Editorial: March 2012
On October 31, 2011 the world population topped seven billion. (The US Census Bureau estimates that it won't reach 7 billion for some months). The Chief of the UN Population Estimates Section acknowledges that no one can know the exact number of people on the globe. Even the best individual government census has a margin of error of at least 1%. This would translate in the global aggregation to a window of uncertainty of 6 months before or after October 31, 2011.
The birth of a baby is always an occasion for joy. All human beings are unique productions of our Creator’s genius. The arrival of baby Nargis, the world's symbolic seven billionth citizen, in Dauraha village on the outskirts of Lucknow, was greeted with much fanfare and publicity. As the population keeps increasing, there are umpteen challenges that stare us in the face.
It is estimated that about 255 people are born every minute (about 367,200 a day), while about 106 die (about 152,640 a day). At that rate, the increase would be about 78.3 million a year. Although birth rates and death rates have both declined sharply since the 1960s, death rates have declined more rapidly. The cumulative effect of the excess of births over deaths in recent decades has led to the attainment of successive billion person milestones every 12 or 13 years. 50.4% of the 7 billion is male and 50.5% of them live in a town or city. The median age of world population is 29 years.
There is renewed debate on the impact of a growing number of humans on the planet's finite resources. The issue is complex and there is no panacea for the travails of hundreds of millions of deprived citizens who need food, shelter, safe water and energy. It is distressing that more than 800 million people live in slums and a similar number, mostly women, are not literate. What reinforces fears of overpopulation the most is the visibly desperate living condition of large numbers of the poor. 1 in 3 of the city dwellers live in slums and they lack hygienic toilets. 1 in 8 people are undernourished.
The UN Chief Ban Ki-Moon said, "Seven billion people need enough food, enough energy, good opportunities in life for jobs and education, rights and freedom, the freedom to speak, the freedom to raise their own children in peace and security, everything you want for yourself -seven billion times over."
Americans constitute about 5% of the global population, but consume 24% of the world's energy. One American is said to consume as much energy as 6 Mexicans, 13 Chinese, 31 Indians, 128 Bangladeshis, 307 Tanzanians and 370 Ethiopians. It is estimated that Americans spent $46 billion in 2004 to lose weight and $22 billion on cosmetics. Such expenditure alone can make the difference between life and death for the millions dying of starvation. Amartya Sen has pointed out, "One additional American typically has a larger negative impact on the ozone layer, global warmth and other elements of the earth's environment than dozens of Indians and Zimbabweans put together." The world is dangerously overcrowded with inequalities in accessing the world's non-renewable resources.
It is estimated that a total of 108 billion people have lived on earth. This means that about 6.48% of all humans ever born are alive today. Economists, demographers, scientists and politicians have fretted over the world's ability to feed, clothe and shelter humanity. While there are enough resources to sustain the population, the bad news is that the resources are not where the people are. Historians tell us that the world has seen more than 4000 wars in 5000 years, most of them lasting for many years. A study by Barrett and Johnson reported that more than 70 million Christians have died as martyrs since AD 33.
With an estimated 1.21 billion people, India is a 'population billionaire', next only to China (1.34 billion). By 2025, India is expected to overtake China to become the world's most populous country. Baby Nargis, born in Uttar Pradesh and the 102-year old Hilla Sorab Billimoria of Kolkata represent between them the two ends of India's complex population story. The number of the elderly is expected to increase to 173 million by 2026. This highlights the need to build support systems for the aged.
The UNDP's 2011 Human Development Report, released recently, has pioneered the use of the human development indicator. Traditionally, India has underperformed on this index. This is a matter of considerable concern. Because of the deficit in the country's educational, connectivity and health infrastructure, our population is unable to convert economic dynamism into a change in real living standards. India ranked 129th in the latest report; Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Nepal and Pakistan ranked 74, 112, 113 and 115 respectively. It is necessary to bear in mind that policies framed without keeping our enormous and unconscionable gender divides will fail to properly empower one half of our vast population.
Another important challenge is the falling sex ratio and the 'vanishing girl population'. The gender disparity in the country is shocking; some South Asian neighbours, with considerably lower per capita income, are consistently outperforming India on this indicator. The 2011 census showed a steep fall in the sex ratio, from 927.31 girls for every 1000 boys in 2001 to 914.23 a decade later. These shaming numbers prove that laws have done nothing to curb female foeticide or change the cultural preference for a boy child.
