Additional investments in youth needed as world population tops 7 billion, states UNFPA report

October 26, 2011


In five days, the world population is projected to reach 7 billion. How we respond now will determine whether we have a healthy, sustainable and prosperous future or one that is marked by inequalities, environmental decline and economic setbacks, according to The State of World Population 2011 report, published today by UNFPA.


Credit: UNFPA

People and possibilities in a world of 7 billion

"With planning and the right investments in people now - to empower them to make choices that are not only good for themselves, but also for our global commons - our world of 7 billion can have thriving sustainable cities, productive labour forces that fuel economies, and youth populations that contribute to the well-being of their societies," says UNFPA Executive Director Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin in the foreword of the report, entitledPeople and Possibilities in a World of 7 Billion.

Our record population size can be viewed in many ways as a success for humanity because it means that people are living longer and more of our children are surviving worldwide, the report shows. But not everyone has benefited from this achievement or the higher quality of life that this implies. Great disparities exist among and within countries. Disparities in rights and opportunities also exist between men and women, girls and boys. Charting a path now to development that promotes equality, rather than exacerbates or reinforces inequalities, is more important than ever.

The 7 billion milestone "is a challenge, an opportunity and a call to action," said Dr. Osotimehin at the report’s launch in London. The report is also being launched in more than 100 other cities worldwide.

Of the world's 7 billion, 1.8 billion are young people between the ages of 10 and 24, Dr. Osotimehin noted. "Young people hold the key to the future, with the potential to transform the global political landscape and to propel economies through their creativity and capacities for innovation. But the opportunity to realize youth’s great potential must be seized now," Dr. Osotimehin said. "We should be investing in the health and education of our youth. This would yield enormous returns in economic growth and development for generations to come."

ICPD is as relevant as ever

"Today’s milestone is a reminder that we must act now," said Dr. Osotimehin, adding that the Programme of Action of the 1994 Cairo International Conference on Population and Development and its call to enable individuals have the power to make their own reproductive decisions remain the best guides for the future.

"With the 2014 anniversary of the ICPD rapidly approaching, the data indeed show that the road to equitable economic and social development runs straight through the centre of our mandate at UNFPA," Dr. Osotimehin said.

"But our work is far from done. Consider that there are 215 million women of childbearing age in developing countries who lack access to voluntary family planning. There are millions of adolescent girls and boys in the developing world who have too little access to sexuality education and information about how to prevent pregnancies or protect themselves from HIV. In pockets of the world where women’s status is low, infant and child survival are also low. And we must tear down economic, legal and social barriers, to put women and men and boys and girls on an equal footing in all spheres of life."

About the report

The State of World Population 2011 is mainly a report from the field, where demographers, policymakers, governments, civil society and individuals are grappling with population trends ranging from ageing to rapidly rising numbers of young people, from high population growth rates to shrinking populations, and from high rates of urbanisation to rising international migration. The countries featured in this report are China, Egypt, Ethiopia, Finland, India, Mexico, Mozambique, Nigeria and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.

The report is available on the UNFPA website.

Sub-saharan Africa: transforming population dynamics into an opportunity

October 22, 2011


PSNs Karen Newman gave a presentation this week at an international conference in Berlin, looking at how to transform population dynamics into an opportunity in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Credit: Zahra Moloo/IRIN

Reaping demographic dividend opportunities

Sub-Saharan Africa: Transforming Population Dynamics into an
is took place in Berlin on 21 October, organised by PSN network member the German Foundation for World Population (DSW). The conference brought together development experts from relevant ministries and government agencies, MPs, think tanks, civil society, research, and media.

The conference took success stories of countries in East and South East Asia which made use of the so-called demographic dividend as examples, and discussed how population dynamics in Sub-Saharan Africa can be translated into opportunities.

What are the specific reasons for high fertility rates in sub-Saharan countries and how do they affect social and economic development? How can they be dealt with politically? What does the large proportion of young people in those countries mean for future social and economic development and how can they be empowered to move their countries forward?


The objectives of the international conference were to:

  • Inform a wide range of German and international development experts about population dynamics as a cross-cutting issue for Sub-Saharan Africa's future development.
  • Provide a forum for the presentation and discussion of the latest research concerning the complex relationship between population dynamics and economic as well as social development.
  • Draw a link from latest research findings to implementation. Good practices on how to integrate the issue of population dynamics into development programs on the ground and national development plans will be shared and discussed.
  • Facilitate a dialogue among key stakeholders from governments, international organizations, research and civil society on future cooperation in this field.

PSN's Karen Newman participated in the conference and gave a presentation on linking population, gender and climate change, during a thematic session looking at the benefits and cross-sectional approaches for linking the health and environmental sectors.

Further information

The conference was held as part of DSW's  campaign on Africa's Demographic Challenges - further information is available about this campaign on the DSW website.

The conference was co-funded by the European Union and formed part of a European awareness raising programme entitled "Africa's Demographic Challenges", implemented by the German Foundation for World Population (DSW) and its partners, the Berlin Institute for Population and Development, the Austrian Foundation for World Population and International Co-operation (SWI) and the Hungarian BOCS Foundation, in Austria, Germany, and Hungary. Associates of the programme are the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA), Austria, Partners in Population and Development (PPD), Uganda, and the German Foundation for World Population (DSW) Tanzania.

