Prevention is Unsustainable

Prevention is Unsustainable

By saving a child's life today, are we condemning them to a Malthusian starvation in the future? Malaria control, vaccinations, or water purification are not sustainable interventions unless they are matched by population management.

In Zambia, the average family size is somewhere between 6 and 7 children. Alan, one of Workers Education Association of Zambia leaders, explained that having such large families is a tradition, not a rational decision. Historically, it was necessary to have 6 children to get 2 of them to adulthood. Children played the role of workers on the farm, and social security in old age.

But now 4 or 5 children reach adulthood, and they are following tradition, having 6 children of their own. Such a massive increase in population is not sustainable.

At present, Zambia is experiencing a grain surplus, which gives people the impression that population increases are not worries. Yet, massive deforestation for cooking fuels, fresh water pollution from too many users, losses of wildlife from too many farmers tells a very different story. Just a few bad harvests, and Zambia will be in real trouble.

How does a country change a cultural practice, having large families, when it no longer serves its original purpose? For religious reasons, birth control is not an acceptable topic for conversation in Zambia, no matter its necessity. But there are some practices associated with lower birth rates.

Education for girls is associated with both higher economic performance and lower birth rates. Economic growth is also associated with lower birth rates. More efficient farming methods are associated with lower birth rates. When people feel secure about their future, they lessen the number of children they have.

So, the conclusion seems clear. Simply curing illness is not a sustainable practice, at least in Zambia. Any efforts have to be combined with a longer term effort to educate girls, increase economic activity, and improve efficiency. Project COPE is trying to put all these efforts into one development package in our target villages.

Project COPE is a joint effort of Earth Charter US and the Workers Education Association of Zambia. We work person to person to avoid the government and huge international NGO's. I will be reporting on our progress on this blog.

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