The world in the shadow of Malthus

On November 15, the 8 billionth person on the planet was born; in 2050, we will be 10 billion

09:00 | 2 декември 2022
Снимка: Andre Malerba/Bloomberg
Снимка: Andre Malerba/Bloomberg

Prof. Ph. Vladimir Chukov

On World Population Day - October 18, 2022, the UN website predicted that on November 15, the population of planet Earth will already be 8 billion. On this occasion, Secretary-General Antonio Gutierrez said that "this would be a fitting time to marvel at the advances in health that have led to longevity and dramatic reductions in maternal and child mortality."

Some experts do not share UN Population Fund Executive Director Natalia Kanem's moderate optimism that "there is no room for panic." The Harvard-educated physician from Panama draws attention to the fact that the "aging West" continues to rule the livelihoods of the "rejuvenating East." In a speech, Kanem gives evidence of the population's age structure on both shores of the Mediterranean. In southern Europe, more than 22% of the population is over 65, while on the African coast, more than 45% are under 15.

Reflecting on the subject in the popular newspaper Sharq al-Awsat, the founder of the Egyptian Food Bank, Rida Soukar, defended the view that the emergence of the 'covid-19' pandemic and the war in Ukraine were nothing more than proof of the validity of the theory of the English scientist Thomas Malthus. In his 1798 Essay on the Principle of Population, the latter argued that humanity was heading for demographic catastrophe unless curbed. That is because the population is increasing geometrically while the means to feed it are growing arithmetically. According to him, disasters such as epidemics, wars, famines, and diseases are "natural regulators of the world's normal population".

In his interview, Soukar gives examples of the destruction of Egypt's agriculture in recent months. He notes that imported farm machinery, fertilizers, and animal feed, mainly from Ukraine and Russia, have been the backbone of the food produced in this most populous Arab country. Now that those ingredients are not there, Egyptian farmers have been forced to destroy entire poultry farms. Separately, this process has caused the price of food to rise sharply. According to him, even some foods have disappeared from the table of the ordinary Egyptian.

The statistics are relentless in this regard. In 2050, the Earth's population is expected to reach 10 billion. The World Population Prospects 2022 report, released on World Population Day, shows that more than half of the projected increase in world population by 2050 will be concentrated in eight countries: the Democratic Republic of Congo, Egypt, Ethiopia, India, Nigeria, and Pakistan. It predicts that countries in sub-Saharan Africa will contribute more than half of the projected increase.

But then the agricultural output should increase by 50% and water resources by 15%. However, the current situation shows a trend that is in the opposite direction. According to an FAO report, in 52 countries worldwide, the population cannot select their food. Meanwhile, 95% of the population in the West, plus countries like Azerbaijan and the United Arab Emirates, have no problem with variety on your table. A more detailed specialist report shows that Asia has the highest number of people who cannot afford healthy food. We are talking about 1.89 billion people, of which 973 million are in India alone, another billion are in Africa, and about 151 million are in the Americas and Oceania.

Population growth is also having an impact on new housing construction. According to the United Nations, by 2100, the number of people in the world is expected to reach more than 11.2 billion. Then the resources consumed by the population should increase sevenfold. According to the director of the European Institute for Sustainable Development in Edinburgh, Sean Smith, such a growth trend is ideally in line with the economic development of the European Union. By 2100, he says, the world will need an additional two billion homes. However, most of these are on the agenda to address the 'rejuvenating East', not the 'aging West'.

In his examples, Egyptian civil activist Soukar tells the story of his fellow farmer Fathy Younis. The latter admits that he has not heeded calls to reduce the number of his heirs. He created seven sons with the clear idea that he needed free labor to cultivate the lands located in the Nile Delta. In the face of the utter ruin of Egyptian agriculture, Yunis advised his sons to have no more than one or two heirs. Moreover, sensing the devastation and hopelessness of his profession, he appeals to his sons to prepare their children to emigrate to Europe. Younis adds that he is currently working to secure the necessary funds for his heirs /sons, and grandchildren/ to go to the "aging West." The desperate farmer adds that there is a similar sentiment among his counterparts throughout the village of Sard, located in the Western Province of Upper Egypt.

