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World population Thursday, 1 July, 1999, 16:05 GMT 17:05 UK
Population pressure and conflict
Ethnic cleansing reverses population trends
By the BBC's Roger Harrabin

The war in Kosovo has been characterised as a Balkan tale of hatred and ethnic violence. But, at least in part, it has its roots in the population debate.

In the early days of the conflict Kosovo Serbs told how they had been overrun by Albanians - breeding, they sneered, like rats.

We asked the United Nations statistics division to analyse the birth rate of Kosovo Albanians.

World Population
The analysis was done by the former head of Yugoslavia's social statistics division Srdjan Mrkic. He estimates that 50 years ago the Kosovo Albanian birthrate was staggeringly high, an average of nearly 8.5 children per woman.

That has declined today but it is still twice that of the Serbian population.

Mr Mrkic is a Serb but a German colleague in the UN population division confirmed the exceptionally high birth rate of Albanians. Even now it is much higher than anything else in Europe, on a par, in fact, with India.

Pressure of numbers destabilising

The birth rate helped to upset the population balance in Kosovo, where in the 1950s Serbs were outnumbered by Albanians by less than three to one, and in the nineties by more than eight to one.

Kosovo is by no means the first place to explode as population pressures increased. In tiny Rwanda the population almost doubled in just three decades.

As many as 800,000 were slaughtered in Rwanda
Rakiyaa Omar of Africa Rights says: "The extraordinary pace of the birth rate and the very small space of Rwanda go a long way to explain the hunger for land which then could be easily exploited by politicians to entice mass participation in the genocide."

Population pressure has created conflict around the world: in Nigeria, Sri Lanka, El Salvador and recently in Indonesia, where tribespeople beheaded families being shifted under the transmigration programme.

Resources squeezed

Analysts warn that with world population topping six billion this year and rising, we can expect more tension as nations run short of farmland and water, creating conflicts that might impose costs on all nations.

Click here to see how the world's population could change

Dr Norman Myers, author of the book Ultimate Security asks if population conflicts might force western nations into re-assessing their security spending.

He says there are already people in the Pentagon in Washington who are wondering whether they should shift spending from arms to things like family planning in the developing world or soil conservation or stopping global warming.

Those advisers are beginning to think that US security could be better guarded by changing priorities.

At the UN conference on population in Cairo five years ago western nations did agree a large increase in funding for family planning in developing countries.

Paying for ways out

But they have only delivered around half what they promised.

The chief culprit is the United States government, which has been forced by pressure from evangelical Christians and Catholic bishops to actually reduce funds for family planning.

Frances Kissling of the pressure group Catholics for Free Choice is furious at the policy reversal. She argues that women in the developing world are being deprived of the means to control their own lives and improve their standard of living.

Failure to help them, says Ms Kissling, will further destabilise developing countries and lead to the potential for more conflict in the future.

See also:

01 Jan 99 | Science/Nature
22 Jun 99 | Africa
29 Jun 99 | World population
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