Health and environment
Health and environment

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Health and environment

6 Population growth

Earlier it was stated that three factors check population growth. These are predation, disease and insufficient food supply. For much of our history, our ancestors’ numbers were indeed limited by wars, disease and famine. The world population remained relatively stable until around 300 years ago. Then at the beginning of the 19th century (100 years after population growth started its geometric increase), the demographer Thomas Malthus predicted that population growth would outstrip food production and would then crash, the crash being brought about by any catastrophic event such as famine, war or disease. So far, agricultural productivity has exceeded everyone's expectations and famines have been the result of shortfalls in particular regions, coupled with an inability or a lack of will to redistribute excess production from other areas. Also, in many ELDCs population growth rates have fallen, but this is largely because infant mortality has remained high. Therefore the primary health-care needs of ELDCs are still seen as crucial to curbing population increase. Parents continue to produce more children than they really want but a proportion will almost certainly not survive beyond infancy. A better-educated population is more able to make health choices, choosing contraception and learning simple techniques to combat disease, such as oral rehydration.

Some of the consequences of increasing populations have been unexpected, such as environmental damage and accidents resulting from inadequate safety measures as ELDCs strive to increase their output and wealth through industrialization. These have posed at least as great a threat as poor agricultural practices; the latter are leading to loss of agricultural land through soil erosion, desertification and increasing soil salinity.

Meanwhile, population growth in Africa continues at 3% per annum and there is not enough food or clean water to sustain this level of growth. So, although there may theoretically be enough food grown world-wide to feed everyone, we will continue to hear of famine and undernourished communities in ELDCs.

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