July 04, 2011

Crowded Rwanda under siege?

There are few places in the world where the full pressure of population growth is felt as strongly as in tiny, landlocked Rwanda.
Thus starts an article in Nature by Josh Ruxin and Antoinette Habinshuti (Crowd control in Rwanda). While Rwanda currently "boasts economic growth, security and rising prosperity," Ruxin and Habinshuti believe that more population growth will lead to resource depletion, declining tourism due to poaching and encroachment in Rwanda's only major national park, and chronic poverty and malnutrition.

The authors advocate controlling population growth by promoting economic growth and girl education and offering "free" (by which they actually mean "paid by taxes") "contraceptives in every health centre and through every community health worker."
Until wealthier nations and large donors step up to fund family planning, poor nations themselves will have to take the lead. For those that choose this path — as Rwanda is doing — the rewards will be healthier, wealthier and smaller populations.
I do not object to voluntary donations to fund family planning, although I would rather give people the cash and let them decide how to spend it. But I do object to a couple of serious omissions by Ruxin and Habinshuti. They do not mention that people born in Rwanda could manage to prosper without those apparently dwindling resources by trading or migrating, as those born in crowded, tiny and landlocked Beijing, Frankfurt or Atlanta do.

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