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Friday, July 23, 1999 Published at 12:57 GMT 13:57 UK

Are there too many people in the world?

Talking Point ON AIR is broadcast live on BBC News Online and BBC World Service Radio on Sundays at 1405GMT.

This week the Director of the United Nations Population Fund, Dr Nafis Sadik, answered your questions on the issue of population growth.

Read what you've said since the programme

Read and hear a reflection of your comments during the programme

Read what you said before we went ON AIR

The Vote:
Are there too many people in the world?
Yes No
Your comments since the programme:

What's the problem? The problem is not that too many people live on the Earth but that too many people live and want to live so called modern life.
Wang Wen Hai, China

While there is evidence to suggest that earth could support more than the 6 billion people living on it now, my opinion is that the living conditions on the planet will be degraded substantially if the present type of exploitation is let to occur. The worlds increasing duality, the division into first and third world countries will limit the population explosion into the poor countries, and their resources to support that kind of numbers are *very* limited. At the present technological state, there is no way the earth can support any more people for much longer.
Kalle Helenius, Finland

Where I live the government wants more people. The locals want more, as long as they are the same as themselves, but everyone seems to want to keep breeding. Personally, I've chosen not to have children. If I need a family, I'll adopt a needy child. The need for continuous population growth is a characteristic of the capitalist system. I don't know of a better system to offer, but I do know that we can't go on forever like this.
Being a responsible member of out planet means knowing when to stop. I've been told that I should breed because I'm intelligent enough to pass on useful genes (or some other such rubbish). I'll happily pass on opinions, but I'll never have a child, and I'm proud of that.
Keith Harris, Australia

I do not believe that earth's population has reached its limit. Population growth needs space and resources. Both of these are being mismanaged by greedy governments and business.
Elbert Joseph, Canada

People have been saying that there are too many people for past 50 or 60 years. Since that time the population at least doubled or tripled. When someone is saying that there are too many people, what he generally means is that there is too much competition for him to handle or he wants piece of real estate that belongs to someone else, in other words, greed.
We are wasting resources. Earth can support lot more people than we think it can. If we put the resources that we spend on killing each other into science, education, health care, agriculture and economic infrastructure our quality of life would much higher. We should try compassion and economic help instead economic exploitation and birth control.
Greg T, USA

The only way to prevent population overload is to tackle poverty and most importantly emancipate women from the role of baby-making machine. The only reason we have stable population growth in the western economies is because there is a very low infant mortality rate so there's less need to invest in a large family. And women have a high degree of choice both as to whether they have kids at all and how many they have. This is a matter of social justice and international redistribution of wealth and resources.
Keith Lucas, England

There are certain limits for everything and I think we are beyond the limit that the globe can accommodate. We all should join together in reducing the population and ring relief to the Earth.
R. Suresh, India

What groups who oppose population control (e.g. the Catholic Church) don't understand is that, sooner or later, we WILL have population control. Either we'll bring the birth rate down so that we achieve zero population growth, or the starvation rate will rise enough to achieve zero population growth. I don't have a hard time deciding which is preferable.
Brian Blaha, USA

Yes there are too many people, but I don't think that is really a major concern. HISTORY WILL ALWAYS REPEAT IT'S SELF. There is bound to be another major killer of some sort, like Plauge, War, Armageddon, O-Zone goes...bye bye etc.
Tom C, USA

Curbing our natural instinct to produce a child, once the very thing which kept our species alive but which now will doom our species along with the rest of the Earth, will be our biggest challenge in the next 25 years. If we fail in this endeavour, we condemn ourselves to death.
Darlene Vandever, USA

I don't know that I think we are headed for disaster - necessarily; but I think the more people there are the more out of balance we as a people are and I think that this is a great part of what is causing all the overt anger on the part of the general public. Too many people to be bothered; so many people we don't have time to care; enough people that losing your business doesn't matter, etc_
Alexandra Worcester, USA

One thing for sure is Africa needs people. Every day there are more Africans dying of malnutrition, starvation civil war, and AIDS than giving birth. I don't now what part of the world the UN is talking about because, from the way it looks there will not even be labour workers let alone knowledge workers in Africa in the near future.
B.Estephanos, USA (Ethiopia)

Our earth has this cool defence mechanism built in ... it's called evolution. Those of you who have 10 kids will eventually see their kids fighting it out over pieces of roughage. Unfortunately, ignorance is bliss and you people have no clue what you are doing to the world and your future. Want kids? Get a dog. They tend to not disappoint you and their life span is only 15-20 years vs 80 years for your kids. You think AIDS and other incurable diseases happen by accident? Two words ... population control.
Andy Jamison, USA

Some countries are already practising their own form of population control. They call it abortion.
Donna Cerbab, Cyprus

