Population Questions, Pandemic Answers

In Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
In Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Rozena Crossman

COVID-19 makes us think about things we should've been thinking about anyway. And since the beginning of the outbreak, we've all been keeping a closer eye than usual on the hard truths of statistics: From daily global emissions (down by 17%) to the number of precarious workers in the world (1.6 billion), as well as those scary new pandemic numbers of death tolls and transmission rates. But there is one big stat lurking in the shadows that coronavirus puts in a new light: the human population on planet Earth.

"It took hundreds of thousands of years for the world population to grow to 1 billion – then in just another 200 years or so, it grew sevenfold," says the UN's website for World Population Day. This annual event, which took place this year on July 11th, is meant to raise awareness about the dangers of overpopulation for both humans and the planet. It is a problem that COVID-19 may have exacerbated, as counterintuitive as that may sound, as pregnancy rates have tended to rise in countries forced into lockdown.

"Fathers, control yourselves! Ladies, you can have sexual relations. You can get married. But don't get pregnant!" Since the pandemic began, these messages can be heard blasting on loudspeakers across Indonesia. According to the Jakarta Post, the government projects an additional 400,000 births this year. With the fourth-largest population in the world, Indonesia had previously tried to implement a family planning policy limiting households to only two children. Now, many couples are afraid to venture to the hospital or gynecologist for fear of contracting the virus.

People wearing face masks during the COVID-19 pandemic in Hong Kong. — Photo: ​May James/SOPA/ZUMA

In India — the world's second most populous country — women's access to both abortions and birth control have been limited since their confinement period began. This is partly due to an obvious lack of mobility, but is compounded by a disrupted supply of contraceptives and the conversion of many public health spaces into emergency coronavirus centers. Some Indian health experts find the problem so worrying, they are arguing that reproductive health should be included in the COVID-19 management plan.

Meanwhile, a U.S. study by the Guttmacher Institute found that 1 in 3 American women had a hard time accessing reproductive health care and birth control due to quarantine measures.

The importance of access to reproductive health care and education cannot be overstated when it comes to population control. A recent study by medical journal The Lancet found that the overall human population may begin declining during the second half of the century, largely due to access to birth control and reproductive education for women all over the world.

The momentary spike in the birth rate during the pandemic is another cause for reflection, and a reminder that the health of humans is ultimately linked to the health of the planet.

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In Argentina, A Visit To World's Highest Solar Energy Park

With loans and solar panels from China, the massive solar park has been opened a year and is already powering the surrounding areas. Now the Chinese supplier is pushing for an expansion.

960,000 solar panels have been installed at the Cauchari park

Silvia Naishtat

CAUCHARI — Driving across the border with Chile into the northwest Argentine department of Susques, you may spot what looks like a black mass in the distance. Arriving at a 4,000-meter altitude in the municipality of Cauchari, what comes into view instead is an assembly of 960,000 solar panels. It is the world's highest photovoltaic (PV) park, which is also the second biggest solar energy facility in Latin America, after Mexico's Aguascalientes plant.

Spread over 800 hectares in an arid landscape, the Cauchari park has been operating for a year, and has so far turned sunshine into 315 megawatts of electricity, enough to power the local provincial capital of Jujuy through the national grid.

It has also generated some $50 million for the province, which Governor Gerardo Morales has allocated to building 239 schools.

Abundant sunshine, low temperatures

The physicist Martín Albornoz says Cauchari, which means "link to the sun," is exposed to the best solar radiation anywhere. The area has 260 days of sunshine, with no smog and relatively low temperatures, which helps keep the panels in optimal conditions.

Its construction began with a loan of more than $331 million from China's Eximbank, which allowed the purchase of panels made in Shanghai. They arrived in Buenos Aires in 2,500 containers and were later trucked a considerable distance to the site in Cauchari . This was a titanic project that required 1,200 builders and 10-ton cranes, but will save some 780,000 tons of CO2 emissions a year.

It is now run by 60 technicians. Its panels, with a 25-year guarantee, follow the sun's path and are cleaned twice a year. The plant is expected to have a service life of 40 years. Its choice of location was based on power lines traced in the 1990s to export power to Chile, now fed by the park.

Chinese engineers working in an office at the Cauchari park


Chinese want to expand

The plant belongs to the public-sector firm Jemse (Jujuy Energía y Minería), created in 2011 by the province's then governor Eduardo Fellner. Jemse's president, Felipe Albornoz, says that once Chinese credits are repaid in 20 years, Cauchari will earn the province $600 million.

The Argentine Energy ministry must now decide on the park's proposed expansion. The Chinese would pay in $200 million, which will help install 400,000 additional panels and generate enough power for the entire province of Jujuy.

The park's CEO, Guillermo Hoerth, observes that state policies are key to turning Jujuy into a green province. "We must change the production model. The world is rapidly cutting fossil fuel emissions. This is a great opportunity," Hoerth says.

The province's energy chief, Mario Pizarro, says in turn that Susques and three other provincial districts are already self-sufficient with clean energy, and three other districts would soon follow.

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