News of U.N. Food Aid Initiatives for Haiti Ignore the Overpopulation Problem


Both political and news organizations ignore overpopulation as a root-cause problem.  This morning the news blared how U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is calling for immediate emergency food aid to Haiti, where food riots have been occurring with increasing frequency, yet neither the radio news people nor Ki-moon himself have said anything about the problems in Haiti, which include overpopulation.  Are Haiti and the other undeveloped countries the “canaries in the coal mine” for serious overpopulation problems?

I don’t mean to ignore the fact that Haiti’s problems primarily stem from human rights abuses by the Haitian elite and colonial behavior by developed countries (most recently the U.S.), but the people of Haiti are so poor and disadvantaged, and the economic and legal systems are so stacked against them, that their numbers will continue to increase even as they struggle to survive in the depths of perpetuated, systemic poverty.  The increasing population will only make their situation worse. 

Although Haiti could feed its current population if its economy was differently organized and a multitude of other problems were addressed (link), and its 1.58% annual growth rate is not extremely high (compared with the United States at 0.97% and China at 0.58% – link), it is only a matter of a decade or two before the population will exceed its agricultural capacity.  How can the U.N. expect that throwing ever- increasing amounts of emergency food aid is going to make things better there, especially when the root problems are economic and political?  Is this a case of giving people fish instead of getting them the right/permission to get to the water?  It appears the U.N. is afraid to step on U.S. toes because the U.S. has done a great deal to sustain corporate profits in Haiti, creating and perpetuating poverty in Haiti to do it (link).

I don’t mean to underestimate the difficulty of acknowledging the global population explosion.  I can’t completely understand why, but I have seen so much evidence that nobody in politics or the press is willing to acknowledge the population explosion that I have to accept it – it must be incredibly difficult to say “overpopulation problem”.  What worries me is that the longer we fail to acknowledge and address the problem, the worse it will become.  How many countries will fall to the level of Haiti, a continuing crisis of serious deforestation and economic depression, before the powers of the world acknowledge the problem and start actively working to address it?  Will cities in the developed countries show ever-growing shanty towns like the big cities of the developing and undeveloped world?  Los Angeles already has a tent city, mostly based on the mortgage crisis, but … will it ever go away, or is it destined to remain and grow as population increases and the global economic situation declines?

Education, family planning, and economic assistance appear to be the most effective remedies for both poverty and overpopulation.  In the one province where the Chinese loosened their “one-child family” law and increased family planning, education, and economic assistance, the birthrate dropped as much or more than it did where they are strictly enforcing that law (link).  The world should be paying attention to this.  Not only can the Chinese point to the tens (or hundreds) of millions of births they have avoided as a key part of their economic success, but they can also boast the best known experiment proving that, with education, family planning, and economic assistance, people will reduce the birthrate on their own.  The solution is an old, but still most effective (and most cost effective) one. 

War is not the answer.  I used to worry that some world powers would see war as a way to reduce population.  The problem with that is that the countries with the biggest overpopulation problems, like Haiti, often have nothing of value to fight over.  They’re unlikely to provide troops for a war, or unlikely to be asked, if for no other reason than that their average education level is low, although many thousands there would probably jump at the chance to join any military organization as long as it would feed them and their families.  That has already been seen in Iraq, where some of the militias have become essential social service organizations and won many recruits as a result.

It’s Later Than You Think.  The time required to turn around population growth has been estimated at a full generation, or 70 years, since that is how long the high birth-rate children will live.  The time is approaching when food supplies will become short enough in many countries that providing aid to the worst-case countries like Haiti will simply be impossible.  Efforts to slow and turn around population growth in the developing and undeveloped countries need to be in place and making progress now.  How bad will the world powers allow the overpopulation situation to get before they acknowledge the problem and begin addressing it?  We need to start attacking the problems with assistance in education, family planning, and economic assistance now.

With a lot of hard work and a little luck, we could see a continued capability for more advanced countries to provide aid to those who are struggling.  The aid effort will be helped by efforts to improve education and infrastructure in those poorest of countries.  While Haiti will continue to have its problems, I believe we can find a way to minimize suffering and educate most people in the undeveloped countries to the point where they will limit their own family sizes, yielding visible economic improvement and reduction of environmental impact.

I welcome your comments.

interesting reading:
WHY IS HAITI SO POOR?, Bob Corbett, 1986, Webster University, director of People to People, Inc.
The Haitian Diaspora in the Bahamas, Ria N. M. Treco, April 17, 2002, Florida International University Department of International Relations
Haiti and Human Rights, Anup Shah, Sept. 1, 2006, www.globalissues.org
PRC Family Planning: The Market Weakens Controls But Encourages Voluntary Limits, June 1998, U.S. Embassy Beijing

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6 responses to “News of U.N. Food Aid Initiatives for Haiti Ignore the Overpopulation Problem

  1. This hasn’t been the first time I’ve seen localized food shortages pointed to as reason to think that in the 200+ years Thomas Malthus has been wrong he is suddenly correct.

    Right now the world overproduces food. As long as that happens talking about an overpopulation problem looks ill informed. By overproducing I mean that the world has produced enough food in these past several years to make everyone on the planet overweight.

    Until such a time when agricultural production is really not likely to surpass the amount it would be healthy for humans to eat, various nations stop letting their agricultural sectors decay, and the US stops doing things like building suburbs on farmland because of the value of the produce of that land concern over supposed overpopulation and running out of food it out of place.

    Though I am glad to see increasing (though coming a bit late) concern over the environmental impact of China which, as it successfully lowers its population growth and expands its economy, is likely going to surpass the USA as the worst polluter in the world.

  2. Pingback: Haiti » News of UN Food Aid Initiatives for Haiti Ignore the ...

  3. Sorry, Nathaniel, but I can’t agree with you. The worrisome thing to me is that, no matter what the world production of food is today, the population growth rate of another billion every 13 years will exceed it far too soon. I believe it is short-sighted to say we don’t have a problem because we still produce more food than is needed. Pollution and urban sprawl are driven by what people do (and we in North America have certainly set a “goal” image that is ridiculous … though I suppose someone had to do it :<.

    Thanks for your comment. — Tim

  4. Nathaniel,

    We may be overproducing food but at what cost to the environment? The rate at which we produce food is artificially high due to the availability of cheap petrolium based fertilizer. Also land is being degraded by these intensive farming methods at a greater rate than it can be renewed. Eventually we aer going to hit a wall. We must initiate a controlled decrease in global population or there will be a massive forced and cruel die back at some point in the future. This happens in nature when any organism exceeds the carrying capacity of it’s habitat. We as humans now have the ability to foresee and mitigate for such problems.

  5. While we are still “overproducing” food, the stocks we have are becoming increasingly smaller and smaller worldwide.
    Also, producing food is a small part in the equation, while processing and distribution costs are also to be considered unless we couls make food just magically appear where they are needed.
    The environmental concern is also to be considered, topsoil degradation and water shortages soon will make it impossible to feed an even stabilized population, just imagine it with a soaring one, like ours.

  6. Haiti’s situation is somewhat unique, involving a variety of factors including their land ownership system. That said, Haiti is certainly the most striking example in the Western Hemisphere of the results of overpopulation. Let’s hope enough people understand and take action soon enough to prevent this from becoming a widespread scenario.
    Thanks for your comment, Luiz.

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