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22 April 2014


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Peter Kranz comes closest to the truth in encouraging spacing childbirth farther apart. There are many effective ways of doing so. Condoms are one way, but many men don't want to be bothered with them.

Focus on the women instead. One child per family is unrealistic. But obstetric experience among hill tribes taught me that most women, given the choice, want only two or three. In Thailand, the turning point was Depo-provera - one injection every three months. My small rural hospital had 1,200 women coming in for it. Newer methods use an implant under the skin, good for up to five years. Intra-uterine devices give the advantage of easier insertion and easier removal when a woman decides to have another pregnancy. There are many NGOs willing to subsidize these methods.

Catholics and some conservative groups believe such methods are equivalent to abortion but actually, most prevent sperm and egg from ever joining. Husbands want to have a say in how many babies a family has, and that's okay if the wife can also decide. Focus on the women. They usually know how to spread the word. And better health, without a baby coming every year, is a strong motive.

Both Phil and Paul are sounding the alarm, while John and Peter are trying to offer some solutions to the looming problems associated with high rates of population growth in what is mostly a subsistence economy.

Historically, the only way to cope with burgeoning population growth has been to grow the economy fast enough to avoid the Malthusian quartet referred to by Paul.

This was how Britain, the USA and most of Europe (via the massively disruptive 19th century Industrial Revolution) managed to avoid socio-economic catastrophe, albeit by the skin of their collective teeth and with more than a few nasty shocks along the way.

Plan B is revolution which, as history shows, invariably morphs into totalitarianism in some form or another, which comes along with its own very nasty surprises as well.

I cannot see PNG readily avoiding some fairly unhappy experiences when the number of landless people who have no investment in either the traditional Melanesian or embryonic liberal capitalist systems reaches a critical mass of, say, more than 50% of the population.

Then, inspired by someone or something, they may very well decide that they will simply seize what they cannot achieve by political or other lawful means.

Some version of land reform seems essential, together with urgent efforts to develop the internal economy based upon the production of goods and services predominantly for local consumption. Export income can help fund this type of transition if it is redirected wisely, with an eye to the long term.

It will take political leadership of an exceptional kind to find a way to avoid major social upheaval and, right now, there is no sign of this emerging through the political process.

Look to history PNG. The lessons are there.

PNG today is merely a microcosm of the world at large. Why should it be any different since we are talking about humans who apparently have to go through the same difficulties over and over again if they don’t learn from history.

The looming juggernaut of human population growth is far more serious than climate change. Yet why do we ignore the one and concentrate on the other subject that we really can’t control anyway. All we can do is further tax those who may have some resources left and claim we are doing something about the problem. However so called climate change is seemingly amorphous and appealing to the public consciousness of individuals is fairly easy. Population control is clearly an anathema to everyone and a ‘poisoned chalice’ to political leaders.

Almost everyone should now know about PNG’s ‘youth bulge’ yet that fact has been constantly swept under the mat or put into the too hard basket.

Aid agencies handing out condoms will not fix the problem. A few years ago a whole warehouse of condoms purchased for PNG were still sitting in Moresby’s heat and literally ‘perished’ for want of an effective distribution system. One could also speculate that there were ‘other’ factors at work including a lack of ‘desire’ to use them anyway even if they were available.

The problem of over population is a by product of the lack of effective leadership (a week’s a long time in politics, etc.), and the old, wrongly reported ostrich syndrome of putting one’s head in the sand and hoping the problem will go away.

Try being a popular leader and suggesting everyone not have more than one child or at the most two. Axiomatically you won’t last long in a democracy spouting that philosophy. The Chinese who have led the way in this area have had to use coercion to make it (mostly) work. Instead of there being a Chinese ‘youth bulge’ however there is reportedly a ‘young man bulge’ since for some unaccountable reason many more Chinese male children seem to have recently survived than females. One wonders where these millions of extra young men will now find partners?

There are reportedly millions of people in Africa who would have perished but for the generosity of foreign aid. Every new decade brings a new famine and a renewed call for more aid. The ‘Horn of East Africa’ cannot support the current population. Drought and traditional need to use dry fuel for cooking and heating has led to the removal of any possibility of the land recovering by itself and the cycle of drought, famine, starvation and death should be a cogent lesson for us all.

Some may suggest that education will fix the problem. Well we have had the opportunity to try that solution again and again and for some reason, the will to procreate is far stronger than common sense. You can’t change the entrenched customs of a lifetime by offering what in effect is culture change without there being an enforced ‘driver’ that works.

Just look at the Ethiopian cultural concept of child brides and the fistula problems that causes. Overseas medical aid can help these poor young women but the real issue is ineffective government leadership and the lack of any will to properly and permanently fix the problem.

As I’ve expressed in a previous articles on The Attitude, the four horsemen (War, Famine, Plague and Pestilence), are the traditional way of controlling overpopulation. Unfortunately, all four lead to misery.

‘There are none so blind as those who will not see!’

Phil has some good points there.

The number of landless in cities and towns I would think are growing. And as rightly pointed out, many of these people cannot go back home to their villages.

Spiraling Population growth is one factor which has increased the population density, but there are other glaringly similar issues: tribal fights in the highlands, sorcery and witchcraft, election-related tensions that make communities unable to live with each other, guns and marijuana, and the list can go longer.

One election candidate I am reliably told brought a plane load of his wantoks to live in the city

On hosuing maybe there is a real need to organise the settlements better first: These squatters are living on customary land or state land. In the city of Port Moresby with increasing developments, squatters have been displaced. The most recent being the 2 Mile settlement and the Paga Hill settlement.

There is a real need to plan and organise the cities properly. Complanceny and procrastination will definitely lead to greater problems in the near future.

Working well with customary landowners to lease their land for low cost housing so that there is a win win situation for both parties is important.

Some good ideas are being thrown aroung but we have yet to see a real pilot of low cost houisng for those who really need them.

Phil - good article.

Two suggestions. The second is more realistic than the first.

1. Condoms. Why don't the Catholics and the Fundies realise that these could be the single greatest factor in controlling population growth?

2. Supporting community housing. Low-cost high density housing schemes in the land that is available. Starting in a small way this could be important. Rose and I have done our own little bit to help build a house at ATS which will accommodate 10 people. If a thousand people did this it would make a significant difference.

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