The data on the democratic changes in the world is stark. They are apprehensive about education. According to a report by the US anti-poverty NGO The Borgen Project, 121 million people worldwide are not in education. More than 60% of them are in predominantly poor countries. The majority are concentrated in Africa /about 42%/ and 33% in West Asia. A large portion of those who have started school still need to complete it.

Because of these huge differences between the "aging West" and the "rejuvenating East," we are seeing a colossal migrant wave. Military conflicts, collapsing economies, disease, climate change, and all sorts of other challenges are becoming factors in the movement of vast masses of people from South to North, from East to West. According to UN figures, if we currently see 100 million migrants worldwide, in 2050, there will already be 250 million...

Exciting data was presented at the October 18, 2022, conference by the "Ankara Policy Center" on the situation of Syrian refugees in Turkey. The latter is the main reservoir of migration flows along the Balkan route. In a statement, Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu noted that from 2018 to this point, this largest migrant contingent has decreased and increased. In that year, there were 3,623,000 Syrians in Turkey. Currently, the migrant community in question is 3,629,000. What is practically happening is a rotation of Syrians who are leaving Turkey for Europe, but in their place are those who are fleeing their homeland. According to experts, more than 70% do not wish to return to Syria while Bashar al-Assad is in power in Damascus. It also applies to the five million Syrians living in northern Syria under Turkish control. Should Ankara withdraw from these territories, this would trigger a massive wave of migration from opponents of the current Syrian President. Respectively, they will cross into Turkey and from there into Europe. The unpleasant thing is that around 35% of Syrians in Turkey are illiterate. Interestingly, at the same time, they are happy with their life in Turkey, primarily because the neighboring country provides them with jobs /usually low-skilled/ and social services that are lacking. Since 2011, when events began in Syria, more than 2 200 000 people have found work in Turkey, and more than 820 000 Syrian children have been born.

These figures characterize the prospects for solving the problems of Syrian refugees. The problem is primarily political and is linked to the future of the rule of Bashar al-Assad, aided by Russia and Iran. Until that happens, the Syrians, driven by intolerance and outright racism, will look for their new future in neighboring European countries. Experts note that at the moment, in the run-up to Turkey's presidential and parliamentary elections, radical anti-immigrant slogans are hard to entice Turkey's low-educated social strata. For example, almost until a few months ago, unknown politician Yumid Özdag and his Victory Party already have over 3% approval.

Some Middle East experts put statements made by European Foreign Minister Josep Borel in early October to an audience at the European Diplomatic Academy in the same metric. In Bruges, where the scientific unit is based, the experienced Spanish diplomat said that "Europe is a garden" and the rest of the world is "a forest." No matter how many fences Europe erects, it can never protect itself from the 'forest'. There was a powerful reaction in Abu Dhabi, where the EU representative was summoned to the local Foreign Ministry for explanations. Other countries in the region reacted in the same negative way. The infamous Maria Zakharova used the occasion to attack the EU, noting that Europe had become a 'garden' after the brutal plundering of the 'forest'. Borrell had to give media explanations that what he meant was that Europe should get to know other parts of the world very well, not turn a blind eye to them.

In practice, the head of European diplomacy instinctively, probably not in the best way, raises the subject of the future demographic policy of the Old Continent. "The 'aging West' is a fact that all too mechanically fill the labor gap from the 'rejuvenating East'. That poses risks that Germany understands best as the primary recipient of the great migrant waves (the 1960s, 1990s, and 2015-2016). However, it is now necessary for other EU member states to get a good look into the details of the aforementioned East-West contradictions. It is essential as we are on the threshold of the 8 billionth inhabitant of the planet, who will indeed not be born in Europe but somewhere in Asia or Africa.

It is still being determined whether Malthus's theory, established in the late 18th century, is applicable three centuries later. Let's compare the number of victims of the 'covid-19' pandemic and those of the war in Ukraine (between 6.5 and 7 million in total) against the background of eight billion inhabitants. We are unlikely to see them as severe regulators of spontaneous population growth in the world. It is not disasters but reason and creative labor that will create the conditions for normal life and economic prosperity.