I agree with those optimistic attitudes. Population explosion is a problem when it is viewed in its relative sense, compared with the resource base of a given country. However, in its global sense, the problem is not of demographic but political.
Tadesse Alemu, Ethiopia

Just like living as long as possible is not meaningful if there is no quality of life, everybody should have the chance to some quality of life, and that is not possible with the population projections we see today.
The first step towards a meaningful reduction of the population growth would be to give the women control over their reproductive functions, above all to give free abortion to all who feel that the child would not be welcome or could not get a decent life.
Henrik A. Nyqvist, Philippines

I, and my three other siblings, have made a decision that we do not want to bring any other people into this world, as we see it as heading towards some sort of "decisive Cataclysm". I cannot be responsible for the upbringing of any new drains on the natural resources of this Earth. Some people want to see themselves surrounded by their offspring, and feel that they are able to give them a quality of life for their futures. I/we cannot see this...If I was to create another Human being...I would feel responsible for their suffering, as I see as unavoidable in the current population explosion.
Johnny Wedge, England

That the world has too many people is nothing more than capitalist propaganda. If it wasn't for the greed and waste of the west and the exploitation of the third world nations, the world would have ample resources to provide for a much larger population.
David Wood, Australia

When it comes to overpopulation, nobody here seems to have considered the matter of population density instead of just looking at population size. European countries have far more inhabitants per square kilometre than most underdeveloped countries. If people are going to discuss figures and statistics, they should put them in the correct perspective. The underdeveloped countries' struggles are compounded by the west absorbing so many of their resources through third world debt and not allowing them to compete in world markets on the same footing.
Chris, UK

If we look at the resources available on earth, there are probably enough for an increased population. However, I believe the problem lies more with the way humans have been using such resources. So far, the only real driver for resource exploitation has been profitability. We have not been using resources responsibly and until we can reach such an "ideal", letting the population increase exponentially and without control is asking for an overall lower quality of life.
In our current world, more people basically means more deforestation, more pollution, more poverty. If all countries in the world had the status of what is commonly referred to as "developed" nations, the overall energy consumption would be so high that we would likely have reached our population limits.
Guylain Barlow, Canada

The problem is not so much the Earth's human population, but how this population interacts with its environment. 6 billion people living ecologically sustainable lifestyles (if that is possible) are less of a problem than a mere 3 billion living utterly unsustainable lifestyles.
Albert, UK

I think at this rate the population is exploding can result in some kind of a disaster unless adequate measures are taken. If you look at Nostradamus prediction there has to be an end...but I am not a pessimistic as we the humans are able to take care of ourselves.
Jojji Kurian, USA

What will happen when earth's food supply will not meet the demands of the world population and those countries that has sufficient food supplies for their own population refuse to share it with those who need it, including water?
Mert Bil, USA

There is not a world population problem. There is a world greed problem. When you consider that between them the UK and the USA consume more food then the entire 'third world' put together, it's easy to see what the problem is.
Mark, England

Dr Nafis Sadik outlines the key issues:

The world community decided at the International Conference on Population and Development held in 1994 that we need to stabilise world population growth. This will help developing countries reach an adequate level of development. The focus is now on responding to human rights and needs, and especially women's and girls' needs.

Dr Nafis Sadik's introduction to the debate
Surveys show women throughout the developing world have more children than they want. When you ask them why, they point to the lack of access to birth control. Even if it's available in their own area their cultural and social environment often makes it inaccessible. Women are not allowed to make decisions about their own lives. So empowerment of women and control over their own fertility is a basic right, and part of the right to health and free choice.

Your comments during the programme:

Hamad Ali Mansoor's question
The population explosion is a serious problem facing the third world rather than the developed world. We in Pakistan are face disastrous problems. The government is spending less on essential resources such as water than it should be due to the growing population. Even the higher classes are suffering from inadequate facilities as a result. People have 5, 6 or 7 children because by the time they are 16 or 17 years old they are required to go to work to help out families with economic difficulties.
Hamad Ali Mansoor (Islamabad, Pakistan)

Paul Stancer's question
Why do people have large families? Firstly, it's because of a lack of education and family planning. The second, more important reason is that a large family provides insurance for when you get older. You need a lot of children because many will not survive due to the infant mortality rate. In Europe we have negative population growth. Child mortality is virtually zero. In many areas of the world population shrinkage may become a major problem due to HIV infection rates of up to 50%. In some countries there may be not enough people to work in the local economy. We need to get the message across about contraception and we have to make more people survive into adulthood in order to allow people to have smaller families.
Paul Stancer (Hong Kong)

