Chaos in Calais and drownings in the Med are just the beginning

editorial image

Two stories in today’s newspaper, both on page four, are closely linked.

The chaos at Calais, in which desperate immigrants are trying to get into Britain, and the prediction that the world population will be 10 billion by 2050 – almost 50 per cent more than now.

A child born today at age only 35 will be competing for resources with billions more people than are alive now.

Future population levels obviously do not impact on what is happening now, but they will probably make the global poverty crisis much worse.

There are very many huge problems facing mankind, from war to climate change to economic turbulence to malnutrition. Some of the problems have been with us since the dawn of human history.

But now something of perhaps unprecedented horror is unfolding: billions of people who are utterly destitute can see in vivid detail the incomparably more privileged lives we in the West enjoy compared to them.

They have seen it on TV for decades, but now it is on their smart phones and the internet. When we watch a film, it is a bit of escapism. When they do, it is window into a world of scarcely believable European and American privilege where modern homes, cars and meals out are the norm.

You only have to visit one of the vast African cities such as Dakar in Senegal or Lagos in Nigeria to be witness to the scale of the problem. Mile after mile of slums, filled with people living in squalor, with no prospect of work. If they get a disease, there is barely any access to treatment.

No wonder (if they can scrabble any cash together) they pay smugglers to transport them across countries and the mighty Sahara to the Mediterranean, and - with luck - over it.

If they somehow land in Europe, not dying in the desert or drowning, they are met with hostility and contempt.

Doing something to rectify extreme poverty is going to be unspeakably difficult. Aid often ends up in the hands of crooked, even wicked, regimes. For that reason, many of us in the West shrug our shoulders.

But imagine that that was not the case. Imagine that all money we donated was put to genuine good use. Would we be prepared to sacrifice, say, two per cent of our wealth to help alter the obscene global wealth imbalance? I doubt it.

A decade or so ago I interviewed the late Jack Parsons, an academic who had worked at the Sir David Owen Population Centre at Cardiff University. A Second World veteran, he presciently told me that efforts to control immigration would become more and more militarised as increasingly desperate people flung themselves at our shores.

How right he was.

Mercifully, the extremism that has appealed to desperate youths in parts of the Middle East and beyond has not taken root in more than a fraction of the third world.

Western governments will have to be tough on their borders. If Britain, for example, let in each person in the world who wants to come here, our society would collapse, not just our economy. But one thing seems clear: the world must urgently try to stem the population explosion.

Some observers dismiss this. They say there have always been doom mongers who over-estimated population troubles. Perhaps they are right and technology is such that it will all turn out fine in 40 years and most people will live well with food, medicine and work.

But I doubt it. I think we are going to see vast levels of suffering. And our consciences will be sorely tested, because we are going to watch the tragedy in digital detail.

Africa’s population was 600 million in 1990. Now it is twice that and soaring upwards. Given the governance problems in the continent, these are catastrophic statistics.

I was dismayed that President Obama, who has an authority in Africa that well-fed white politicians will never have, failed on his visit to ram home an unequivocal message on population control.