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While the world is transfixed by Sir Mark Thatcher's arrest, the topic being discussed at a conference opening in London this week is likely to affect our lives for long after the former prime minister's unappealing son has been mercifully forgotten. The Countdown 2015 round table will address the continuing but little reported crisis of population growth. It has never been more urgent: as we report today, the world's harvests are now consistently failing to meet the demands of its growing number of inhabitants.

While the world is transfixed by Sir Mark Thatcher's arrest, the topic being discussed at a conference opening in London this week is likely to affect our lives for long after the former prime minister's unappealing son has been mercifully forgotten. The Countdown 2015 round table will address the continuing but little reported crisis of population growth. It has never been more urgent: as we report today, the world's harvests are now consistently failing to meet the demands of its growing number of inhabitants.

The solutions are well known. Increasing girls' education, improving reproductive health services, reducing poverty - and, yes, improving access to contraceptives and family planning - have all been shown to have dramatic effects. Yet the world's governments are still stumping up only half the money they promised to provide to finance a programme agreed 10 years ago. Worse, President George Bush is actively trying to sabotage it to please America's religious right.

The British government understands the problem. It must set out to persuade the US administration to change a destructive and shortsighted policy. Here is a chance, as with global warming, for Tony Blair to use his much-vaunted relationship with President Bush to achieve something really important. He must not fail to take it.

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