Dr Nafis Sadik on the relationship between population growth and development
Developing world countries have tried to implement the recommendations of the Cairo conference. They recognise that population policies must be part of development strategies. The target set at Cairo was for $17bn to be spent on family planning by the year 2000. We are woefully short of that. Developing countries came up with $6.5bn out of a target $11.3bn, whereas developed nations provided only $2bn of the target $5.7bn contribution. The lack of international resources is critical, and the New York conference needs a contribution from the international donor community.
Nafis Sadik

Safari Sanka's question
Population is not itself a problem that the world should want to control. Population must be related to existing economic resources, which if fairly distributed, will lead to increased education. Families will plan for the number of children that they can support. General education will give an awareness of family planning. If there isn't a balance between resources and the number of people to be supported, there will be disaster Natural calamities do continue to reduce populations, but there is a serious problem with statistics. Population figures are not accurate in Tanzania because the government cannot even properly finance the census.
Safari Sanka (Tanzania, calling from the Netherlands)

Frederick Foo's question
Food supplies are adequate for the entire earth's population for now at least. Extrapolating to figures like 7.9 billion people is inaccurate, because developing countries' rate of growth will diminish as they become more developed. Japan used to be a developing country - it is now our turn to give other developing coutries help.
Frederick Foo (Tokyo, Japan)

The assumption that societies will definitely progress is inaccurate. Many African countries haven't developed. Population pressures have put pressure on infrastructure and the ability of governments to do anything at all. Education and access to contraception are important but families need make decisions themselves. We don't want to depend on large disasters for reduced population growth (such as with the Malthusian 'positive checks') is not acceptable. We need to act before the point of conception and families need to be given encouragement or something stronger.
Oon Thain Seng (Singapore)

Stefania Ivoy Hoha's question
Talking about the population explosion directs attention to women in the southern hemisphere as if they are undisciplined and don't know how to control their bodies.
Second, on the population figures: Nigeria had a population of about 55 million in 1960 and by 1991 it is claimed that it grew to 88mn. Today they talk about 140mn. How is this possible? The West's statistics of the Southern hemisphere countries are not reliable.
Stefania Ivoy Hoha (Berlin, Germany - originally Nigeria)

Dr Nafis Sadik on the validity of population projections
The UN projections are based on certain assumptions. The 7bn figure is based on the assumption that fertility levels will be at replacement level - that's 2 children per family. The 12bn plus figure depends upon fertility not declining. The most likely figure will be somewhere in the middle - 8 to 9bn. The projection depend on actions we take now and are based on a lot of methodological work by the UN. It is difficult taking censuses in many countries, including Nigeria, for various reasons. But ging by past experience these figures more-or-less hold quite well globally.
Nafis Sadik

We are demanding the free education of children, girls and boys, worldwide. Then the awareness would come and men would be more liberal-minded. In Germany more child allowance is paid to women to have kids. In Latin America women are sterilised without their even knowing it. Why is this? If we see the world as one family I don't believe there is overpopulation.
Stefania Ivoy Hoha

Dr Nafis Sadik on how population control depends on the empowerment of women
Research shows women want to have as many children as they can look after. Women have to have access to health and contraception. But to ensure their access programmes have to be directed at men and leaders - who are mostly men. They have to change their attitudes and allow women to have more control over decisions.
Nafis Sadik

Your comments before we went ON AIR:

It is fine people in the UK saying that there are not too many people in the world, as Europe copes with it's population very adequately, and the population increase in most of the Western European countries is between -0.1 - 0.5% per annum. However, living out here in Asia and travelling extensively around the region, you tend to see the poverty and environmental destruction that is being caused by the rapid rate of population growth in the countries of East and South-east Asia. Something has got to be done to curb the problem soon, or we are going to face extensive problems such as water shortages and mass famine unless the population is curbed in these areas.
Mark Williams, Hong Kong

I remember something interesting the Pope said in the late 80's. He was on a tour in Ethiopia and at a rally he told the hundreds of thousands of people gathered in one of the poorest countries of the world to "Be fruitful and multiply". I can't say in all honesty that I agree with the Pope on this one. Quality of life for all of the people in the world is the real issue in my opinion. There is not enough water in the Middle East to support the growing populations as things stand today. It doesn't take a mathematician to figure out where we're heading. We may be able to stave off the largest humanitarian disaster in the history of the world with technology, but the ecosystem of the only habitable world that we know of will be drastically changed forever.
Scott Hicks, USA

The world is at carrying capacity. The next generation will certainly not have enough resources to survive, and there will be a "thinning out:" a war, a famine, or a plague will reduce the earth's numbers until the planet's population is once again manageable.
Vashti, USA

As I see it, the population of the earth at 6 billion is OK. What is alarming is that we have tripled in some 30 years. The rate is alarming. The earth can definitely support more people, but it might be disastrous if we don't find a way to stop this explosion.
Badri, Singapore

