How to Fight Overpopulation and Fear in Africa

Monday, September 25, 2006

Like many articles on sub-Saharan Africa, the Sept. 18 editorial "Another Green Revolution?" ignored a key factor that contributes to the hunger and poverty afflicting so many in that region: overpopulation. The number of malnourished people there has skyrocketed from 88 million in 1970 to more than 200 million now. In this same period, the region's population has more than doubled to 750 million.

With nations such as Ethiopia and Niger projected to double in population in the next 30 years, significant progress in reducing hunger will remain elusive unless more resources are devoted to family planning.

In much of the region, lack of access to contraceptives results in high rates of unintended pregnancies and larger than desired family size.

As a December report on Africa from the Council on Foreign Relations concluded: "[A]ll the programs the United States supports on food security, employment, empowerment of women, achieving universal primary education, and economic growth may well falter if serious attention is not given once again to population."


Senior Adviser

Population Action International



In "For Darfur Women, Survival Means Leaving Camp, Risking Rape" [news story, Sept. 16], Craig Timberg told the story of an 18-year-old Darfuri girl who was raped while collecting firewood. The reporter rightly highlighted a tragic and all too common occurrence worldwide. Every day, millions of displaced women and girls must collect firewood for their families in dangerous conditions and are at risk of rape, assault, abduction, theft, exploitation and even death. They have no choice; displaced families often depend on firewood for cooking and to sell to support themselves.

The international community can mitigate this serious problem. The United Nations should consider providing fuel to displaced families in the early days of an emergency. National and international security forces should provide transportation to firewood collection sites or routinely patrol the routes to them. Humanitarian agencies should promote fuel-efficient technologies and alternative fuels to lessen the need for firewood. To be effective, these solutions must be coordinated by one agency, implemented in consultation with refugee women and coupled with income-generating activities.

This a recurring nightmare that we can end.


Executive Director

Women's Commission

for Refugee Women and Children

New York

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