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Manufacturing consent for Third World population control

By Nalini Bhanot and Laxmi Murthy

Whipping up fear

The white race has tended to view itself as superior to all other races -- Asian and African -- and has long feared that the 'whites' will be overrun by the rapidly-growing coloured people of the world. This was one of the justifications for tackling population control programmes in Asia and Africa on a war footing.

In addition to anxiety about 'quantity', eugenic concerns created anxiety about the 'quality' of population. Certain sections of the population, even in their own countries, were seen as undesirable and therefore unfit to survive -- the poor, the diseased, the disabled, people of colour.

As far back as 1977, R T Ravenholt, head of USAID's population branch, in justifying US involvement in population matters argued: "Without our trying to help these countries with their economic and social development, the world would rebel against the strong US commercial presence."

Eugine Black, former president of the World Bank, and Lewis Strauss, founder member of the Population Council, brought out ads warning against communism. "A world with mass starvation in under-developed countries will be a world of chaos, riots and war. And a perfect ground for communism."

The presentation of population growth as a security threat stems from a supposed causal relationship between population pressures and resource scarcities -- a correlation sought to be established by neo-Malthusians. The main proponent of the scarcity-conflict model, Canadian political scientist Thomas Homer-Dixon, suggests that environmentally-induced internal conflict, in turn, causes states to fragment or become more authoritarian, seriously disrupting international security. The scarcity-conflict model today largely informs foreign policy, population and environmental policies. This perspective ignores the other, more important contributory factors of environmental degradation -- colonial forest policies that laid the ground for the ravaging of forests by contractors and the government; inequitable consumption patterns, and polluting technology.

Western economic interests

Statements by US officials make it amply clear that aid for population control comes not from altruism but clear business interests and fear of being overrun by burgeoning Third World populations. Said Secretary of State Madeleine Albright in 1998: "International family planning also serves important US foreign policy interests: elevating the status of women, reducing the flow of refugees, protecting the global environment, and promoting sustainable development which lead to greater economic growth and trade opportunities for our businesses " (emphasis added).

In its 'Answers to frequently asked questions' about USAID's international family planning programmes, USAID makes clear its motive in supporting population control: "Expanding populations also undermine developing country efforts to provide citizens with adequate healthcare, food, education, and jobs. These conditions slow economic and social development -- jeopardising the potential for these countries to be reliable allies, good trading partners, and growing markets for US exports. And chances increase that people will migrate to the United States in search of employment and a better life."

It is no coincidence that anti-immigration groups in the US , like the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), are vocal supporters of population control programmes. Betsy Hartmann, co-coordinator of the Committee on Women, Population and Development at Hampshire College, points out that in the "greening of hate", anti-immigrant groups masquerading as environmentalists (with names like Carrying Capacity Network) have tried to penetrate and take over liberal environmental groups, particularly the largest member-based environmental organisation, the Sierra Club.

Foreign aid -- the heavy hand

International donor agencies - the International Monetary Fund, World Bank, United Nations Fund for Population Activities (UNFPA), United States Agency for International Development (USAID), United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) -- have all identified population growth as one of the main factors for underdevelopment, and have channelled billions of dollars into population control. Besides creating conducive climates for investment in the Third World , population control is seen as a 'solution' to the global environmental crisis.

Donor agencies have been steadily working their way towards manufacturing consent for population control of Third World populations. Tracing the history of international intervention in Indian population policy, Dr Mohan Rao reveals the startling fact that although the proportion of international donor funding was not significant -- never exceeding a tenth of the total health budget - donors have exerted a disproportionate share of influence. The greatest foreign involvement came after the droughts and economic crises of 1966 when the World Bank pressurised the Indian government to intensify population control measures, and USAID replaced the Ford Foundation as the leading agency providing assistance for population control in India . The World Bank, UNFPA, and the Swedish International Development Agency (SIDA) supported 'dynamic' initiatives with considerable funds.

One of the World Bank's activities has been to pressure national governments into prioritising population control policies and then providing loans and credits for implementing them. In other words, the World Bank has made population control a conditionality for loans and grants-in-aid to Third World governments.

InfoChange News & Features, March 2007