Today there is more knowledge about everything than at any other time in history. We have more scientists and engineers today than ever before. Millions of graduates are turned out every year. However, people are not always acquiring wisdom to use that knowledge. People are floundering, suffering from neuroses and psychological disorders on a scale never known before. We are confused, frustrated and without moral moorings.
China's transformation to a market economy and modernisation has reshaped life-styles and values, including those on marriage. During the first three quarters of 2011, 2.8 million couples in China registered for divorce, up 12% yearly. This translates into more than 10,000 splits every day. In major cities, the rate has reportedly surpassed 30%.
Gone are the days of showing respect to the elderly and authority in most countries. Biblical morality has no place in the lives of most people. The deceiver has betrayed us and convinced leaders in government, media and even churches that black is white and wrong is right. Too often, our Christianity is in our talk, not in our walk. Moral and ethical standards that were once taken for granted have not only been called into question, but cast overboard. A recent report read, "When I was a child, homosexuality was a crime in India. As I grew up, it was acceptable. Now it is legal. I had better leave India before they make it compulsory."
Moral and spiritual bankruptcy is prevalent all over. Fraud and perversion are rampant at the highest levels of church and State. We are caught in a web of irresponsibility and self-centredness. Our greatest problem is spiritual in nature, caused by our alienation from God. The world desperately needs the tried and tested moral order that God handed down in the Ten Commandments. We must return to the old fashioned virtues like self-discipline, integrity, respect for others, perseverance, moderation, and commitment to serve others. We are shocked by scandals in governments, in churches. We have seen religious leaders fall into disgrace in the eyes of God and man. We have seen the Gospel twisted and distorted by false teachers to accommodate destructive, moral and secular behaviour. Diluting God's standards of right and wrong are at the centre of the devil's Power Point presentation. His landing brands are 'acceptance' and 'tolerance,' under the guise of love and forgiveness; Satan has slipped these ideas into the church. We have traded eternal truths for momentary self-gratification - worshipping false gods of materialism and humanism, instead of the Creator. We have exchanged the love of family and friends to cyber friends. Will you please listen to the still small voice that longs to be heard?
The devil has successfully fooled many Christians and churches, convincing them to follow the world. Biblical standards have been compromised by convenient social theories. The aim of the devil is to keep Christians defeated, so that they will be ineffective for Christ. Instead of clinging to the only life-boat that can save, we have tossed over Biblical truths in the name of living on the edge of life. We have compromised with false religions. Compromising and conforming to the world's standard is against God's Word. We have become so tolerant and accepting of the world's ways that it is hard for many in the churches to notice sin. The church is to be in the world, but worldliness is not to infiltrate the church. D. L. Moody said, "The place for ships is in the sea. But God help the ship if the sea gets in the ship." When the church begins to look like the world, act like the world and sound like the world, the conclusion is certain. God must be ashamed of our churches. Today, the situation is like what we read repeatedly in the book of Judges: there was no king in Israel, everyone did what was right in his own eyes; Israel did evil in the sight of the Lord.
God is showing us the signs of the times. But the signs are of no use if we do not look at them, acknowledge them and adjust our course in response to them. The church is the place for Pastors to preach principles of the faith in order to prepare believers to face the storms of life on the stage of an unbelieving world.
Too many people are now living in fear. They are discouraged by uncertainty and are angry at their diminished prospects. In these difficult times, the biggest challenge facing governments is not a deficit of resources, but a deficit of trust. People are losing faith in leaders and public institutions to do the right thing. Our collective health, wealth and well-being depend on how we husband the earth's 'natural capital' - the air, rivers and oceans, soil and forests, and its full diversity of flora and fauna.
We must realise that there is a greater toxin that makes HIV pale in comparison. That is the disease that has infected the world since the beginning of time. It is sin. Doctors have no cures. Psychologists have no solutions. Scientists have no remedies. God has the answer, redemption. Christ has the cure, forgiveness. The Holy Spirit has the remedy, the truth. Sin does not go unpunished. God will judge.
33% of the present world population is stated to be Christian. How many of them have the true faith is not known. If we assume that 50% of 'Christians' are born again, the remaining 84% of the world population need to be reached with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. In our country, 99% of the 1.21 billion people still remain to be reached, 2000 years after the arrival of the Gospel. It is required of us to present the Gospel to them. It is time we wake up from our slumber and reach out to our neighbours. May God enable us to see the signs of the times and be alert in our mission.