Baby boom for some nations, bust for others: study

The IHME found that Cyprus was the least fertile nation on Earth, with the average woman giving birth just once in her life. (AP)
Updated 09 November 2018
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Baby boom for some nations, bust for others: study

  • Ninety-one nations, mainly in Europe and North and South America, weren’t producing enough children to sustain their current populations, according to the IHME study
  • In Africa and Asia fertility rates continued to grow, with the average woman in Niger giving birth to seven children during her lifetime

PARIS: Soaring birth rates in developing nations are fueling a global baby boom while women in dozens of richer countries aren’t producing enough children to maintain population levels there, according to figures released Friday.
A global overview of birth, death and disease rates evaluating thousands of datasets on a country-by-country basis also found that heart disease was now the single leading cause of death worldwide.
The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME), set up at the University of Washington by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, used more than 8,000 data sources — more than 600 of them new — to compile one of the most detailed looks at global public health.
Their sources included in-country investigations, social media and open-source material.
It found that while the world’s population skyrocketed from 2.6 billion in 1950 to 7.6 billion last year, that growth was deeply uneven according to region and income.
Ninety-one nations, mainly in Europe and North and South America, weren’t producing enough children to sustain their current populations, according to the IHME study.
But in Africa and Asia fertility rates continued to grow, with the average woman in Niger giving birth to seven children during her lifetime.
Ali Mokdad, professor of Health Metrics Sciences at IHME, told AFP that the single most important factor in determining population growth was education.
“It is down to socioeconomic factors but it’s a function of a woman’s education,” he said. “The more a woman is educated, she is spending more years in school, she is delaying her pregnancies and so will have fewer babies.”
The IHME found that Cyprus was the least fertile nation on Earth, with the average woman giving birth just once in her life.
By contrast, women in Mali, Chad and Afghanistan have on average more than six babies.
The United Nations predicts there will be more than 10 billion humans on the planet by the middle of the century, broadly in line with IHME’s projection.
This raises the question of how many people our world can support, known as Earth’s “carrying capacity.”
Mokdad said that while populations in developing nations continue to rise, so in general are their economies growing.
This typically has a knock-on effect on fertility rates over time.
“In Asia and Africa the population is still increasing and people are moving from poverty to better income — unless there are wars or unrest,” he said.
“Countries are expected to fare better economically and it’s more likely that fertility there will decline and level out.”
Not only are there now billions more of us than 70 years ago, but we are also living longer than ever before.
The study, published in The Lancet medical journal, showed male life expectancy had increased to 71 years from 48 in 1950. Women are now expected to live to 76, compared with 53 in 1950.
Living longer brings its own health problems, as we age and deteriorate and place greater burdens on our health care systems.
The IHME said heart disease was now the leading cause of death globally. As recently as 1990, neonatal disorders were the biggest killer, followed by lung disease and diarrhea.
Uzbekistan, Ukraine and Azerbaijan had the highest death rates from heart disease, where as South Korea, Japan and France had among the lowest.
“You see less mortality from infectious diseases as countries get richer, but also more disability as people are living longer,” said Mokdad.
He pointed out that although deaths from infectious diseases like malaria and tuberculosis are down significantly since 1990, new, non-communicable killers have taken their place.
“There are certain behaviors that are leading to an increase in cardiovascular diseases and cancer. Obesity is number one — it is increasing every year and our behavior is contributing to that.”


