Previous article

Return to Tiempo index

Next article

People in the balance

Population Action International have released a new report “People in the Balance: Population and Natural Resources at the Turn of the Millennium.”

The number of people living in countries facing severe or chronic water shortages is projected to increase more than fourfold over the next 25 years. This will be from an estimated 505 million people today to between 2.4 and 3.2 billion people by 2025.

The new report from Population Action International notes that, although these figures are cause for concern, they are in fact an improvement over what was expected to occur a decade ago. This is, in part, due to the ever-greater proportion of couples planning their families resulting in a slowing of population growth around the world.

Robert Engelman, the report’s lead author, warns against any complacency and stresses the need for further action. He observes that “the current trend of slower population growth is one bright spot in an often gloomy picture of increasing natural resource scarcity. But we can’t take this trend for granted. Hundreds of millions of people, most of them in developing countries, still lack access to basic health care, including family planning. We must do more to change this, beginning today – not in some future decade. People’s lives hang in the balance.”

Using the latest data, the report profiles the relationship between people and six natural resources. Comprehensive, excellent graphics are used to highlight the information presented in the six main sections: People and Water; People and Land; People and Forests; People and Fisheries; People and Carbon Dioxide; and, People and Biological Diversity.

Detailing the link between population growth, environmental degradation and poverty, key findings of the report include:

  • Measurable per capita emissions of carbon dioxide rose modestly in 1996, continuing a trend of rising per capita fossil-fuel consumption and growing population. With less than five per cent of world population, the United States contributed more than 20 per cent of these emissions.
  • Though global fish production increased modestly in 1997, most fisheries are fully exploited or in decline. Aquaculture now provides one fish out of every three the world consumes, with more than two-thirds of the world’s farm-raised fish produced in one country, China.
  • One-fifth of the world’s six billion people lives on the 12 per cent of the land surface with the highest densities of non-human species. Human population is growing at an annual rate of 1.8 per cent in these biodiversity hotspots, significantly faster than the 1.3 per cent rate in the world as a whole, threatening habitat and endangered species.
  • An estimated 420 million people live today in countries that have less than 0.07 hectare of cultivated land per person, the estimated minimum parcel capable of supplying a vegetarian diet for one person without costly chemicals and fertilizers. The number is projected to increase to between 557 million and 1.04 billion by 2025.

The report calls on governments and other institutions to honour commitments made by 179 nations at the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development which was held in Cairo, Egypt. The Programme of Action adopted at this conference called for US$17 billion annually by the year 2000 (rising to 21.7 billion by 2015) to achieve universal access to basic reproductive health services. Five years later, the financial resources available remain far short of these goals, and the United States in particular has failed to fulfil its commitment.

In order to slow population growth and improve individual well-being, Population Action International identifies three crucial criteria:

  • universal access to basic reproductive health care, including high-quality contraceptive services, maternal health programmes, and HIV/AIDS services;
  • universal access to secondary school education; and,
  • more economic opportunities for women, equal to those that men enjoy.

On the Web

The report “People in the Balance” and an accompanying fact sheet are available from Population Action International, 1300 19th Street NW, Second Floor, Washington DC 20036, USA. Fax: +1-202-7284177. Email: Web: The report is also available on the Population Action International web site.

Previous article | Return to Tiempo index | Next article