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Joahannesburg Summit 2002
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UNFPA Reports New Population Pressures on Development and Environment

7 November 2001 — The world's six billion people are using more of the earth's resources than ever before, according to a new report by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), and unless significant action is taken, the damage to the environment will only increase as the world's population continues to grow.

With a global population that is growing by 75 million people a year - all in developing countries - it is projected that by 2050, the world will have 9.3 billion people. The population of the world's poorest countries will triple over that time, from 668 million people at present to 1.86 billion in 2050.

But increasing affluence, especially in developed countries, has led to a sharp rise in consumption. Carbon dioxide emissions in developed countries have skyrocketed by 100 times during the last century, and UNFPA estimates that a child born today in an industrialized country will add more to consumption and pollution over his or her lifetime than 30 to 50 children born in developing countries. At the same time, an increasing population in developing countries will require a major increase in food production and will lead to the further overuse of already fragile lands.

While an increasing population does not necessarily mean increasing damage to the environment, and slower population growth offers no guarantee of environmental protection, Thoraya Obaid, Executive Director of UNFPA, said that "poverty and rapid population growth are a deadly combination." As a result, she said, "We are therefore advocating action to improve clean and efficient technology and make it available to developing countries. We are also advocating balanced and integrated population policies."

The UNFPA State of the World Population 2001 report, "Footprints and Milestones: Population and Environmental Change," is pegged to next year's World Summit on Sustainable Development, which will take place in Johannesburg ten years after the Rio Earth Summit. Obaid said the purpose of the report was to look at the actual impact of human activity on the planet, and to target some priorities.

As things stand right now, the report points out, some 2 billion people already lack food security, and water supplies and agricultural lands are under increasing pressure. While the world's population has tripled over the past 70 years, water use has risen six-fold during that time. In a world where unclean water and poor sanitation presently kill over 12 million people each year and air pollution kills nearly 3 million, UNFPA estimates that by 2050, 4.2 billion people will be living in countries that cannot meet people's daily basic needs.

To address these concerns, Obaid called for more resources, along with political will and "the tenacity to stay the course." Specific actions that are practical and affordable, she said, include the empowerment of women, universal education and primary health care, including high-quality reproductive health services.

The report calls next year's Johannesburg Summit an opportunity 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.

See http://www.unfpa.org/swp/2001/english/index.html for full text of report.

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24 August 2006