Migrant caravan blockade: US Army unfurls fencing along border with Mexico

Updated 19 November 2018
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Migrant caravan blockade: US Army unfurls fencing along border with Mexico

  • Some Laredo residents had voiced disquiet about the fencing and the presence of US troops
  • ‘It reminds me of Hitler and the concentration camps’

LAREDO, United State: They started work in the cool of the morning and moved quickly, uncoiling reel after reel of vicious-looking fencing and tying it with barbed wire to green poles hammered into the ground.
Over the course of three days, a gleaming, shoulders-high barrier of concertina-wire emerged like a silver snake along a lush riverbank, stretching as far as the eye could see.
This was the work of 100 or so American troops from the 19th Engineer Battalion, based in Fort Knox, Kentucky.
Rather than finding themselves in a far-off warzone, the soldiers are in Laredo, a busy border town overlooking a stretch of the Rio Grande river in southwest Texas, carrying out controversial orders from President Donald Trump.
He has sent about 5,800 troops to the border to forestall the arrival of large groups of Central American migrants traveling through Mexico and toward the US, in a move critics decry as a costly political stunt to galvanize supporters ahead of midterm elections earlier this month.
Before the election Trump called the matter a “national emergency” and warned that so-called migrant caravans were an “invasion” with “some very bad thugs and gang members.”
So far at least, the most visible aspect of Trump’s deployment is the fence, a visible deterrent and physical obstacle to migrants, designed to corral would-be asylum seekers toward organized points of entry into the US.
Over the weekend, Lt. Alan Koepnick’s platoon could be seen stringing concertina wire, which is built to snag clothing, along one edge of a quiet riverside park near downtown Laredo.
As families walked dogs, grilled sausages and relaxed, the soldiers mounted the wire, occasionally ripping their camouflaged uniforms on its metal barbs.
Koepnick said some Laredo residents had voiced disquiet about the fencing and the presence of US troops.
“But there’s also been a lot of support, people coming in, vets shaking our hands, bringing us cakes, water, things like that,” Koepnick said.
About 100 yards (meters) behind him, a group of people on the Mexican side of the river could be seen standing on the bank.
“You’ll see people across the river cursing at us in Spanish, throwing bottles at us. But on this side it’s more positive,” Koepnick said.
He and his soldiers were unarmed, but a group of armed military police officers stood by to provide “force protection.”
Under US law, the military is not allowed to conduct domestic law enforcement in most cases, so soldiers here will not have any direct interactions with migrants.
Trump created a media whirlwind by sounding the alarm about the migrant caravans before the November 6 elections. He has mainly stopped raising it since, though last week he praised the military’s work.
“They built great fencing, they built a very powerful fence,” said Trump, who wants to build a hardened wall along the entire 2,000-mile (3,200-kilometer) border.
Laura Pole, a British tourist visiting Laredo for the third time, was less enthusiastic.
“It reminds me of Hitler and the concentration camps,” she said, but added: “I really don’t know what’s the best thing to do.”
The border mission has put the supposedly non-political military in an uncomfortable spotlight.
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has hit back at critics who say the Pentagon should not be doing Trump’s political bidding, saying “we don’t do stunts.”
He visited troops on the border last week and reiterated that their job in the short term was to assist under-resourced Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents and put up physical obstacles.
But “longer term, it’s somewhat to be determined,” he said.
After some rank-and-file troops grumbled about the purpose of the mission to US media last week, they are now under strict instructions not to voice personal opinions to the press.
Several soldiers AFP spoke to said their time on the border provided valuable real-world training, albeit without the risks of combat.
“We have a very large group of brand-new soldiers and it’s really good for them,” Corporal Samuel Fletcher said, citing a chance for the green troops “to do real work and put their skills to use.”
In Laredo, large groups of migrants from the caravans in Mexico had not arrived.
Instead they were mainly headed to Tijuana, about 1,300 miles away in San Diego, where authorities say more than 3,000 have already arrived.
Still, a CBP agent, who was not authorized to give his name, said he was glad of the military assistance as each day, “hundreds” of migrants attempt to cross the approximately 30-mile stretch of border he patrols.
The military deployment is set to wrap up December 15 and it is not clear what will become of the wire fencing.
Already, the winds whistling down the Rio Grande valley are strewing trash, clothing and plastic bags along the jagged wire.
“Nobody seems to know when it’s coming down. It’s not really our decision,” said Koepnick.
“If we are told to take it down, we will take it down with a smile on our faces, like good soldiers.”