Demonstration of the Law of Malthus

“Child Mortality and Population Pressure” is a report of an investigation regarding the population pressure in the Yogyakarta province in Indonesia. This research project focuses specifically upon the causes of death in the Javanese childhood.
This investigation was performed in the Bethesda Hospital in the city of Yogyakarta. This hospital offered good facilities like a modern pediatrics department and appropriate laboratory and pathological facilities. The pediatric outpatient clinic had a very low threshold for the poor population. This study is extensively documented. A comprehensive approach was used. Relevant information regarding the history, demography, clinical circumstances, agriculture, industry and regional culture were obtained and used for the formulation of the problem of overpopulation.

The province of Yogyakarta had an adequate administration which collected a wide range of data and allowed use of its data. Therefore it was possible to obtain extensive fundamental data like civil registration, census figures, data about agriculture, industry and transmigration. This province can be considered as a prime example area regarding the problem of overpopulation in Asia. This problem can also be encountered in the rest of Indonesia, China, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Egypt.

The main cause of death in childhood proved to be the lack of food. The lack of food is a consequence of a gradual increasing population (±2% per year) and decreasing crop yields caused by erosion in the hilly parts of the area. In this province there was hardly any industry.

The observations in the Yogyakarta area show how the population is met by this divergence between the number of inhabitants and available means of existence. In particular young children are the victims of starvation because they need more protein to build up their growing bodies. A chronic state of starvation exists on Java at least since the beginning of the twentieth century. This starvation is explicitly described in this study.

This discrepancy between the need of food and the availability of food was earlier described in the Law of Malthus in 1798. Th. R. Malthus (1766-1834) was a British economist who wrote in the second print of his “Essay on the principles of Population: “A man who is born into a world already possessed, he has a just demand and if society do not want his labour he has no claim of right to the smallest portion of food. And in fact has no business to be where he is. At nature’s mighty feast there is no vacant cover for him. She tells him to be gone and will quickly execute her own orders”.

The dominant political measure is to push back the overpopulation by stopping the unbridled propagation of the population. This policy is applied a.o. in China, Korea, Taiwan and Indonesia. But not in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Egypt. The full responsibility concerning the familyplanning is put in the hands of the parents, supervised and supported by services of the regional goverment who cares for the supply of the contraceptive means and methods.
The population growth has positive aspects as long as it balances with the means of existence and promotes the development of welfare. When population growth steps across this balance it becomes destructive, as it already is in many Asian countries. General poverty becomes visible. The prosperity starts to descend. The available food is divided among a greater population and a part of the people, especially young children, will not receive a sufficient share. Lack of arable land leads to families without land. Less fertile land runs the risk of felling trees, soil erosion and landslides. Yong people migrate to the cities looking for scarce jobs. The socio-economic conditions will deteriorate.
Only after an effective general familyplanning health care measures may be considered. Without succesfull familyplanning health care measures will increase starvation.

An effectiveness check of the medical care delivered made it clear that of a sample group of fifty malnourished (kwashiorkor) children who were discharged in reasonable good health only seven children were still alive after a period of one and a half years. The unfavorable conditions which led to the malnutrition before the admission were still active after discharge and led to their death.

Governments which are troubled by overpopulation do not generally encourage research into this topic due to political consequences. Research projects regarding overpopulation and malnutrition are therefore extremely rare. The Indonesian government intensified their program of population regulation after publication of this study.

The socio-economic and political consequences of overpopulation are for the most part left out of consideration in this report. These concerns the unemployed young generations who have no outlook on work and income. They migrate to the cities hoping to find one of the scare jobs. The general poverty is not lessened by this migration. In the political domain rise a number of serious problems. The hard struggle to survive evokes political tension in villages and towns. We notice criminality (theft, robbery), terrorisme (Afghanistan, Sudan), civil war (Sri Lanka, Gaza), coup d’état (Pakistan, Myanmar, Zimbabwe), illegal emigration and war. Are democratic governments able to bridle and handle these risks?

When an overpopulated country receives proposals and projects from outside, which are not directed to stop the population growth, these projects have a disturbing effect. Attention to symptoms and side effects divert the attention to less urgent matters. It concerns e.g. activities in sanitation, health care, temporary emergency help and education. Without establishing a proper priority these projects causes starvation on a larger scale. After a suitable general familyplanning, a substantial increase of food supply and building a consitutional state that allows investments, health care can be considered. First things need to be done first. In the proces of improving wealth and well being, health care is a late fruit and not a conditional factor. Does health care improve wealth in an early phase? The answer is no.

Professor M. Timmer M.D., Ph.D., M.P.H, 20 april 2008