Small Islands Voice Global Forum
Balancing people and resources
‘Yes, population growth is a huge problem here in Vanuatu (Pacific) and the study, ‘2010 A Doomsday Scenario’, done by the Australian National University in Canberra about ten years ago, is proving completely accurate’ writes G. Leys. In one hospital alone approximately 450 babies are born every three months; very many of them to teenage mothers. That is enough to need a new primary school every three months in this town alone! There is absolutely no money for that. Already there is no money to pay new graduate teachers to postings in existing schools so they go unemployed. Young people drift into town from other small islands in the hope of finding gold on the streets. When this is impossible, they drift into crime. The police service is totally understaffed and poorly trained so no crime is ever solved; people do not even bother to report break-ins as it is useless. There are hardly any jobs for unqualified persons. We have very few natural resources and only small local industries which cannot offer jobs to the expanding number of young persons. Regrettably, the training colleges are on the whole of such a poor standard that students leave with an attendance certificate but no capability. There are jobs to be had in the trades for anyone who is capable, but they are few and far between. It is a sad situation. Recently an association has been formed which has as its aim the export of unemployed citizens to Australia! A figure of 10,000 has been mentioned. This country is fortunate to still have fertile land on some islands which can support people, but young people do not want to remain there and there is so much island rivalry that despite the fact that the constitution guarantees people free movement within the country, custom mostly prevents someone from one island settling on another.
Vernon from Puerto Rico (Caribbean) responded along similar lines: We are suffering the same problem with population growth in Puerto Rico and on the island of Vieques. Natural and forested land is being converted into housing for the increased population and income generating opportunities (tourism and industrial projects). I do believe birth control should be aggressively pursued before either Nature or the government forces the issue to be resolved.
While in the Federated States of Micronesia (Pacific) the situation is different: I wouldn't worry too much about population growth here, writes Osaia Santos, since the net increase between 1994 and 2000, as the census shows, is nearly zero. Emigration has solved whatever problems of uncontrolled growth we once had. We ought to concentrate now on more serious issues--like suicide.
The idea that population increase will eventually upset the balance between people and resources is a vital and universal island concern, writes Chris McMurray (Australia). I’d like to caution against relying on accepted concepts of carrying capacity and population density. There is no agreed limit to population density, since carrying capacity is determined not just by local conditions but by overall capacity to access resources. Hence islands like Hong Kong and Singapore can support very high population densities without compromising lifestyles, because they draw resources from surrounding areas, largely by means of trade. Islands that can’t do this tend to experience population pressure at much lower densities than exist on wealthier islands. I’d like to suggest that instead of trying to find a number that represents carrying capacity, the people of San Andres should focus on quality of life and environmental indicators. These could include access to services like schools, medical facilities, water, sanitation and waste disposal; pollution; traffic congestion; availability of housing; average number per household; employment; nutrition; and other poverty-related indicators. Demonstrated deterioration in these indicators is likely to make much more impression on planners than arguing on the basis of an easily-contested maximum carrying capacity.
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