Monday, December 26, 2005

Is India overpopulated?

Think about these.

1. Bolivia is "overpopulated" with 8 people/square kilometers and Sudan are said to be “overpopulated with 16 people/square kilometers. But Seoul with 16,391 people/ square kilometers and New York with 10,292 square kilometers are never said to be overpopulated.

2. Netherlands has more than three times the population density (395 people/square kilometers) of its former colony Indonesia. But Indonesia (126 people/square kilometers) is said to have a problem of overpopulation and not the Netherlands.

‘We are underdeveloped because of overpopulation’ is a common saying in India. I believed in the same notion but not after I met a Dutch guy who said Netherlands is more densely populated than India and it is stupid to think that growth is inhibited by population. He said poor organization and mismanagement are the main reasons for underdevelopment and not the population.

Often poverty is reasoned with overpopulation. That is not true. Poverty or starvation is caused by continuous wars, poor organization, mismanagement and incompetent and corrupt governments and not by too many people.

Today, India stands only next to China in population count with a whopping 1,087,000,000 people (roughly 1.1 billion). Yes, we are highly populated but the fact remains that we live in a large area of land. So, what counts is population density and not just the numbers. Population density is defined as number of people living in a square kilometer of land area. Just for the records here is a table comparing population densities and percentage of arable land of Korea, Japan, Netherlands and India. Except India other countries in the list are well developed and fast progressing. Israel’s case is added for the reason explained later.

(Arable land is defined as the land that can be used for growing crops)

It is clear there are some countries doing much better than India despite their high density population. They are not starving despite their low percentage in arable land (shown in the table). They are finding success by making good use of advanced technologies.

More than half of India’s land can be used for growing crops which is unmatched in the world. India is the only country having such a high percentage of arable land. Yet, we starve. Worse, we blame it on our own population and not on our incapability and incompetence.

Now let us move to the case of Israel. Israel was mostly unarable desert until desalination plants were built on the coast. People of Israel turned infertile unarable land into fertile arable land. The plants turn salt water into fresh water for farming, drinking, and washing. Israel has created her own large fresh water source. At present, they are progressing against all the odds.

(Another good example is Aran Island which is off the west coast of Ireland. The unarable land of the island was covered with a shallow layer of seaweed and sand from the ocean to make it arable. Today people grow crops there.)

This is how technology can transform a country. If India is better managed by adopting advanced technological skills, she can feed more than the present population. Large population is a valuable resource especially when many of the developed countries are fast aging today.

(Statistics: Population Resource Centre, Wikipedia and CIA World Fact Book)


At 11:39 PM, Blogger K.S.Mayya said...

I think Ravi is right. Take a simple example of vegetables in the market, the price and quantity of vegetables grown by farmers and the price they get for their produce. Well we have so many departments in place to take care of this....but over years despite being a nation known to survive of its Agriculture, we have not been able to see that most of the farmers produce is put to good use and not wasted during transportation. And it is quite sometime now, we get to read all over the places that India's population will be the plus point as against most countries including China. We will still have a sizable majority of younger population even after 30 years, while the same cannot be said of most of the so called overpopulated countries.

At 11:44 PM, Blogger Chetak Sasalu M said...

Business Week magazine summed up the situation in India in 1994: “Even though the granaries of India are overflowing now, 5,000 children die each day of malnutrition. One-third of India’s 900 million people are poverty-stricken.” With the poor unable to afford these products, “the government is left trying to store millions of tons of food. Some of it is rotting, and there is concern that rotten grain will find its way to public markets.”

At 11:46 PM, Blogger Chetak Sasalu M said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 3:03 AM, Blogger Manoj said...

Thanks Ravi making such a valuable analysis. I was too thinking in the same way till today.

In fact, worse organisation and corrupted govt mostly hold responsible for the situation.

The goverment should sincerely try to improve the farming and farmers. So far in India there is no "fair trade" concept for farmers and they become poorer and productvity decreases.

