Thursday, November 3, 2011

From My "Junior" Year

This was my contribution to a group 'sustainability project' in my Botany 100 class, Spring '10.  We were trying to address the needs of feeding the population of the world, in the foreseeable future.  Mine involves slowing population growth.

Can human population growth be checked?  Sure.  Several possibilities come to mind, but government mandated one-child policies wouldn’t be popular and genocide, wiping out a whole continent or a large part of one, … well, lets not go there. 

Clearly we need to come up with a plan that involves voluntary compliance.  Let’s look at the graph.  Here we see world population trending ever upwards.  Looking closer we see some of these lines flattening out and three trending up, especially these two.  Really especially, this one.  Africa. 
“— At age 45, after giving birth to 13 children in her village of thatch roofs and bare feet, Beatrice Adongo made a discovery that startled her: birth control.
"I delivered all these children because I didn't know there was another way," said Adongo, who started on a free quarterly contraceptive injection last year. Surrounded by her weary-faced brood, her 21-month-old boy clutching at her faded blue dress, she added glumly: "I fear we are already too many in this family."  (Ya think?)
“On a continent where fewer than one in five married women use modern contraception, an explosion of unplanned pregnancies is threatening to bury Adongo's family and a generation of Africans under a mountain of poverty.” 

We have to be careful, now, not to blame everything on Africa, but really, we can only do so much with our population.  It’s actually trending the right way.
 “"Fifty-one million unintended pregnancies in developing countries occur every year to women not using contraception," the World Bank said in a statement released on the eve of World Population Day.
Although birth rates have fallen in the past 30 years, in 35 countries -- 31 in sub-Saharan Africa and East Timor, Afghanistan, Djibouti, and Yemen -- birth rates are more than five children per mother.
A global approach, encompassing not only contraception but also better access to education, is needed to bring down the fertility rate in countries where it is still too high and puts the lives of women at risk, said Sadia Chowdhury, senior reproductive and child health specialist at the World Bank.
"Girls' and women's education is just as important in reducing birth rates as supplying contraception," said Chowdhury, who is also a pediatrician.
"Women's education provides life-saving knowledge, builds job skills that allow her to join the workforce and marry later in life, gives her the power to say how many children she wants and when.
"And these are enduring qualities she will hand down to her daughters as well," said Chowdhury, co-author of a World Bank report on contraception and unintended pregnancies in Africa, eastern Europe and central Asia.
Countries with a high birth rate also tend to have high maternal mortality, infant mortality and poverty, and poor education, health care, and nutrition, Chowdhury said.
"It all adds up. When you see one thing not happening, you see other development aspects not happening," she said.
So, policy-makers in developing countries can be appealed to on the grounds that family planning best serves their people.  Not just that they are over-populating the world.

As a general rule, when women become literate and educational attainment rates rise, birth rates fall. That isn't just a vague policy statement that's hard to grasp. That's a real predictor of actual behavior – across the board. The higher an education a woman has, the fewer the children the woman will have. That's because typically a woman getting an education will put off getting married and having children until she's finished with her education. Educated women learn about contraception and family planning, so they have fewer unwanted pregnancies. Even further still, education broadens their perspectives about what the world has to offer them besides being a wife and mother.** Which is why there are a number of cultures around the world consciously preventing their daughters from being educated. It isn't because they believe girls are incapable of learning. It's the reverse: they fear what the girls could accomplish if they were educated.

They're losing out. Not only are they missing the contributions those women could have made, actually, educated women also learn about how to better care for the children they already have. They spend more time, not less, with their kids. They stimulate and engage the children in ways that would never even occur to those without an education. So … they're better moms.

Promoting birth control in Africa faces a host of obstacles — patriarchal customs, religious taboos, ill-equipped public health systems — but experts also blame a powerful, more distant force: the U.S. government.
Under President George W. Bush, the United States withdrew from its decades-long role as a global leader in supporting family planning, driven by a conservative ideology that favored abstinence and shied away from providing contraceptive devices in developing countries, even to married women.
Bush's mammoth global anti-AIDS initiative, the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, poured billions of dollars into Africa but prohibited groups from spending any of it on family planning services or counseling programs, whose budgets flat-lined.
The restrictions flew in the face of research by international aid agencies, the U.N. World Health Organization and the U.S. government's own experts, all of whom touted contraception as a crucial method of preventing births of babies being infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.
The Bush program is widely hailed as a success, having supplied lifesaving anti-retroviral drugs to more than 2 million HIV patients worldwide.
However, researchers, Africa experts and veteran U.S. health officials now think that PEPFAR also contributed to Africa's epidemic population growth by undermining efforts to help women in some of the world's poorest countries exercise greater control over their fertility.
"It was a huge missed opportunity to integrate HIV/AIDS and reproductive health in ways that made sense," said Jotham Musinguzi, a Ugandan physician who heads the Africa office of Partners in Population and Development, an intergovernmental group that promotes sexual health in developing countries. 
So, can you and I make a difference, on a global scale?  Yes we can.  We do it by holding our elected officials accountable for implementing sensible policies regarding aid to developing countries, including modern contraception as a means of effective family planning, as well as combating AIDS.