Courtesy Reuters

Population Trends in the Orient

THROUGH an uncritical application of Malthusian principles westerners are sometimes led to assume that the population of Asia is approaching a saturation point. Actually it seems probable that establishment of peace, changes in economic organization, and improvement in sanitation will bring lower mortality, especially among infants and children. At the same time, patterns of fertility may remain unchanged for many years in most oriental families. If these conditions prevail, Asia will enter an era of rapid population increase. This prospect presents a profound challenge to the emerging world order. Not all of its implications can be foreseen, but the trend is a basic factor to be taken into account in all plans relating to the Far East. A great increase in population in the nations of the Orient does not necessarily imply that they will gain correspondingly in military strength in the years to come; in certain cases at least, the opposite is probable. But it does suggest a likelihood of mounting social unrest and political upheaval. The control of population growth is not a simple matter, but in the long run it is a primary requisite of political stability and social progress in Asia.

The Eurasian land mass now supports four-fifths of the earth's inhabitants; only 12 percent are in the Americas, 8 percent in Africa and Oceania. The distribution of population among broad regions within Eurasia is economically even more significant than the contrast between Europe and America. As of January 1, 1940, there were 380 million people in Europe west of the Soviet borders as extended in 1939 and 1940, 196 million in the Soviet Union (now larger than all North America), and about 1,190 million in non-Soviet Asia.[i] The contrast between desert regions and crowded lands in non-Soviet Asia is even more striking and significant. Southwest Asia, excluding the Soviet Transcaucasus, has more than a fifth of the land surface of Asia outside the Soviet Union, but it has only about 57 million occupants. Although there are irrigated strips with a dense farm population, there are on

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