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Catholic Church spokesman welcomes PNG population growth

Giorgio LiciniLIFE SITE NEWS

A spokesman for the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands said that an increase in population, far from being a "nightmare" could mean social and economic growth for the country.

"[PNG] does not need to promote family planning or practices such as contraception and abortion," said Fr Giorgio Licini, secretary of the conference's Commission for Social Communications.

Fr Licini pointed out that PNG has large natural resources and a land area comparable to France and Germany combined, but with a population of only 8 million.

He said that the annual population growth rate of about three percent, similar to many developing countries but far ahead of the aging Western nations, is not a problem for the country.

"With a population which is still limited and with considerable internal resources, [PNG] can easily plan to become a country of 30-40 million people by the end of the century, with a much stronger and diversified economy," Fr Licini said.

He noted however that the country needs "to fight corruption, instil a better sense of discipline among citizens, and work hard for education, infrastructure development and a society free of crime," while stressing a commitment to improving literacy in the population.

The bishops themselves are focusing their pastoral plan for the next five years on the family and on the education of young people.

At its recent synod, the General Assembly of the Catholic Church in PNG and Solomon Islands said they will address the "educational emergency" for young people who do not attend schools, the practice of cohabitation out of wedlock, the decline of traditional religious marriage, and polygamy, as central to their care of the family.

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Paulus Ripa

Thank you Fr Licini for a interesting discussion.

I guess to a large extent we have viewpoints that are largely influenced by our life experiences.

Health workers see the victims of non-family planning e.g. maternal birth problems and children with malnutrition and illness from poor spacing or too many of them all filtered and concentrated in the hospital wards.

Our sense of urgency about the need for family planning is different from outside people who see lots of big families who are apparently healthy and are doing well.

I am myself from a large family of 12, almost all educated to tertiary level with jobs and the economic benefits to the extended family are enormous compared to small families.

That is why having a sense of proportion about overall statistics to be important. Demography is also a complex subject.

The comparison with other countries such as in Europe may not be appropriate. Despite the complexity of factors involved the population growth rate of those countries was relatively slow due to wars, famine and pestilence.

Plague (black death) periodically wiped out up to 60% of the population and wars fought in which thousands died each war.

The other factor that allowed population growth to be sustained was the food supply available.

Jared Diamond contends that the driving force towards development of more complex societies is dependent on surplus food production. This allowed specialisation and urbanisation as a smaller fraction of the population could produce surplus food to support a larger urban population.

Even in the Asia Pacific region one can see that countries to the north and west of the Wallace line support populations in the millions (because they live on rice which can be produced in surplus and stored) whilst below that line the island populations were relatively sparse.

Ireland provides an interesting historical scenario in which English rule resulted in land tenure unfair for the native Irish and dependence on potato as the staple crop.

Whilst earlier wars had devastating results the great potato famine resulted in over a million deaths and millions also emigrated resulting in a depopulation that has never been recovered (population 8 million in early 19th century and now just below 5 million).

My contention here is that the proportion of arable land available in PNG ( which I think is limited) and the type of food crops we grow may not sustain a large population to the extent that other countries did unless we either change our agricultural patterns or increase dependece on imported foods.

And I don’t have the kind of faith you have in politicians of any sort until I see the results of what they can or can’t do.

Giorgio Licini

Yes, I agree that no sector should work alone. The effort should be combined between health workers, economists, educationists, NGOs, government, Churches.

Eventually the individual person has the right to make his/her own free and responsible decision whatever he/she decides to do.

Eventually also the national government and parliament on a majority vote decide the national policies.

The Church orientation probably more than "disconnected" (though at time it is) can be described as idealistic. Of course, I admit that between the ideal and the harsh reality of many people's life there is a huge grey area which is the place of struggle for all of us.

My assumption is that Papua New Guinea must prepare to accommodate 30-40 million people by the end of this century, because they will arrive in any case.

I am afraid there may be crucial cultural changes to make about everything: land ownership, education, politics, etc.

The European countries had 8 million people each probably at the time of the Roman Empire. During the centuries what contained population growth were poverty and wars. Not a nice scenario.

