India’s Population Is Geographically Unsupportable
India is the modern-day epitome of overpopulation. India’s population had increased from its 1951 level of 361 million to 846 million in 1991, and by 2000, it had topped one billion (Gulati & Sharma). Moreover, the U.N. projects that by 2050, India’s population will be 1.7 billion (Gulati & Sharma). Despite its enormous population—16% of the total population for the world—India has only 2.4% of the world’s land area and only 1.7% of the world’s forest stock (Gulati & Sharma). Shah (2004, p. 263) notes that India suffers under “massive poverty, accelerated industrialization, rapid urbanization…and 40 years of socialist orientation and planned economy followed by a decade of economic liberalization, structural adjustment and globalization,” resulting in a development model that he describes as “unsustainable.” Among the reasons for India’s inability to support its enormous population are a chronic shortage of food and water, a stratified society built on the caste system, and agricultural underproduction.
In the midst of these great shortages, India is undergoing a number of sea changes, most of which are adding to its problems. Its population is migrating from rural to urban environments, for example, and India is becoming one of the most prominent locations for work outsourced from the United States and other nations. This will increase the area of land devoted to business offices and traffic and decrease the amount of land available for agriculture (“Country Profile, India” 21). In addition, India’s ecosystem is changing radically, with deforestation affecting the inhabitants of the country’s Central Himalayan region, who depend heavily on natural resources to survive (Samal, Palni, & Agrawal 157). The human population is doubling approximately every 30 years in this ecosystem, while the forests are disappearing, and there is less and less forest to sustain the inhabitants (Samal, Palni, & Agrawal 157). The loss of ground cover is causing water resources to dry up, which in turn, forces the women to walk farther to obtain water, problems compounded by “mountain specificities such as inaccessibility, fragility, marginality, diversity, niche and adaptability” (Samal, Palni, & Agrawal 157). Gulati and Sharma point out that the deforestation occurs not only because of increased population but also because of livestock and the use of forest products for resources such as firewood, timber, lumber, paper, and fodder. They also indicate that satellite data identifies “unsustainable crop management practices” as a cause of decades-long declines in food production, not just climate, as is often thought (Gulati & Sharma 158). Essentially, they assert, India’s practices are “unsustainable” (Gulati & Sharma).
One of the greatest sea changes resulting from the other changes is an increase in India’s poverty. According to the World Bank, 41.6% of India’s population—approximately 455 million people—is now living below the poverty line, up from the 24% that was predicated on the former criteria of $1 per day income (Bhasin 171). Estimates by the Asian Development Bank are even higher, at 622 million to 740 million poor in 2005, at a poverty line of $1.35 per day (Bhasin 171). Bhasin (171) notes that this criterion for the poverty line is based on an average per capita caloric intake of from 2,400 to 2,100 calories per day for rural and urban areas, respectively. The new WHO child growth standards adopted by the government of India identifies India as having severe malnutrition in 15.6% of children between 1 and 3 years old and in 13.7% of children between 3 and 5 years old (Bhasin 171). Considering the fact that India was already one of the most impoverished nations in the world, these new figures add greater concern to the issue of rectifying the problem, which is exacerbated by the other issues already discussed.
It is not difficult to see that if India’s population continues to grow rapidly, while its resources continue to be depleted and its development approaches are unsustainable, the situation can only grow worse. Geographic policies and practices are adding to India’s burden of poverty, and these are human-made, not inherent in the geography. Deforestation, for example, is an issue that has occurred in other nations as well and that is being addressed in many of them. India’s cities are already overcrowded, but if the rural land and its forests are destroyed for the purpose of utilizing its natural resources, this means an even greater “rural outmigration to urban and industrial centres for wage employment,” thus encumbering India’s already overpopulated cities with more poor (Gulati & Sharma). Moreover, forcing migration to the cities where the cost of living is higher and it is more difficult to be self-sufficient exacerbates the existing problems. The country’s caste system relegates many of its citizens to lower levels of society where they are not able to do better. Only certain classes have access to education and training, so as the nation’s poverty worsens and its natural resources become depleted, it is the poor that will suffer even more than now, because they will be unable to make the changes necessary to stay afloat in an increasingly urban and technological world.
India’s economic geography is marked by population explosion, a caste system that demobilizes many of its citizens that might otherwise receive education that would enable them to help solve its problems, a population geography that is undergoing a migration from rural to urban living, and an enormous number of poor supported by rapidly dwindling natural resources. The geography cannot support the population. Furthermore, as these problems are worsening quickly, the population is becoming unsustainable very rapidly. India needs to take immediate action to place the destructive forces of deforestation and population explosion in check and work to remedy the debilitating effects of its caste system on the population’s ability to increase GDP. By allowing more people to become educated and trained, it can raise the average income, and by preserving its natural resources it can ensure that those unable to learn a trade or go to college will still have the wherewithal to survive.
India needs to take a holistic view of its geography so that it can understand how each element affects the others. While it may be desirable to promote progress and production, this is not an advantage if achieved at the expense of forests that provide sustenance for rural dwellers, for example. Acknowledging that many of its problems are human-made, India must address what its inhabitants are doing and provide alternatives to the activities that cause the greatest harm to its population overall. If it promotes progress but keeps a hand on the preservation of its geographical resources and its people, India can become a more economically stable and prosperous nation. This will help not only the nation’s government and its political standing in the world arena but especially the people of India, whose suffering due to poverty will be ameliorated.