In the wake of the horrible tragedy in Haiti, as an advocate of overpopulation awareness, I thought a few words were in order.
First of all, no reasonable person, including those of us raising awareness about the dangers of overpopulation, is in any way pleased to see such loss of life, even in a country as badly overpopulated as Haiti. It’s a catastrophe and we should mourn the loss of every life. The Haitians are in my prayers. And I’m happy to see the U.S. leading the recovery effort.
My whole purpose in writing Five Short Blasts was to promote a slow and steady stabilization and, then, reduction in the U.S. and global populations through a reduction in the birth rate, avoiding an increasing death rate that would otherwise be inevitable. Natural disasters come and go, but even ones as bad as this one, in which as many as 100,000 people have perished, have virtually no effect on the world’s population. Within twelve hours, the world’s population was already higher than before the earthquake struck.
The point I’m trying to make here is that those few people who may celebrate such natural disasters as a cure for overpopulation don’t understand that they make no difference toward population stability in the long run and they give the rest of us a very bad name and do the cause a disservice. Such people should be ashamed.
Secondly, there is a point to made here about overpopulation. I’ve written and spoken of overpopulation’s role in driving unemployment and poverty, and that if something isn’t done to address the problem by reducing the birth rate, poverty will eventually drive our death rate higher. With a population density of 800 people per square mile, the third highest in the western hemisphere (behind Puerto Rico and El Salvador), Haiti is also one of the most desperately poor countries on earth. Two thirds of its people have no formal jobs. Eighty percent live below the poverty line. Their per capita consumption of everything except food is virtually nil. While it would be over-reaching to blame all of Haiti’s poverty on its overpopulation – decades (centuries?) of political corruption have been a major contributing factor – it has had an effect.
Island nations typically thrive on a tourism-based economy. Consider the Dominican Republic, the other nation which occupies the same island as Haiti. It’s population density is 40% less and, thanks to vibrant tourism, it’s about six times as wealthy, which isn’t saying much, but it’s a lot better than Haiti. So why no tourism in Haiti? Few tourists want to be surrounded by over-crowding and poverty, even when sequestered in private resorts.
Their poverty played a huge role in the death toll of this earthquake. It’s estimated that it killed up to 100,000 people. By comparison, the Loma Prieta earthquake in San Francisco in 1989, a quake of almost exactly the same magnitude – about 7.0 – killed just 63 people. Why the difference? Such a poor country, even though it sits within a known seismic zone, simply can’t afford to require quake-hardened building techniques. Seen in that light, the toll of the Haiti quake can be blamed almost entirely on its state of poverty. It’s just one small example of how poverty, the greatest killer in the history of humanity, takes its toll.
Somewhere down the line there will be analysis of this tragedy and recommendations for preventing similar ones in Haiti and elsewhere. No doubt poverty will draw some focus. But somewhere in the analysis the role of overpopulation in driving that poverty should get some recognition.