Nowadays, of course, artificial birth control is involved, but - this is my point - it would have achieved practically nothing without mass education, employment and modern development.

PNG is far behind its possibilities in development. I have heard several times Minister Charles Abel say that now things have changed in his Department.

"No more the no-sense" of the past where money was going where it was not supposed to go. I praise him!

It means that there are natural causes, but also people and to blame for PNG poverty. According to economists a reasonable size of population is not that bad.

With a small customer base you can only produce and manufacture products at a high cost, because the income will be very limited. With a larger market things change and everybody benefits.

I have no doubt that all of us debating this issues have good intentions and I consider national PNG professionals of any trade to have an advantage on me as far as the grasping of the situation is concerned.

We probably need to connect our individual fields of operations, sensitivities and approach and see how each one can contribute best.

Paulus Ripa

Fr Licini, I wonder where in PNG you and the bishops live. You seem to be far removed from reality.

Firstly, PNG can arguably sustain a population of 30 to 40 million, however the worry is the rate of population growth.

At the current rate of 3% we will have a population of 10 million in 10 years and 14 million in 20 years.

Can we provide double the number of schools, hospitals, clinics etc in that time (let alone fix the dismal state of what we do have).

So far in the last decade or two, the government has failed to support the poor state of existing infrastructure. There will be a major miracle if that trend turns around.

Secondly, the rate of population growth is such that there are a lot of children and young people on the streets and in the villages it is frightening.

There are young children begging in Port Moresby who should be in school. You wonder where responsible parenthood went.

Sil Bolkin's article on Port Moresby illustrates just that point with migration to cities occurring at a much faster rate than natural population increase.

Thirdly, you argue that there is enough land in PNG. Really? Go and try squatting on land somewhere and you will find that there is no land free in this country.

There is an epidemic of fighting among family and tribesman in the rural areas over land; in the past violence was usually directed outwards. This is due to shortage of farming land especially in the highlands.

Fourthly, you conveniently make faulty assumptions about demography. Many countries are going through different stages of demographic transition with many western countries (and Japan and Singapore) going into negative population growth.

This poses a lot of concerns for those countries as in another decade or so there will be a huge number of old retired people supported by a much smaller number of working productive people.

However PNG is in between the second and third stage where some decline in fertility is occurring but not enough to decrease the population growth to sustainable levels.

Moreover one must remember that these demographic transitions to lower levels of population growth occurred when there was increased availability of family methods.

Fifthly, the effect of increased births in mothers is the main reason why we have such poor maternal mortality and infant mortality rates in PNG.

Sixthly, I wonder if you know how easy it is for an illiterate village mother to try and use the natural family planning methods in her setting (particularly if she has to contend with looking after six children and the husband and the pigs etc).

Seventhly, you make statements about “mass sterilisations” etc that smack of the eugenic policies of Nazism in the 1930s.

There is no coercive mass sterilisation program in PNG; mothers give their consent and it is usually when they have completed their desired family size which is about 4 children.

There are some enthusiastic family planning advocates especially in certain NGO circles but if the church does not come down to earth and engage substantially with the health sector and the laity there will be no common ground for looking at rational family planning within certain limits (such as limiting abortificient methods etc).

Unfortunately this is the one issue where there will continue to be a huge disconnect between the Church hierarchy and the Catholic faithful; most of the latter will continue ignore the church teaching.

This is illustrated in the literature on the subject which for the church culminates in the 1968 papal encyclical of Pope Paul VI “Humanae Vitae”.

If one searches on Google all the arguments for the subject are by moral theologians and philosophy experts in the flowery language of such groups.

It seems all rational discussion by any clergy for artificial contraception has been silenced.

My own personal stand was decided when I worked in Kundiawa in 1973 as an intern. One of my colleagues was Fr Peter Flynn MSC who was also a doctor.

We operated together on a mother of six children who had a partial rupture of the uterus from her seventh baby.

Removal of the uterus was beyond our technical competence so we repaired the damage and then Fr Flynn left with instructions for me to tie the fallopian tubes (sterilisation) and close the abdomen.

