Moises Naim of Efecto Naim, interviews PAI President, Suzanne Ehlers on the 7 billion milestone and more than half the world’s population being under the age of 25.
Read the English Transcript
MN: There are many people on the planet, there are too many people on the planet?
SE: It’s funny that this conversation is about the 7 billion people, but that’s not the case, it’s not about numbers; it’s about the quality of life, about how people live, about what they consume. So more than numbers, it’s about how they live and how people are dispersed throughout the planet.
MN: Another world trend is the aging of the population, speak to us about that.
SE: We know that, especially in countries like Japan and some in Europe, in recent decades, have begun to struggle with the problem this will become in the next decades. It’s something we should pay attention to and should be prepared to respond with respect to policy. What is also happening and doesn’t receive so much attention is the number of young people we have. At this moment in the planet, more than half of the world’s population is under the age 25. If we think about countries with an older population, the answer is yes, there is a set of policy and social challenges there. These nations will be relatively well equipped to continue. In other regions, the young population is experiencing a rapid growth at a time when they are not prepared to meet the challenge.
MN: In what part of the world is the population growing more rapidly? Where does population increase more?
SE: Well, we see this especially in Africa. In Nigeria, Uganda, Ethiopia; these are countries where the population will probably double in the next decades. So if you think of the United States with 230 million people doubling in the next decades, how do you provide schools, enough hospitals and infrastructure with roads? If you put the problem in your own context, this rapid population growth imposes enormous challenges to governments.
MN: Within government policies, with respect to population, one of the most controversial, is the policy of one child per couple, like in China. What do you have to say about that?
SE: I think the first and most important thing to say about it is that it deals with an unnecessary abuse on human rights. I think that what most people don’t realize is that fertility in China was already decreasing when they implemented the One Child Policy, so what I go back to is: if you give women the tools, and families the access to services to plan and have children when they want and how many they want, families make the right choices for themselves. This is probably the most important message to send to Chinese policy makers.
MN: By nature of your work, you travel throughout the entire world and speak to governments and see what the situation is. What is, in your experience, the most common errors governments make when dealing with population?
SE: Well, coming from Washington DC, it’s quite interesting, we see this problem here that is, the disconnect between the needs of the people and the decisions of policy makers. A disconnect that should not occur when population is concerned. Family planning is incredibly cost-effective, low-tech, and easy to take to many countries, to rural populations. And we see that governments are still not connected to the needs of the people. This is becoming a great challenge to social programs. It’s probably the biggest mistake.
MN: I’m sure that many people who are listening to us, when they hear us talk about family planning, of population, etc., the word that comes to their mind is abortion. What is the role of abortion in all of this conversation, in these policies?
SE: I think the important thing about abortion in a place like the United States where it’s such a politicized issue, is that you can support family planning and not abortion because family planning reduces the incidence of abortion. Abortion, safe and legal, should be offered as a method of reproductive health,
MN: I would like you to give us a concrete example of this, in your travels you’ve surely met with people who are an example of the convergence of all of these circumstances: of poverty, of climate change, etc. Do you have an example in mind that you would like to share with us?
SE: Well, I think a woman named Aregash in Ethiopia. I’m 38 years old; she’s 32. She has 6 children. Her husband works far from home, and the earth does not produce what it used to, as she says. She looks for work in any other place. She has a limited education and only various plots of land that she inherited from her father and mother. Meanwhile, in whatever time she has, she functions as a volunteer coordinator in a family planning clinic. What an extraordinary testimony, in the time she has for herself, she gives others the good news that she discovered when it was too late for her. She dedicates herself to other women and their families, to help them achieve the possibility of a brighter future.
MN: To finish, I want to ask you about your perceptions of the future. You have two daughters, in what way will their world in which they will live be fundamentally different than the world you have lived and are living in?
SE: It’s always such a good thing to be asked about your daughters. Regarding Paloma and Dahlia, I’m going to say a couple of things. The question you asked about trends, I hope that the answer for them is positive in the social sector, that governments be more responsive to health, to education, and the set of social services that people need to maximize their possibilities. In the environmental field, I hope people understand that the comprehensive solutions are needed, that we need to struggle together against climate change. It’s not just one conversation’s perspective, but from a people’s perspective. And of course because they are both young girls, I hope that the possibility of girls and women is more fully realized when they are adults, that it’s better understood what powerful agents of change women can be in the world.
MN: Suzanne Ehlers, President of Population Action International, thank you for being with us, for having joined us.