World Population Day is observed annually on 11 July. The day was established by the governing council of the United Nations Development Programme in 1989 to focus on the urgency and importance of population issues. This year, the day seeks global attention to the unfinished business of the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development wherein 179 governments “recognized that reproductive health and gender equality are essential for achieving sustainable development.”
Why do we observe World Population Day? World population has reached a staggering 7.7 billion. India, with 1.37 billion people in 2019, has long been the second-most populous country in the world. According to the World Population Prospects 2019 released by the Population Division of the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, India is further expected to add nearly 273 million people between 2019 and 2050. Inevitably, with these figures, “India is projected to surpass China as the World’s most populous country around 2027”, the report said. These alarming facts are some of the reasons why the observance of World Population Day in India is of paramount importance. Causes of population explosion in India The birth rate is one of the factors for the population explosion in India. Partha Chatterjee, Associate Professor of Economics, explains that “In India, the death rate and the birth rate had been similar in the first half of the twentieth century. As a result, there was slow population growth. However, gradually, with better healthcare, food availability, etc., the death rate started falling, but not the birth rate. This mismatch between the birth rate and death rate is why we have seen the population growing at a fast rate over the last few decades.” Poverty and illiteracy in such areas contribute significantly to population explosion. Chatterjee explains that “in India, particularly in the rural areas, children are often seen as assets who will give returns later, i.e., take care of them when the parents turn old. They also believe that the number of children means more money earners in the family. Female education has a direct impact on fertility. The Estimates of Fertility Indicator report of the Census of India shows that the general fertility rate of the illiterate and literate women tends to be lower for the latter, both at the National and State level. Sonal Sharma, a Professor of Sociology, said, “A lack of female education prevents the families from having full knowledge about both family planning and the consequences of frequent childbirth. Educated women, on the other hand, are well equipped with the said knowledge. Most of them avoid early marriage and choose not to have many children.”
Consequences of population explosion in India Two-thirds of India’s population consists of people below the age of 35. Chatterjee points out that this has both advantages and disadvantages. He says, “A large young population means a large workforce which can produce more output. However, to be able to do that, the large labour force has to be complemented by commensurate infrastructure, capital, and technology. In India, investment in physical capital and infrastructure is not at par. Additionally, in recent times, private investment in India has been comparatively low”. All of this has restricted the generation of jobs, rendering a huge number of people being unemployed. India, thus, is not able to reap the benefits of its manpower. To meet the mounting demands of food, “agricultural practices are being extended and intensified, albeit at the cost of forests and grazing lands. Inevitably, this has not only altered the land-use practices leading to land degradation but has also resulted in over-exploitation of underground water resources”, explains Paramjit, an Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies. Rapid population growth sometimes also leads to inapt farming practices that instead of producing more output erode the soil and reduce vegetation. Increased use of chemicals disturbs water resource management, augmenting to the ongoing problem of water paucity in the country. Moreover, “people from rural areas migrate to the cities in huge numbers in hopes of better prospects. As a result, a large number of slum and unsanitary dwelling areas have surfaced in the cities, further adding a lot of pressure”, explains Sharma. Way forward The government has introduced measures like assured home delivery of contraceptives by ASHAs (Accredited Social Health Activists) who have also been instructed to distribute kits containing family planning and personal hygiene products to newlywed couples and educate them about family planning. In order to support billions of people both in the present and in the future, the government and its citizens must change the way they use the limited resources and implement schemes/initiatives to contain population explosion.