Population Growth is Dropping in Industrialized Nations and Increasing in Some Developing Ones

Download MP3   (Right-click or option-click the link.)

I'm Steve Ember.  And I'm Faith Lapidus with Explorations in VOA Special English. Today we tell about population changes around the world and the problems they have created.

More than six and one-half thousand million people are living in the world today.  By the year twenty fifty, that number is expected to reach nine thousand million.  Population experts say most of this growth will be in developing nations in Latin America, South Asia and Africa.  Africa's population, for example, is expected to double to almost two thousand million.  And South Asia will have an additional one thousand million people within the next fifty years.

While population growth is increasing in some developing countries, it is falling in many industrialized nations. The United States is unusual because its population is increasing about one percent a year. This makes the United States the world's fastest growing industrialized nation.

These changes in population growth have raised questions among experts.  For example, how will industrialized countries provide for their aging populations, especially with fewer workers? How can poor countries provide for their growing populations while poverty, hunger and health care remain problems?  And how does immigration influence both situations?

Population experts say Russia faces the most severe population decrease of any country. The population of Russia is now one hundred forty-three million.  It is expected to drop twenty-two percent over the next forty-five years.  If this happens, Russia could lose more than forty percent of its active workforce and have economic problems.  The government of President Vladimir Putin is looking for ways to prevent an economic slowdown.

Part of the problem is the short length of time that Russian men generally live. The average life expectancy for Russian men is just fifty-eight years.  Russian women live fourteen years longer.  And men in Western Europe live sixteen years longer.  Drugs, tobacco smoking and alcohol are some of the main causes of death among Russian men.  There are also high numbers of accidents and men killing themselves.

Russia also has low birth rates. A record number of Russians reportedly married last year. But many do not seem ready to have children. Those who do take risks.  Research shows that seven out of every ten Russian babies suffer from health disorders. Every twelfth baby is born weighing too little. All of these changes in Russian society are affecting the country's economy

China is the world's most populous country, with one point three thousand million people. It is also dealing with economic problems linked to population.  The government has a firm family planning policy that limits parents to having only one child.  As a result, China has one of the lowest population growth rates in the developing world – just six tenths of one percent a year.  The population is expected to increase to one point five thousand million people in twenty-five years and then begin to decrease.

The Chinese government said its one-child policy has led to fast economic growth.  Yet, some people believe it has created a troubled economic future. Wang Feng is an expert on Chinese population issues at the University of California-Irvine in the United States.  He says fewer people will be entering the Chinese workforce in coming years. But, more people over age sixty-five will be demanding retirement payments from the government.  So he says a smaller workforce could have bad effects on the economy.

Experts believe China's one-child policy has affected the country in other ways.  Chinese society values sons over daughters.  Some parents choose to end a pregnancy if the fetus is a girl. So more boys than girls are born in China.  As a result, experts say about forty million Chinese men will not be able to find women to marry within the next fifteen years.  Experts say this could lead to kidnappings and more trafficking of woman and girls.

Almost all of the world's population growth is expected to take place in cities in developing countries. By the year twenty thirty, more than sixty percent of the world's population will be living in cities. Within the next ten years, experts say there will be twenty-five "mega-cities" of more than ten million people each.

In India, concerns are increasing about the movement of people from farming areas to these mega-cities.  The Indian capital, New Delhi, and Bombay will be among the largest cities in the world.

Environmental experts worry about social pressures and poor living conditions in mega-cities. These huge cities generally lack effective education, health care and transportation systems.  In addition, as mega-cities spread, they take over surrounding agricultural land.

Experts say these problems are intense in Bombay.  About half of the city's population of fifteen million people live in so-called "slums."  Houses are close together and not well built.  They lack clean water and waste removal systems.  Diseases spread quickly when people live too close together.  Indian officials are trying to deal with the problem. Yet, they admit it will be difficult when an estimated two hundred families move to cities like Bombay each day.

The United States is the only industrial country to experience population growth.  In the past ten years, the population increased from two hundred sixty-three million to an expected three hundred million later this year. The American population is increasing at almost one percent a year.  Forty percent of this growth comes from immigration.  Population experts say most immigrants are settling in cities like New York; Miami, Florida; Houston and Dallas, Texas; and Los Angeles, California.

Some officials are concerned about the increase of immigrants in major American cities.  They worry about how schools and health care systems will deal with this population growth.  Children of recent immigrants often have problems in public schools where classes are taught in English.

European governments are dealing with a different issue linked to immigration and population growth.  Racial and ethnic tensions are increasing in some European countries. This issue intensified last year in France when hundreds of young Arab and African men rioted. They were protesting against economic inequality and the failure of French society to accept them.

Many rioters were the children of immigrants who had moved from countries like Algeria and Tunisia in the nineteen fifties and sixties.

The population of Europe is also aging faster than any other part of the world, except Japan.  Birth rates are also down in many European countries. Experts say the number of people depending on workers will rise as the number of workers falls. They say spending in European countries will have to increase for retirement, health care and long-term care for old people in the future.

While population growth has dropped in most industrialized nations, birth rates in Africa are the highest in the world.  By the year two thousand fifty, twenty percent of the world's population will live on the African continent. That will be almost two thousand million people, up from eight hundred fifty-five million people today.

Especially large population growth is expected in Nigeria, Ethiopia and the Democratic Republic of Congo.  Other countries likely to have major growth include Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger, Somalia and Uganda.

Experts are warning that overpopulation will put more pressure on already poor African nations to provide public services. World Bank population expert John May says family planning programs are the answer.  Mr. May works in Niger where the average woman has eight children.  He says the government is going to start offering free birth control services to the public. It has also taken steps to raise the legal age of marriage, which is now fourteen years old for girls.

Experts admit that population estimates for the future may prove to be incorrect.  However, officials believe that poor nations will face strong pressure from future population growth.  Such countries are already struggling to provide for their current populations.

This program was written by Jill Moss.  It was produced by Mario Ritter.  I'm Faith Lapidus. And I'm Steve Ember.  Join us again next week for Explorations in VOA Special English.

Voice of America Special English

Source: Population Growth is Dropping in Industrialized Nations and Increasing in Some Developing Ones
TEXT = http://www.voanews.com/specialenglish/archive/2006-04/2006-04-18-voa3.cfm?renderforprint=1
MP3 = http://www.voanews.com/mediaassets/specialenglish/2006_04/Audio/mp3/se-exp-population-growth-18apr06.mp3