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NPG Forum Ser. 1990 Jun:1-6.

Neighbors' problems, our problems: population growth in Central America.



A largely ignored issue, Central America faces its most pressing problem in its soaring population growth, one that is wreaking havoc on its economic and social infrastructures. Rising by a factor of 7, Central America's population -- presently 28.9 million -- is expected to reach 7.7 million by the year 2000, and 62.8 million by 2025. Typical of most of the Third World, Central America's population explosion stems from the fact that while the latter half of the 20th century has seen reductions of mortality rates, brought on by improvements of general health conditions, birth rates have remained excessively high. Despite moderate declines in the birth rate, Central American women still average 3-6 children. These demographic factors pose catastrophic consequences for Central America's natural resources, urban development and labor force. And they also threaten to increase migration to the US. Economic pressures have put great demands on the region's rain forests, exploited both for its resources and cleared away to create farmland. Today, only 40% of the original forest remains, and almost 3% more is destroyed annually. The area's capital cities have seen their populations increase 3-6 fold between 1950 and 1980. This explosion places further demands on already overburdened urban infrastructures, and has led to a mushrooming of squatter settlements. It has also led to a massive increase in the urban labor force which cannot be accommodated by the region's economies, which are in disarray due to falling export commodity earnings, limited natural resources, and scant investment capital. The economic woes could further increase the flow of workers to the US (15-20% of El Salvador's total population has already filed to the US). Historically, the region had attempted to offset population growth through economic development, but such expectations were not met, especially with the economic decline that wiped out gains made during the 1960s and 70s. Only recently have the countries acknowledged the need to halt population growth.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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