This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 12th (it came out in 2015), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

If you are a user of my textbook and would like to suggest a blog post idea, please email me at: john.weeks@sdsu.edu

Saturday, April 1, 2017

The Demographics of Famine

Yesterday I commented on the linkage between looming famine and high fertility rates. In response, Abu Daoud posted the following comment:
Specifically, I'm wondering if famine is not part of the natural self-regulation of the local environment to shed excess population.

As you point out, all to these regions have very high fertility. If they had lower fertility is it not likely that there would be no famine, or that the famine would be much easier to address?
My answer is no, I don't think that famine is part of a natural self-regulation of the local environment, because the natural environment didn't create the violence that has been an important part of the limited food supply in these regions, nor did the environment on its own divert water resources and generate climate change. But we as humans have to be more aware that our actions have consequences and many of those consequences are bad. Too many children in an area does create a situation in which even a relatively small deviation from normal life can have harmful consequences because people are living on the edge all the time. 

I recommend that everyone read "The Science of Consequences" by Susan Schneider. She reminds us of the various ways in which humans sometimes fail and sometimes succeed at figuring out the good and bad consequences of what they doing to themselves and the environment around them. 

And I recommend that everyone pore over the research conducted at the Vienna Institute for Demography on the key role that education plays in almost everything demographic in the world. Increasing levels of education don't guarantee a successful future, but they dramatically increase the odds of people being healthier, having fewer children, having a more productive life, and generally improving the overall level of well-being for themselves and others. That is, in fact, another resource that should be added to the assistance package along with food and contraception.

2 comments:

  1. You wrote:

    "I don't think that famine is part of a natural self-regulation of the local environment, because the natural environment didn't create the violence that has been an important part of the limited food supply in these regions, nor did the environment on its own divert water resources and generate climate change."

    But is not violence partly related to overpopulation? Since the beginning of humanity populations have engaged in violent activities in order to take land and other resources in order to feed their growing populations. This has been common even when it meant displacing or entirely destroying neighboring populations. In other words, the violence is indeed part of the natural competition that humans (and other animals) engage in to accommodate their growing populations.

    Or am I missing something? How is this reasoning flawed?

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    1. In much of Africa, the violence has created a situation in which people are unable to peaceably grow enough food for their families. So, the causal linkage is violence leads to insufficient food, rather than the other way around. I agree that a search for food has historically led to populations migrating elsewhere, and that has occasioned war if people from place A are moving into an area controlled by people in Place B, but the modern world is much more complex than that.

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