Growing Global Population Tramples the Planet

NEW YORK, New York, November 8, 2001 (ENS) - Human activity is altering the planet on an unprecedented scale, the United Nations agency reponsible for tracking population said Wednesday. Introducing The State of World Population 2001 report, "Footprints and Milestones: Population and Environmental Change," the UN Population Fund said that more people are using more resources with more intensity and leaving a bigger "footprint" on the Earth than ever before.

Issued simultaneously at UN Headquarters in New York and in London and Paris, the report links between women's reproductive health, poverty, and environmental degradation. It emphasizes that global poverty cannot be alleviated without reversing the environmental damage caused by both rising affluence and consumption and by growing populations.

World population, now 6.1 billion, has doubled since 1960 and is projected to grow by half, to 9.3 billion, by 2050. Some two billion people already lack food security, and water supplies and agricultural lands are under increasing pressure, the UNFPA reports.

People in the richest countries are using far more of the world's natural resources than people in developing countries. A child born today in the United States, France or Japan will add more to consumption and pollution over his or her lifetime than 30 to 50 children born in developing countries.

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Girl in Dehra Dun, India draws water from a public well. (Photo courtesy FAO)
Water use has risen six-fold over the past 70 years. By 2050, 4.2 billion people will be living in countries that cannot meet people's daily basic needs, the agency predicts. Unclean water and poor sanitation kill over 12 million people each year; air pollution kills nearly three million.

Greater investments of attention and resources should be spent on balancing human and environmental needs, the agency urges.

All of the growth in world population will take place in today's developing countries, the UNFPA projects. The 49 least developed countries are expected to nearly triple in size in 50 years, from 668 million to 1.86 billion people.

Nearly 60 percent of people in developing countries lack basic sanitation, a third do not have access to clean water, one quarter lack adequate housing, 20 percent do not have access to modern health services, and 20 percent of children do not attend school through grade five.

The report examines the close links between environmental conditions, population trends, and prospects for alleviating poverty in developing countries. It finds that expanding women's opportunities and ensuring their reproductive health and rights are "critically important," both to improve the well being of growing human populations and to protect the natural world.

Empowering women and enabling them to have only the number of children they want would lead to smaller families and slower population growth, easing pressure on the environment and buying time to make crucial decisions about the future, the UNFPA advises.

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Crowd at the fish market in Chikomey, Ghana (Photo by P. Cenini courtesy FAO)
To accommodate the nearly eight billion people expected on Earth by 2025 and improve their diets, the UNFPA says the world will have to double food production and improve distribution.

In its report, the agency urges that internationally actions to reduce poverty, empower women and promote social development already agreed upon must be implemented and adequately funded.

Amy Coen, president of Washington, DC based independent policy group Population Action International, points out that the UNFPA report comes as members of Congress are preparing to negotiate the final version of the foreign operations spending bill. This legislation allocates funds to development assistance efforts, including funding for UNFPA and for international family planning and environmental programs administered by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

The current House version of the bill includes $25 million to support UNFPA, which Coen notes is less than what the U.S. contributed in 1979, and $425 million for family planning programs at USAID. The House bill provides $1.38 billion for child survival, reproductive health, and assistance to combat tropical and other infectious diseases. None of the funds may be used to pay for coercive abortion or involuntary sterilization or for the performance of abortion as a method of family planning.

In order to "reduce reliance on abortion in developing nations," the House bill provides, funds shall be available only to voluntary family planning projects which offer access to a broad range of family planning methods and services.

Just over $US1 billion is earmarked for development assistance as long as it is not used for any activity in violation of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species.

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Homeless child in Calcutta, India (Photo by G. Bizzarri courtesy FAO)
The Senate version of the foreign operations spending bill increases funding levels for international family planning programs. It earmarks $450 million dollars for the international family planning program, $25 million more than allocated in the House version of the bill, and $39 million for the United Nations Population Fund, an increase of $14 million over the House bill.

The Senate bill acknowledges the link between population growth and environmental degradation by urging population assistance "in areas where population growth threatens biodiversity or endangered species."

The House and Senate bills must be reconciled in a conference committee sometime in the next few weeks. A contentious issue is expected to be a provision in the Senate version that repeals a policy imposed by President George W. Bush by on his first day in office. The executive order prohibits U.S. funding for foreign non-governmental organizations that use their own, non-U.S. funds to provide or advocate for abortion.

When the world's governments gather next September for the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, South Africa, the UNFPA hopes to incorporate an integrated social agenda - including education for all and universal access to reproductive health care and family planning - into initiatives to promote sustainable development.