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'The aspiration bomb'

Here is a world population specialist's valuable reminder of "the aspiration bomb" that remains although the notorious "population bomb" appears to have been defused. The annual rate of world population growth continues to decline. But more than 90 percent of the total growth that is projected -- close to two billion persons by the end of the century -- will be in the less developed countries where aspirations are handicapped by poverty. To defuse the aspiration bomb will require new imaginative thinking as well as an acceleration of measures that are already making progress through the planning of families and the increasing of resources.

Keys to meeting the problem lie not only in the requisite aid from the more developed countries but in the attitudes achieved in the villages and other communities where the need has been most acute. It is not a question of the developed world somehow pushing population control on the third world for the good of the developed world. It is a matter of each country and locally looking at its own situation and seeing what population it can reasonably sustain on the resources it has and is able to develop.

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Both national leadership and community cooperation are required. An example is Indonesia, where a decade ago the leadership saw that family planning was a basic and urgent need to be fully supported. The government provided such facilities as some 27,000 village depots for birth-control supplies. Then will local mothers' club or "aspari" would support the endeavor. The meetings expanded beyond the subject of family planning to participation in community development. People did not want to be left out.

The encouraging results of community-oriented approaches have been seen in villages in a number of Asian countries. After visiting them for almost 20 years, Richard Critchfield has written in this newspaper of the impressive strides taken both in reducing population growth and increasing food production. One reason has been the acceptance of what once seemed unwelcome Western innovations as the desirable village cultural norm -- such things as scientific farming techniques as well as the two-child family.

Now some observers say a certain reaction can set in where family planning has been proceeding. Some who controlled the size of their families have not realized the economic benefits expected. The need for meeting aspirations demands continuing economic and social development, not just slowing the growth of population. And this gets to the whole question of a more equitable sharing of the world's resources. In that third world which former Secretary of State Vance recently called a future "cockpit of crises," there is a desire not only for freedom and independence but for economic progress. It does not mean a redistribution of the existing wealth; it means more equal opportunities for sharing future development.

To return to further words from the population specialist cited at the beginning: "In the developing world, today's young people know more about the world and expect more from it than their parents did. They are i(creasingly educated, increasingly unemployed, and increasingly concentrated in cities." This is rafael Salas, executive director of the United Nations Fund for Population Activities, in his "State of World Population" report released this week. He goes on to the aspirations of the young people in the developed world, too -- where "each person born will consume 20 to 40 times more in his or her lifetime than a person born in a developing country." Here are the ingredients for that aspiration bomb he mentions.

Aspirations, of course, cannot and should not be defined purely in terms of consumption. The aspiration of being a worthy human being can be fulfilled whatever the material circumstances. But to be worthy in todayhs more and more crowded world will require doing one's part, whether in village or metropolis, to responsibly use humankind's ability to people the Earth and to benefit from its fruits.

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