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SAMJ: South African Medical Journal

On-line version ISSN 2078-5135
Print version ISSN 0256-9574

SAMJ, S. Afr. med. j. vol.100 n.11 Cape Town Nov. 2010




Ethical challenges in an age of overpopulation



To the Editor: 'Humanity is but a blip on the time-scale of life on earth. But that blip is all that we have, and our present global course guarantees its extinction.Global overpopulation leads to poverty, overcrowding and pollution of air and water. These factors, together with increasing unemployment and food shortages, will decrease the quality of life for millions of people.2 For example, the population of Uganda is projected to triple by 2050 to about 103 million citizens, which will be accompanied by deforestation and soil erosion.3 The tenfold population increase in Ethiopia during the last century, despite land rehabilitation and water conservation measures, resulted in problems threatening agricultural development and food supply.4 Soil erosion cannot be overseen: ravines are visible in the fertile highlands in the north of the country. A consequence of excessive birth rates is unemployment, especially among young people.4 At the same time, labour productivity is growing, a few can cater for many, and more and more people become occupationless. In the past, similar conditions were turned around by wars and pestilence. This has not been happening of late, and we sit and wait to see what happens, as if there were nothing more that can be done, while the population grows. But there are many things to do. Firstly, the birth rate should be better controlled. Taking into account geographical, ecological, economic and other realities, a maximal number of children per woman should be determined for every area (this figure will hardly ever exceed two). The most reliable method of birth control is female sterilisation. The last (or single) birth should be carried out as often as possible by caesarean section, because this procedure is associated with lesser risk to the baby and expedites sterilisation by fallopian tube resection. Male sterilisation by vasectomy, a simple and harmless procedure, should also be propagated by all means; it would be particularly efficient in a milieu where promiscuity or polygamy is widespread.5,6

Many projects could be accomplished by a globalised mankind: construction of irrigation facilities for drought-stricken lands; and nuclear, solar, tidal and other power plants to reduce the consumption of fossil fuels. Scientific research should be revitalised and purged of scientific misconduct. Such steps would create work for many people. Not much is required for that: a globalised administration and English as the first or second language for everyone. Moreover, should the birth rate decline in the future, it means that the workforce is at its maximum now, and it is an opportunity to accomplish great projects. Therefore, propaganda should popularise the image of hardworking people, which must become a pattern of identification for the youth.


Sergei V Jargin

Peoples' Friendship University of Russia


1. Van Niekerk JP de V. Humans - a threat to humanity. S Afr Med J 2008;98(3):163.         [ Links ]

2. Robey B. Asia's demographic future: the next 20 years. Asia Pac Pop Policy 1990;(14):1-4.         [ Links ]

3. Coombes R. Population: the forgotten priority. BMJ 2009;339:b3750. doi: 10.1136/bmj.b3750.         [ Links ]

4. Nyssen J, Haile M, Naudts J, et al. Desertification Northern Ethiopia rephotographed after 140 years. Sci Total Environ. 2009;407:2749-2755.         [ Links ]

5. Jargin S. Overpopulation and modern ethics. S Afr Med J 2009;99(8):572-573.         [ Links ]

6. Jargin S. Demography and architecture in Ethiopia and elsewhere. Domus. Update published online 05 July 2010: (accessed 5 July 2010).         [ Links ]

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