After the procedure I went to discuss the issue with him. His decision was that as a priest he could not do the procedure but as a layman I could do the procedure not only in this situation but in any situation where having more babies posed a risk for the mother.

His terse response was “bishops and cardinals have no appreciation of how hard life can be for a mother on the slopes of Simbu” and advised me to consider such rules on the basis of “God’s law” or “church law” of which the former was sinful but the latter was for guidance only and I could make my own decision.

Around the same time Mingende Catholic Health Centre (charge sister at that time was an Australian nun) was sending mothers with more than four or five children for “family planning” advice.

I was told that this was meant to be interpreted as for tubal ligation so I set out doing just that.

All this is academic as the health sector is going to continue to increase family planning regardless.

All health workers are taught now that when they see mothers or children, they must always ask about family planning and advocate for it.

Peter Kranz

Isn't there a relationship between culture, arable land and population growth? Otherwise why isn't Australia's population around 300 million?

Also fertility rate must be factored in. This is a fascinating area of study for anyone interested in statistics.

France and Germany are interesting indicators, but consider their proportion of arable land to total land area.

http://www.euractiv.com/socialeurope/french-population-match-germanys-news-512042

And here you will see that PNG's population growth has declined over the last 20 years, from 2.3 to 2.1 percent p.a.

http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SP.POP.GROW

Samuel Roth

I agree with Fr Giorgio that population growth should be considered normal.

However, it would be insightful to see the relationship between population and economy (GDP) of France and Germany at the time when their population was at around 8 million.

Moreover, what was the rate of increase in both population and economic growth for those European powers?

Otherwise, development in proportion with population in Industrial-era Europe may not work the same for Digital-age PNG given our various disparities.

Hope, is all we have but I personal have smaller cousins, nephews and nieces who barely make it to year 10 or college.

That's our present-day scenario. Where do they fit in this spectrum of development?

Giorgio Licini

I believe that's the real point Cynthia. And we should put all our efforts in thinking and planning in such a way that the trend can be reversed.

International cooperation and solidarity is probably key to it as well. Lack of education is partially due to lack of teachers and facilities, but also difficult roads, distant locations, parents neglect... Very complex indeed!

Cynthia Laru

The land isn't growing and the non-renewable resources aren't increasing.

Population growth guarantees a slow process of impoverishment for societies like ours where the formal education level is such poor quality that we won't be able to out-compete Singapore, Japan or any of the countries that don't have much of their own resources except human resources.

Thus we are condemned to keep making the slices of the pie smaller and smaller as more and more people populate PNG.

Giorgio Licini

Thank you Keith for suggesting this theme. Actually my original article dates back to July 2013 and appeared in the Catholic Reporter PNG with the title: "Population growth not a nightmare".

The basic idea was that our main countries in Europe (Germany, France, Great Britain, Italy...) have approximately the same land mass of PNG (or smaller), less natural resources, and a population that is eight, ten, or twelve times that of PNG... Therefore there is indeed a need for PNG to look into the issue, but don't panic, and especially don't take shortcuts and develop strategies that will lead nowhere and just offer those in power the opportunity to say: we are doing something!

What I saw in my native Italy was that population growth was consistent right after WWII up to the sixties (I am the eldest of seven children).

Then with general employment, mass education, a vast entertainment industry, etc the population trend even reversed.

Of course, we cannot automatically transfer experiences and strategies from one part of the world to the other; but I think there is food for thought here for PNG and others. The basic understanding that a family and a country should "produce" only the number of children they can properly raise remains.

PNG, however, has a huge infrastructural problem in this regard; which needs to be addressed. The population is going to increase in any case.

Better brace for a more professional, stringent, accountable management of national resources, reinforce the education sector (teachers salaries are a misery nowadays) and instil in people a higher sense of discipline, commitment and organization.

Actually the "nightmare still remains something to be avoided. Thanks again!
_________

Didn't realise it was of such antiquity (?), Giorgio, but it matters not. Strong argument and clear point of view makes it a good piece - KJ

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