Are we ready for 7 billion people?

Published: 04 November, 2011 07:53 IST | Arindam Chaudhari |

A few days back, the world population touched the 7 billion mark. No wonder the debate has gained momentum about how this growing population would put unprecedented pressure on already scarce resources

A few days back, the world population touched the 7 billion mark. No wonder the debate has gained momentum about how this growing population would put unprecedented pressure on already scarce resources. The riots over food, water crisis and deaths due to curable diseases in developing countries have raised concerns over the population explosion. With the 7 billionth living child hailing from a country like India, the blame of populating the world and causing the global crisis is being shifted back to the developing nations and citizens of the Third World! But then, the moot question is -- is the earth really not ready for 7 billion people and is nature really stretched for generating resources for all? Are the citizens of developing nations consuming more and is the population expansion in these countries the real reason behind the growing resource crunch?

Last year in August, Obama blamed India and China for the global food prices hike and commented, "As you see more and more demand placed on our food supplies around the world; as folks in China and folks in India start wanting to eat more meat and commodity prices start going up..."

On hindsight, the answers to the questions I asked one paragraph above are -- as often touted by heads of developed states � yes! But then, the analysis reveals a completely different picture. The stark truth is that the total food grain consumption of an average American is more than 5 times that of an Indian.

According to the same source, an American's grain consumption per capita per day is thrice as much as an average Chinese's! According to WHO, the per capita per day grain consumption figure for the developing countries is a measly 2,681 kcal in 1997-99; estimated to be slightly better in 2015 at 2850 kcal -- while the developed countries were way ahead with 3,380 kcal as far back as in 1997-99, a figure that's expected to be 3,440 kcal in 2015.

The entire hypothesis gets more transparent with the fact that the entire shortage and hue and cry over the food crisis is a gift of the West. Researches by Stockholm International and the Food and Agriculture Organisation show that the world is not facing any food crisis; but in reality, the food crisis is due to wastage of food. The total food produced across the world is enough to feed the world comfortably.

A Stockholm International reports states that US alone wastes around 30 per cent of food and water that can fulfil the needs of around 500 million people. As per the latest study conducted by the Swedish Institute for Food and Biotechnology, the total food wasted by consumers in developed nations is equal to the entire food produced in sub-Saharan Africa.

Europe annually wastes around 280 kg of food per person while the figure reaches 295 kg per person in North America. The average household size may have decreased in developed countries like US or UK, but ironically the average consumption has increased. Thus, a smaller household in a developed country consumes more than a larger household in a developing country. This happens owing to the fact that each household, with all basic consumer items like televisions, energy, oil, refrigerators, cars and others finds lesser users in a smaller family � and therefore the total cost of these items is divided between lesser number of family members, thus increasing the average cost.

The same goes for water. The acute water shortage is a phenomenon that is mostly predominant in developing countries, with 1.5 billion people worldwide suffering from it. The slew of water shortages, as predicted by various scientists, is likely to affect 3 billion people in the next 25 years. And most of it will have an effect on low and middle income countries, who will find it very difficult to cope with the exploding population.

The exploding population isn't only about consumption of water and food -- it's about the sticking point of energy as well! So many wars have been fought, high profile diplomatic endeavours tried, millions made to suffer, regimes overthrown, revolutions fanned - just to satisfy the appetite of wealthy nations' energy needs! United States is the biggest per capita energy consumer in the world that subsumes 20 per cent of global energy even though it makes up only 5 per cent of the world population.

It takes 10 children in India to match the consumption rate of just 1 child in United States! This again is not all. Given the fact that the developed world's energy consumption and wastage is far more than that of developing countries, the greenhouse gas emission details also follow the same phenomenon. The per capita greenhouse gas emissions per year in US is 23.5 tonnes while that in China is 5.5 tonnes per capita and in India the figure is merely 1.7 tonnes per capita.

In the next four decades, the world will add two billion more people, thus the stress on resources will increase. Today, more than 5.5 billion people reside in developing nations and this is the part of the world where the resource crunch can be felt.

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