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(Pic by Chamila Karunarathne)

“If we don’t know life, how can we know death?” – Confucius
Since the dawn of time man has excelled in multiplying his species. During bygone eras it was accepted to have almost a dozen children. As the world evolves restraints of time, spending power, housing, transport have now restrained the typical family to parents having one or two children. The rise of natural disasters both globally and locally would cause us to ponder on the Malthusian Theory of 1798.

Thomas Robert Malthus was a British cleric and scholar. He published a rather controversial thesis that the rapid increase of human population would be controlled by natural disasters like floods, landslides and famines. Plagues and war would claim more lives. Malthus was strongly convinced, specially living in the crowded era of British industrial resurgence when London’s cities were crowded with poor sanitation, and an increasing poverty and crime. He opined that a population can exceed its carrying capacity, the number of individuals of a species that an environment can support.

Today some argue that Malthus era has been outdone with rapid advancement in agriculture and food production technology, supplemented by good storage and global transport routes, whereby food supply can exceed the demand and sustain life. Yet again there are many nations subject to malnutrition and related illnesses. The defiant cleric Malthus went on to explain that there were two elements in population growth: 1. Positive Checks which were disease, famine and war. 2. Preventive Checks such as celibacy, birth control, abortion and prostitution. On the point of birth control, dear Malthus himself was one of seven children belonging to Catherine and Daniel!

Some were quite bewildered that a cleric would endorse abortion and further the practice of prostitution, which would eventually cause social and health issues for both the prostitute and client! To a certain extent Malthus was correct when he observed that overpopulation can contribute directly to poverty, malnutrition and disease. Having lived in the USA for some years I was able to observe that over populated cities like New York had a steady increase in crime, homicide and social issues like drugs and prostitution in comparison to more serene states like Texas or Michigan.

Humanity has been subject to natural and manmade disasters which have claimed millions of lives over the centuries. The bubonic black plague of 1300 in London spread by flea infected rats, cost 1/3 of the entire population (the plague originated from China).
World War I resulted in 17 million deaths (11 million soldiers) and World War II claimed 60 million lives of both Allied and Nazi nations, not to forget the ethnic cleansing of six million innocent Jews.

The horrible atom bomb over Hiroshima annihilated nearly 146,000 lives and Nagasaki mourned the death of 80,000 Japanese. Between 1918 and 1922 the onslaught of the influenza epidemic terminated 75,000,000 souls. The Bhopal chemical reactor accident in India killed 3700 people within a single day. As of 2014 the AIDS virus has destroyed 1.2 million lives and the Zika virus is catching up with deadly momentum, having first been identified in a monkey in the Zika forest of Uganda back in 1947. Famines have destroyed countless lives and transformed once lush lands into barren wastelands.

Sri Lanka has endured many deaths. The prolonged war from 1982-2009 claimed nearly 80,000-100,000 lives according to UCDP Switzerland (Database on armed conflict). Families are still recovering from the 32,000 deaths of the 2004 Tsunami. Since the Tsunami we have been assaulted with nature’s raging fury in multiple locations in the form of heavy rains, flooding and landslides which have caused death and destroyed communities with long-term ripple effects inflicting massive financial burdens on the government. According to the Disaster Management Centre the total number of deaths due to natural disasters since 2009 is 731 and 218 have gone missing.

There is a ray of hope as at 2013. Sri Lanka has been ranked the highest in South Asia for striving to achieve Human Development Goals which focus on health, education and income. The Malthusian Theory may provoke some based on their religious beliefs. Be that as it may, the rising population is a concern for any nation. We can conclude that each day of human existence is a gift that must be filled with love, hope and peace.