It is funny that when whites begin to overpopulate Europe, they go out and brutally colonise other countries and even continents like America and Australia. But when non-whites face expanding population pressures, the now rich whites complain that they will be the losers when immigrants flock in! The Industrial Revolution in Europe and the U.S put so much pollutants into air and water without regard to anything else. Now when developing countries need to go through industrialisation, the whites claim that they are hurting the environment! I can give you a hundred such examples of subtly hidden but extremely racist attitudes prevalent in the west these days. But would any closed minds listen? Hardly.
Brij D, USA

I don't think the world is over-populated, and in 60 years time we will be living on mars. Sure we are definitely destroying the earth but that's not because of too many people it's because westerners are greedy and would rather see others suffer then themselves.
Regan, Australia

No one knows for sure how many humans the earth can support. Maybe due to evolution we may have better plants and resources that would be enough to sustain everybody on earth.
Cherilyn E, USA

Surely its all a matter of balance. Basic physics says that matter cannot be created nor destroyed only converted from one form to another. Logically therefore more people = fewer trees ; fewer 'natural' resources etc. The world we live in comprises of matter, it is finite. If we continue to let populations grow then everything else will diminish.
Bryan, England

No the world is NOT over populated. I am doing my bit to ensure that I have plenty of family around me when I am old. I have 6 children and another on the way (Sept). I have a good job and plenty of money so why should I sacrifice my life style just because a bunch of environmentalists decide to scare everyone into believing that the human population is in trouble?
Chris, UK

One point not raised so far is why do poor parents in third world countries have large families. If you have two children and both are unemployed then your family will starve, if you have six children, four are unemployed but two have jobs, however menial, then your family will live in poverty but live.
Sandeep, UK

Ten Third World people are far less threat to the planet than one American. Unfortunately, all they want in life is to have what the American already has. The solution, therefore, is rather unpalatable. It is a huge change in the way we live, reversing centuries of culture, i.e: have less. Nobody will ever be elected on this platform, and I myself would like a bigger car, so I'm rather pessimistic.
Graham Bell, Brazil

Yes, there are! I wonder if anyone has a doubt that the wars of the new millennium will be linked to scarce water supplies and agricultural soil? Are the richest nations in the world willing to eternally sustain a starving India? Will they continuously supply water to poor dried out African nations? If not ... well, just put two and two together ...
Bruno Silva, Portugal

Even if the world's resources were spread equally amongst us all, they are not infinite, and ultimately the more of us there are, the poorer we all are as individuals.
C Rhode, UK

What's all this about 'empowering women' in the developing world? I used to think Winnie Mandela was mad when she said that contraceptives were a covert attempt by the White world to suppress the strength of the Third World, but now I'm not so sure. Isn't it true that the real reason behind Western fears of overpopulation is that they will have to share more of their wealth with the other people of this planet?
Lee Wai-Hung, UK

If you care about the environment or about quality of life, then the world is overpopulated. If not, it isn't. But spare us the pipe dreams about "fair" distribution of resources. People need to get by with the cards that are dealt to them. Western peoples have, by and large, chosen to curtail their reproductively in the pursuit of a higher quality of life.
Third world nations have chosen to squander their loans in grandiose engineering projects and superfluous military hardware.
Tim Richardson, USA

Earth has almost reached its end. Looking at its history since it formed, very soon we would be having an ice age (maybe a comet might destroy if before). So as we explore new planets for our future, to keep the human race alive, 6 billion people is a very small number for this vast, dangerous and unexplored space. We definitely need more than 60 billion, and earth can sustain that number as long as it exists.
Chinni, India

I think one of the great problems of a huge population is getting rid of waste. Where do we send it when we've no where left to put it?
Susan Doneis, USA

The population debate is overshadowed by ideological battles between neo-Malthusians and Marxists. Very little is said about the other species on this planet that are disappearing rapidly due to loss of habitat. Though billions more people could inhabit this planet, it would require the conversion of almost every piece of arable land into farm land. I do not want to be party to the extinction of other species who have just as much a right to exist as humans. The world would be a tremendously poor, dilapidated, and hopeless place if it were only inhabited by humans.
Rajiv, USA

Britain has a population problem. That little island has 650 people per square mile, versus 275 people per square mile for France and 75 people per square mile in the USA. Britain has a much higher population density than China, although at least in Britain, population growth is now pretty negligible. China has a population density of 337 people per square mile, although the population is heavily concentrated in the eastern and southern part of the country, where the densities would be many times higher than this. But the same is also true for England, where the density is highest in the Southeast. If the USA were to have the same population density as Britain, instead of our current 273 million people, there would be 2373 million people, that would be 40% of the current world total.
Stephen Granger, USA

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