At 3:37 AM, Blogger Hate India said...

The article talks about developmental issues thru population aspect. But this one-dimensional approach will not work out in a complex countries like India where we have variations like Linguistic, ethnic and religious affinities. We can not site small countries as example and try to extrapolate for comparison purpose. You can desalinate sea water in Isreal and Ireland because of exactly what you have said which is size of its land mass and overall population; it is not based on the population density instead it is based on the size of the country and consistent density of population across such a huge land-mass as in India. Rivers in Tamil Nadu are totally undependable yet they form most part of the arable land.

At 3:37 PM, Blogger schuncher said...

I am glad you guys brought this up. If space is an issue, we should first reconsider cars. They take up a lot of space in the form of roads and parking lots.

At 8:54 AM, Blogger sri said...

Good analysis. Especially now when services (Skilled & professional) are in high demand the world over, more people does not mean just more mouths to feed but alo more available hands, feet and brains to work.

I think the key concept to grasp for our planners is effective distribution and waste-prevention. This applies to all our resources like water, land and timber.

At 11:16 AM, Blogger Sabarish Sasidharan said...

And the saddest part is that many so called big-thinkers are suggesting India should move from its agriculture based economic model. Stupid isn't it? but such thoughts are streaming in pretty fast these days. India will be a better country if only there could be sufficient cash flow in the villages. But starting from transportation to irrigation, our farmers have to live with a system that does not support them when there is a need.
From a high level view, our irrigation policies are short sighted. Electricity is unreliable. Roads are not good. And mass transport facilities in rural areas is yet to be fulfilled. If these lifelines are rectified, farmers can lead a better life. Then the whole nation would breathe easy.

At 7:23 AM, Blogger RS said...

Ravi, the politicians who govern us need poverty, the stigma of over-population & suffering, for them to 'win' - vote-bank politics! And as long as the middle-class population of India care only about themselves & live in their own fantasy land, believing everything that they read in the english media, we have a long road ahead of us.

Thank you for your wonderful post. Sure is refreshing to read positive analysis.

At 3:03 PM, Blogger Fernando (Nerd Gaucho) said...

"I met a Dutch guy who said" is not a scientific, proven opinion to base a whole hypothesis on.

It would be akin to myself saying "I met a German guy once who said Argentina's problem was...". It's irrelevant. It adds nothing. What was that guys background? How much did he know about your country?.

Are you so unable to make your own mind about things that the opinion of "someone from Holland" is so important?

Just my $0.02...


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At 5:35 PM, Blogger James said...

Very interestign theories on each side. I believe it is in part due to corruption and lack of employment ect. But one main thign in india that everyone seemed to leave out was the monsoon that affects the crops adn the people so much. Without the monsoon no crops will grow. And because it varies, it can drastically affect the amount of money made off of the crops (as well as the prices).

At 11:27 PM, Blogger Pei-Ching said...

You cannot compare cities to countries. That's like comparing organges to dinosaurs. It makes no sense. Also India wishes it had 54% arable land. Most figures on the internet put it at 49% with Bangladesh the top country with 55%. India can have 55%, if it ever grows the political will to invest billions in water infrastructure, and I don't mean expensive desalination plants. I don't think India is overpopulated now. But the future is a different story. With global warming shrinking future Indian rivers, dropping water tables, India's extra half a billion more people, growing average calorie consumption, urbanization & pollution, I don't know who'll have the extra grain stocks to feed your country.

At 5:28 PM, Blogger Arun said...

India is overpopulated. 1.4 billion in 1.2 million square miles is overpopulation. Your talk of density and stuff from some Netherlands' guy is all fancy. Are you saying we should nothing about our population? Do you think India will be able to sustain her ever growing population for long in this manner? Your 54% arable land will decrease proportionally. Simple math. What then?

At 9:54 PM, Blogger SYCO said...

Really nice analysis..

thanks a lot man...


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