Population and the Environment
This is Bob Doughty. And this is Steve Ember with the VOA Special English program EXPLORATIONS. Today we tell about how the growing population around the world is affecting the environment.
A new report says the growing population around the world is harming the environment. More people are using more of the Earth's natural resources than ever before. Experts say poor people around the world will suffer most in the future unless environmental damage is stopped. They say more should be done to balance human and environmental needs.
The United Nations Population Fund is responsible for studying population growth. Its new report is called the State of the World Population Two-Thousand-One. It examines the links among environmental conditions, population growth and efforts to help poor people in developing countries.
The world's population now is more than six-thousand-million people. That number is two times more than it was in Nineteen-Sixty. The population is expected to increase to more than nine-thousand-million by the year Two-Thousand-Fifty.
The U-N Population Fund says that in fifty years, more than four-thousand-million people will be living in countries that can not provide for people's daily needs.
The report says all the expected growth in world population will take place in developing countries. The population of the forty-nine least developed countries is expected to be almost three times greater in fifty years.
Yet, the U-N agency says people in the richest countries use much more of the world's resources than people in developing countries. It says a child born today in an industrialized country will do more harm to the environment during his lifetime than as many as fifty children born in developing countries.
Almost sixty-percent of people in developing countries lack ways to deal with waste. About thirty-percent of the people in those countries can not get clean water. Unclean water and a lack of ways to deal with human wastes kill more than twelve-million people each year.
The Earth's natural resources such as water, land and air are being used at ever-increasing rates. Experts estimate that more than one-thousand million people do not have clean water. By the year Two-Thousand-Twenty-Five, as many as three-thousand-million people may be living in areas where supplies of freshwater are extremely low.
Carbon dioxide and other gases trap heat in the atmosphere and raise average temperatures on Earth. There is a strong link between population growth and the increase in what are called greenhouse gases. The population grew almost four times larger in the past one-hundred years.
This means more people using greater quantities of fossil fuels such as oil gas and coal. These fuels produce carbon dioxide when burned. The U-N report says twelve times more carbon dioxide gas was being released at the end of the century than was at the beginning.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimates the Earth's atmosphere could become more than five degrees Celsius warmer during this century. The group estimates the sea levels will rise about half a meter in the next one hundred years.
The climate changes will affect rainfall as well as temperatures worldwide. This will affect food production and the supply of natural resources throughout the world.
The U-N Population Fund says the warming of the Earth is already causing infectious diseases such as malaria and dengue fever to spread. Higher temperatures mean that the insects and animals that carry disease can now survive places they could not before. This leads to diseases being spread in new places.
The U-N report says forests are being destroyed at the highest levels in history. Trees are being cleared for extra agricultural land and to make room for housing. Trees absorb greenhouse gases and act as a barrier from more global warming. Over the past one-hundred years, the world has lost almost half its forest area. The destruction of forests leads to the loss of many species of plants and animals.
There is a direct connection between people and the health of the Earth's environment. Right now, the U-N report says the rate at which people are using natural resources threatens the health of the planet. It also threatens the supplies of water, forests and other resources needed for future populations.
The U-N Population Fund says water may be the Earth's most valuable resource. However, many developing countries are suffering from severe water shortages.
More than seventy-percent of the Earth's surface is covered with water. Yet only three-percent of the total water on Earth is fresh-water. Only one-percent of the entire supply of water on Earth is available for human use.
Worldwide, more than fifty-percent of the yearly available fresh water is being used, much of it for agriculture. Ground water levels in some cities in China, Latin America and South Asia are decreasing more than one meter every year. Experts say that in about fifty years, more than four-thousand-million people will be living in countries that can not provide enough water for daily needs.
The U-N says most developing countries do not produce enough food to feed their people. Nor are they financially able to import the amount of food they need.
About eight-hundred million people living in poor countries do not have enough to eat. Food production in many poor countries is threatened by soil damage, water shortages, poor agricultural methods and fast population growth. Supplies of fish around the world are also under threat.
The U-N group says a combination of changes has led to sharp growth in the world population. Improvements in diet, health care and waste removal systems have helped people live longer, more productive lives. However, this means more people are in their reproductive years and having more children. For the first time in human history, one-thousand-million people are between the ages of fifteen and twenty-four.
As populations grow, demand increases. So does the search for water, food and energy resources.
In developing countries throughout the world, women are half of the world's agricultural workforce. In the world's poorest countries, women head almost twenty-five percent of homes outside cities. In many countries, they are responsible for food, water, fuel and other duties in their homes.
Yet, women usually do not have control of their lives. National law or local traditions often deny women the rights that would help them improve their conditions.
The U-N report finds that programs that increase education and economic opportunities for women help to slow population growth. Women who gain from these programs are more likely to stay in school longer, have more control over their reproductive lives, and choose to have smaller families.
The U-N Population Fund says the AIDS crisis could sharply increase death rates in some areas of the world. In many countries, women and young people are the worst affected.
AIDS directly affects health and the family. In severely affected areas, communities cannot support the large numbers of surviving children and older people. AIDS kills women who work on family farms and men who own them so the farms no longer produce food for the families.
The U-N Population Fund says international policies need to be put into effect to improve economic conditions, increase social development and ease pressure on the environment. It also says women should be given more control over their lives. Empowering women could slow population growth
The U-N Population Fund says high population growth makes it more difficult for poor countries to improve their economic development. It says measures to help improve conditions for growing populations could also protect the natural environment. The report says humans have always changed and been changed by the natural world. It says the future of human development depends on wise choices made now.
This Special English program was written by Cynthia Kirk. It was directed by Cynthia Kirk. This is Steve Ember. And this is Bob Doughty. Join us again next week for another EXPLORATIONS program on the Voice of America.