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Birth Control and Growing Planet

January 15, 1987

Your editorial (Dec. 28), "A Groaning Planet," implies that birth control is the only solution worth consideration by nations still burdened with rapidly growing populations. This may not be true at all.

D.J. Hernandez of the U.S. Census Bureau examined the research on demographic changes in 83 countries and concluded that the best studies have found little net effect from family planning programs.

Why? One answer is supplied by Frances Moore Lappe of the Institute for Food and Development Policy. Her research indicates that population growth rates cannot be lowered simply through contraceptive technology. According to Lappe, high birthrates reflect people's defensive reaction to enforced poverty. Lappe is not against birth control per se. She simply shows that critical advances in health, security and education must change the lives of the poor--especially the lives of poor women--before the can choose to have fewer children.

One example may suffice. Three-quarters of the world's population now live in 72 countries that the World Bank designates as low- or lower-middle income. Of these only four have experienced a dramatic drop in their growth rates since the 1960s: Sri Lanka, China, Cuba and Colombia. What have these four countries done that the others have not? They have all assured their citizens access to a basic diet through more food guarantee systems than other Third World countries.

And in China, which has had a change of policy since 1979, undercutting guaranteed employment and old-age security, birthrates have not continued to fall, despite the world's most stringent population controls.

GEORGE KEENEN

Ventura

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