Even the most blind and bigoted should be at least dimly aware of the race between people and poverty. The population explosion is not just a convenient phrase of the demographers. It is a grim reality confronting practically everyone on the globe whether at the moment well fed and outwardly complacent or living on the narrow edge of hunger.

The latest figures of the Environmental Fund show that the alleged decline in the world's population growth rate is a myth. It was thought that the rate had slowed to 2 percent or 1.8 or even 1.7. But this is not borne out by careful estimates based on statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau and the United Nations.

The fund's report measures population against food supply. As might be expected, the United States leads, with a per capita average of 3 1/2 meals a day.

The per capita world food supply provides roughly 1.8 U.S. meals per day. For the poorest countries the level is well below that average, spelling chronic hunger.

In his report to the annual meeting of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, Chairman Robert McNamara spoke the blunt truth about the prospect little more than 20 years ahead. If all the projected increases in aid and a variety of forms of assistance to the poorest countries are lived up to, there will be in the year 2000 some 600 million people living in absolute poverty.

For those of us who sit down to three squares a day, that is an incomprehensible figure. As he has done so often in the past, the dedicated chairman made the obvious point that this must mean a far greater effort to try to narrow the gap between the half-starved and the blandly affluent.

Measure against the figures of the Environmental Fund, the 600 million is, in all probability, a gross underestimate. Here is the supreme irony of the race between people and a limited food supply.

In the poorest countries the advances in medicine out of World War II have made life-saving antibiotics and other measures - such as innoculations, virtually eliminating smallpox - available at mass-produced rates. The lives of millions have been saved. But the tragedy is that on bare subsistence they lead a half life.

Yet they reproduce themselves, since the shadow of a hope as old as time tells them that more children will save them from the worst of their destiny. Even with infant mortality rates double or triple those of the developed countries, a whole new generation is condemned to a despairing struggle to survive.

The grim reality cannot be overlooked. If world population had been stabilized in 1950 the present food supply could feed every human being at the American standard of three-plus meals a day.

It was no stabilized, and there is little or no prospect that it will be stabilized. The Environmental Fund gives a U.N. median projection to establish a population increase worldwide of 49 percent in the next two decades. Since U.N. projections have assumed a steady decline in fertility contrary to fact, they are probably too low.

What must seem almost a joke until the explanation is forthcoming is the fact that the United States has the highest population growth of any developed country. The reason is illegal immigration. Without the illegals, the U.S. population is 23 million, with a growth rate of 0.9 per cent. With an estimated 6 million illegas, it is 230 million and the growth rate 1.7 per cent.

Many of the illegals come from neighboring Mexico, which has one of the highest growth rates (3.3) percent - topped by the Bahamas (4.1 percent), another source of illegal immigration. The blockhuster is the Peoples Republic of China with a total population of over 1 billion, which means, as the fund points out that nearly a quarter of all peoples are Chinese. The growth rate is put at 2.3 percent which must be an estimate, since statistics for both city and country are hard to come by.

Various [WORD ILLEGIBLE] have from time to time seemed to offer a way out. One was the "miracle grains" - rice and wheat - widely touted 10 years ago. The high yields of miracle rice and wheat were to aleviate, if not solve, the world's hunger. That was soon shown to be an illusion.

There is no way out unless the population flood can be slowed. Various philosophers and economists have developed ways and means to that end. One of the first was Thomas Robert Malthus, who at the end of the 18th century published his famous work with the theme that , as population increases at a geometric ratio while subsistence increases at an arithmetical ratio, society is doomed to misery. His remedy was prudence and restraint - which have of late been in short supply.