Cry me a river

A recent UN study projected that India could be the most populous country as early as next year. Around the same time, the results of a national survey were released, showing that fertility rates have dropped just below replacement rate for the first time. Both seem to be good news, in that there’s a large population that’s not exploding but also not contracting at a rate which would jeopardize development.

But ground realities (literally, as you’ll see) are different. The strain on natural resources to sustain this size of a population is immense. Already, at a somewhat lower level of development, the air and the water in most urban regions (which account for over a third of India’s population) is dangerously rotten. Water tables and soil quality struggle to keep up with the hungry demands of agriculture; barring another Green Revolution, these probably cannot keep up with higher standards of living. The most important bottleneck to improving living conditions will come from natural resource constraints, rather than human resource ones.

I see barely any will to address any of these constraints. When the air itself chokes, any public official that doesn’t toil to loosen its grip should find themselves voted out or booted out. Yet there is barely a whimper of a complaint from citizens. The Ganga remains relatively unclean despite a huge quasi-religious effort to clean it, and those other rivers unlucky enough to not be associated with a major Hindu deity fare much, much worse. No amount of increase in GDP can offset having to breath smoke and drink sludge.


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