to follow?

Botswana is highlighted as a model by the Africa Commission, a country with one of the highest AIDS rates in Africa. It says: "Thirty years ago Botswana was one of the poorest and most aid-dependent countries in the world. Today the landlocked nation is one of Africa's biggest success stories. It has undergone consistent economic growth and is now classified as a 'middle-income' country. But Botswana has diamonds. Look across the continent and it is often precisely those countries with the greatest amounts of mineral riches that are in most trouble. But Botswana bucks the trend...Yet its diamond industry employs only about two per cent of the country's small population."

Perhaps the lesson is that better governance and a population of just 1.8 million has helped to spread prosperity further - a point the Commission seems to miss.

Can further aid programs solve poverty if population is not stabilised?

In late 2007, seven major international aid organisations announced a multimillion-dollar Global Water Initiative to tackle declining supplies of fresh water for the world's poorest people in 13 countries – all but four in Africa.

In these same countries, the US-based Population Reference Bureau predicts that between 2005 and 2050, populations will rise from: 13.9 million to 39.5 million in Burkina Faso; 77.4 - 170.2m in Ethiopia; 22- 47.3m in Ghana; 33.8 - 64.8m in Kenya; 13.5 – 42m in Mali; 14.0 - 50.2m in Niger; 11.7 - 23.1m in Senegal; 36.5 - 71.4m in Tanzania; and an astonishing 26.9 - 130.9m in Uganda.

The industrialised nations have promised millions of dollars of taxpayers' money to help Africa tackle AIDS, yet rarely do we ask the complex reasons why nearly two-thirds of the world's 60 million AIDS victims are African – the sexual promiscuity of many adult relationships, prostitution and poverty. AIDS is a tragedy, but unless the huge population growth on the continent is also tackled, spending millions on AIDS prevention will see ever more Africans facing a life of unemployment, poverty and starvation.

With many of the world's poorest countries already suffering huge unemployment and some of the highest birth rates, the potential for fuelling instability, extremism and a global tide of migration will present new security challenges for the world, says CIA Director Michael Hayden.The UN predicts that to keep up with a rapidly expanding global population, one billion new jobs need to be created over the next decade just to maintain current employment levels. With many of the world's poorest countries already suffering huge unemployment and some of the highest birth rates, the potential for fuelling instability, extremism and a global tide of migration will present new security challenges for the world, says CIA Director Michael Hayden.

With unconscious irony, the Africa Commission says: "We have done our best to be blisteringly honest," quoting an old African Proverb: "Not to know is bad. Not to wish to know is worse."

Unless a real world effort is made to help Africans challenge bad governance, devastating turf wars, corruption and a population explosion, there is no chance of 'making poverty history.'

Comments

Kenneth Ewart Boulding (January 18, 1910 – March 18, 1993) was an economist, educator, peace activist, poet, religious mystic, devoted Quaker, systems scientist, and interdisciplinary philosopher.
He said: "Anyone who believes exponential growth can go on forever in a finite world is either a madman or an economist."

First Theorem: "The Dismal Theorem"

If the only ultimate check on the growth of population is misery, then the population will grow until it is miserable enough to stop its growth.

Second Theorem: "The Utterly Dismal Theorem"

Any technical improvement can only relieve misery for a while, for so long as misery is the only check on population, the improvement will enable population to grow, and will soon enable more people to live in misery than before.

Third Theorem: "The moderately cheerful form of the Dismal Theorem"

Fortunately, it is not too difficult to restate the Dismal Theorem in a moderately cheerful form: if something else, other then misery and starvation, can be found which will keep a prosperous population in check, the population does not have to grow until it is miserable and starves, and it can be stably prosperous.

At least kangaroos are able to regulate their own reproduction and control their own fertility.

Politicians like Kevin Rudd lack the will to view population growth as something to be avoided due to the monetary benefits of taxes and mass markets. Population growth doesn't solve problems, but rather invites even more growth. We are selfishly creating larger impacts for future generations to cope with. As relatively new-comers to Australia, we haven't learnt much from the original inhabitants!

Economists who think that exponential population growth is "good" is because it improves the economy by increasing the number of consumers. Australia is a land of immigrants and this policy of welcoming people as residents has helped bring us prosperity and cultural diversity. However, more of a good thing is not necessarily better! Medicine is good, but taking more than prescribed is NOT better. Economist and demographers who apply rules without basic biological understandings of ecological communities are living in a vacuum. Growth cannot continue forever, and if we tip over sustainability the benefits will turn to detriments and destroy the building blocks that sustain life. All economists should have a basic understandings of biology and ecology, the "web of life" without which we could not live on planet Earth!

Economists who think that exponential population growth is "good" is because it improves the economy by increasing the number of consumers.

