Drinking rainwater from banana leaf, Nigeria. (c) I. Uwanaka/UNEP peopleandplanet.net
Drinking rainwater from banana leaf, Nigeria. (c) I. Uwanaka/UNEP
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Welcome to the People & the Planet website. This provides a global gateway to the greatest issue of our time: the future health and wellbeing of the human family as it presses ever more heavily on the natural resources of our planet. Happy browsing in our 16 topic sections and Picture Gallery - and please send us your feedback.

Twin-headed monster
Last updated: 17th March 2007

As the world wakes up, as it is at last doing, to the impending tsunami of rising seas in a hotter, drier world, little thought is given to the closely related impacts of continuing population surge. Two recent reports have brought that into fresh focus.

The first, from the UN Population Division, provides new forecasts for world population in 2050 – up slightly to 9.2 billion, or a rise of 2.5 billion (equivalent to the whole human population in 1950). But it is not this figure alone, but the distribution of that increase which is of most concern – and the assumptions on which it is based. See: New population projections 'a wake-up call'.

Woman carrying water, Ethiopia. Photo: WHO/P. Virot
Woman carrying water in a jar near Alem Kitmama North East of Addis-Ababa, Ethiopia. Credit: © WHO/P. Virot
As the second report, from UK parliamentarians, points out, no less than 90 per cent of the increase in human numbers is projected to be in the least developed countries, least able to sustain their existing people. Ethiopia, for example, has seen its numbers grow from 42 million at the time of the terrible famine in 1984 to 76 million. By 2050 its population is projected to reach 145 million – at a time when eight million Ethiopians already live on food aid and when climate change threatens to further desiccate the country.

Indeed, say the parliamentarians, the Millennium Development Goals, which now drive the global effort to eradicate poverty and ensure a sustainable environment, will be ‘difficult or impossible to achieve’ unless much greater efforts are made to slow soaring numbers in the least developed countries. See: UK parliamentarians deplore 'the lost decade'.

As the UN points out, donor funding for family planning today is less than a fifth of that promised by the world’s governments in Cairo in 1994. And the projected population of 9.2 billion is based on assumptions of falling fertility, without which world population would grow by 5 billion to 12 billion by 2050, with the less developed nations increasing to 10.6 billion rather than 7.9 billion. As always it is the poorest people of the world, in the poorest countries, who will pay the biggest price if more is not done to tackle the two-headed monster of climate change and imbalanced population. Everyone will benefit if it is.

John Rowley

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