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Food, water and a question of stability

Straits Times 14 Feb 07
By Li Xueying

RAISING Singapore's population from 4.5 million to 6.5 million will also raise a host of issues that can pose a threat to stability.

They include making sure there is enough food and water, that the environment is not damaged by pollution and not least of all, social stability. These factors were highlighted by visiting population expert Joel Cohen at a public lecture yesterday.

One question he posed is whether Singapore's multi-racial fabric can withstand the pressure from the extra two million people - of whom foreign immigrants will form a significant portion.

'If you add four or five more ethnicities to it, will it work?' he asked, in response to a question on whether the new population goal announced last week was an optimum figure.

It is not a question of numbers, he said. Rather, the question to ask is: 'Will my society hold together as layers of heterogeneity are added on top of my current ethnic mix?'

Prof Cohen heads the Laboratory of Populations at the Rockefeller and Columbia Universities in New York. During his lecture, organised by the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, he gave a macro view of the world's human population trends and their implications.

But the interest among some in the audience of 100 students and academics was clear - they wanted his views on Singapore's new target of 6.5 million. Is it optimum, and what are the factors that he will advise the Government to look out for?

While he demurred from commenting specifically on Singapore, Prof Cohen offered some insights on what the country should consider.

Other issues to look at include: Where will the food and water to feed the extra people be coming from? 'Singapore does not grow its food, so it is dependent on a world economy that permits trade. If there is no trade, Singapore is sunk,' he said.

Thus, it needs to determine if the global geo-political situation allows peaceful trading to continue in the long term.

Another factor is whether the country is educating its people sufficiently so that they will 'have something to offer in exchange for food'.

As for the environment, the question is: Can the population be transported without pollution?

Singapore's target adds to the ballooning global population that is predicted to grow from 6.6 billion now to 9.1 billion by 2050, assuming the world's fertility rate continues its present pace of decline.

Not every country will boom: The developed world's population will shrink by one million a year, while the developing world's will swell by 35 million each year.

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