To quote American anti-immigration writer Lawrence Auster:

"The prevailing view of immigration among mainstream elites is that it represents a great boon to the economy. That immigration is only to be considered from the standpoint of its economic effects has become such an accepted notion over the past 25 years that it has not occurred to many people what a bizarre idea it really is. The implication is that our well-being as a society is solely a function of economic output. Matters of quality of life, social cohesion and continuity, aesthetic enjoyment, political liberty, national identity, and all the other intangibles that make up the life of a society—since these cannot be stated statistically, they don’t count. Or so the economists seem to believe. The late Julian Simon, with his crack-pated idea that every immigrant, regardless of his cultural origin, level of education, or legal status, represents a net economic gain for this country, was perhaps the most extreme of these “economystics.”

Notwithstanding the veneer of scientific expertise with which its claims are advanced, the economystic faith boils down to an almost vacuous proposition: immigration is good because it increases population, and thus (assuming more economic output from more people) proportionately increases gross product. A doubling or tripling of the U.S. population will lead to a doubling or tripling of economic output. Voilà—immigration makes us a “wealthier” nation! One of the problems with this logic is that individual wealth does not necessarily increase, only the aggregate wealth. Meanwhile, our congested coastal and metropolitan areas have become two or three times more crowded. Pressure on open spaces and parks, stress on resources (increasing the need for burdensome regulations), crippling traffic congestion, displacement of older residents, as well as ethnic conflict, all become worse. Even as economic output goes up, overall quality of life can decline. But the economystic cannot see these things because for him the only reality is that which can be stated in economic terms.

For the economystic, the swelling of Los Angeles due to immigration has been a wonderful thing. According to the Los Angeles Times, “Development policies over the last decade have sought to make the Los Angeles area the magnet of the burgeoning Pacific Rim economy. The region’s growth has been phenomenal, as measured by trade revenues, number of building permits issued and aggregate income.” Sounds great, right? But the article continued: “The success of Los Angeles’ integration into the international economy, however, is not matched by success in integrating its immigrant and ethnic minority populations.” The article then discussed the uncontrolled ethnic rivalry and violence in this new “world-class” city of Los Angeles.(5)

In other words, the great economic growth of Los Angeles has not necessarily been a boon for the people living there. By most standards, Los Angeles over the last 30 years has become an immeasurably worse place to live in as a direct result of the very things that have led to the growth of its aggregate wealth. The economystic cannot see this. He looks at a table of statistics, notices the upward trend in population and aggregate income, and rushes into print telling us how immigration is turning America into an earthly paradise."

Source

Some good points have been made here and above, but I think they fall into the trap of crediting the growth pushers with far less nefarious motives than they deserve to be.

That population growth could possibly be good is self-evidently ridiculous.

Once, decades ago, before Australia reached its population size, maybe.

And just maybe, theoretically, in the future, if we can somehow fix up the land, our forests and our waterways, take proper care of all our endangered fauna and flora and all agree to live in a far less materially profligate fashion, we may be able to squeeze a few more millions into our now largely barren and dry continent.

But, today, amidst the ecological crises and crises of resource scarctiy, on top of the chaos and waste caused by extreme laissez faire free market capitalism, it is insane from the point of view of our society as a whole, and these economists who pretend otherwise are lying through their teeth.

They are lying on behalf of a cynical parasitic elite amongst us, who have calculated that by trashing our environment with more people and making us all, on average, necessarily poorer and by wasting enormous resources coping with the diseconomies of scale you refer to, they can profit at an even further cost to the rest of us.

All the economic activity of the population-growth-pushing sector adds nothing to the overall wealth of this nation[1] but takes a good deal away.

The people pushing population growth are the moral equivalent of those who would burn a house to the ground in order to destroy any possible evidence linking them to the burglary of that house.

The only thing more stupid than 'growing' an economy through population growth is 'growing' and economy through war.

For further information, please read "How the growth lobby threatens Australia's future" of 24 Jan 09.

Footnotes

1. Arguably, wealth brought in by immigrating overseas elites, and to a smaller degree, some of those with skills trained by other, often poorer societies, could be considered in some sensed as exceptions to this as it would add to the overall wealth of this nation, but at the expense of the overall wealth of the nation from which they come. Of course almost none of this wealth would end up in the hands of ordinary Australians.

The "parasitic elites" are trying to make us accept a 35 million figure for 2050. However, this will inevitably blow out, just like Melbourne's growth zone has done already, and Australia's population growth has surpassed projections. Unless our immigration rate is drastically slowed down, our numbers will double in 36 years! In this case, we will be much closer to 50 million by 2050. We humans have an evolutionary flaw in our failure to comprehend exponential growth. Water allocated to the red gum wetlands along the Murray had to be cut due to the needs of consumers. Additional population growth will eat away at our remaining forests and waterways in the quest for "jobs" and "economic benefits", and our land will be a dry, hot and sterile desert. Of course as long as our GDP is growing, the wealthy elites will be able to find sanctuary in their private acreages and ivory towers while the rest struggle against the tide global tides of shortages and poverty.