Mapping population and climate change: resource from PAI

October 15, 2011

SOURCE: Population Action International (PAI)

Population Action International (PAI) has published an updated guide to its interactive mapping website which shows how climate change and population dynamics will change the world over time. 


Credit: PAI

An interactive resource

The world’s population is expected to grow significantly during this century. Nearly all of this population growth will occur in the developing world, often in places that are least resilient to climate change and are expected to face growing challenges in agricultural production and water scarcity.

High rates of population growth and climate change consequences overlap in many countries. The interactive mapping website by PAI illustrates how climate change impacts, demographic trends and the need for contraception are likely to affect countries’ abilities to adapt to climate change.

In addition to global maps, the website contains new country profiles, which explore population and climate change issues in Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, Nepal, and Peru.

The maps identify 26 population and climate change hotspots – countries that are experiencing rapid population growth, low resilience to climate change, and high projected declines in agricultural production.

Many hotspots are currently experiencing water stress or scarcity, a condition that will worsen with continued rapid population growth. And in many of these countries, a high proportion of women lack access to reproductive health services and contraceptives. Investments in family planning programs in these hotspots could improve health and well-being, slow population growth, and reduce vulnerability to climate change impacts.

You can access the maps on the PAI website and a guide to the website is available here.

UN Human Rights Council adopts groundbreaking maternal mortality resolution

September 29, 2011

SOURCE: Center for Reproductive Rights

A ground-breaking resolution was adopted yesterday by the UNs Human Rights Council, in which States reaffirm their commitment to addressing the root causes of preventable maternal deaths and disability. 


Credit: UN Photo/Tim McKulka

Maternal mortality is a human rights issue

Organizations like the Center for Reproductive Rights have been working tirelessly for the UN - through the Council and its human rights mechanisms - to pay serious attention to maternal mortality as a human rights issue. Every day, an estimated 1000 women die in pregnancy or childbirth, and each year over 10 million women suffer from infections, injuries or disabilities. The persistence of maternal deaths and disability from preventable causes - unsafe abortion, gender discrimination, and treatable complications during pregnancy - tarnishes the human rights record of many countries in the developed and developing world.

International commitments made through the Millennium Development Goals, the UN Secretary General's Strategy on Women and Children's Health and others, have put the spotlight on improving strategies to tackle women's health. For the third year running, the UN's Human Rights Council has focused its attention on the global problem of preventable maternal mortality and morbidity. Yesterday, the Human Rights Council has once again delivered a clear message that without paying close attention to the key principles of a human rights approach - accountability, participation, transparency, empowerment, sustainability, international cooperation, and non-discrimination - attempts to reduce maternal mortality and morbidity will be insufficient and ineffective.

There are two reasons why today's resolution is ground-breaking. Firstly, an unprecedented number of countries (over 90) co-sponsored the resolution, demonstrating that States' commitment is consolidating and deepening. Secondly, the Council's resolution takes a crucial first step beyond the theory of the human rights-based approach and towards its practical implementation.

Examples from the US, Kenya and Philippines

In the United States, the human rights-based approach could support and encourage efforts to address disparities in access to and quality of healthcare for racial and ethnic minorities through the implementation of provisions of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 (healthcare reform). Such approaches might include the standardization of data collection among states to address gaps in service provision, and better understand the causes of poor health outcomes in different racial and ethnic groups.

The Kenyan National Commission on Human Rights recently launched an official inquiry into human rights abuses in the context of sexual and reproductive healthcare, holding public hearings and gathering women's testimonies of their experiences seeking reproductive healthcare, with a view to improving the provision of these services. The terms of reference of this inquiry resonate with many of the key principles of the human rights-based approach - tackling discrimination, promoting participation and demanding accountability - and show the feasibility of implementing this approach through existing institutions, with a view to making improvements in policy and the delivery of reproductive health services.

The Philippines imposes criminal penalties on abortion without any clear exceptions, which means that a woman is unable to terminate a pregnancy legally or safely even if it poses a serious risk to her life or health. These restrictions lead women to seek clandestine abortions, often in unsafe or dangerous conditions. In 2008, roughly 1000 women lost their lives due to unsafe abortions and as many as 90,000 were hospitalized for complications from unsafe abortions. Applying a human rights-based approach in this context would require the Philippines government to decriminalize abortion on certain grounds because of its contribution to maternal mortality and morbidity.

States will be guided in implementing a rights-based approach

The new resolution paves the way for an expert-led workshop to be convened by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human rights, tasked with drafting technical guidance for States on implementing the human rights-based approach in their policies and programs to reduce preventable maternal mortality and morbidity.

Many NGOs around the world, alongside the centre for Reproductive Rights, have advocated for the Council to direct future work towards this practical approach, proposing the expert-led process of drafting technical guidance as an essential means to achieving effective, coordinated and coherent implementation of the human rights-based approach to eliminating preventable maternal mortality and morbidity.

This article, published by the Center for Reproductive Rights, has been reproduced by PSN. Minor changes and cuts may have been made for the purpose of brevity and relevance.

Today is earth overshoot day, warns the Global Footprint Network

September 27, 2011

SOURCE: Global Footprint Network

Humanity is surpassing natures budget for the year, and is now operating in overdraft, according to Global Footprint Network calculations for 2011.


Credit: Global Footprint Network

Today our demands overshoot nature's budget

Earth Overshoot Day, which this year falls on September 27, helps conceptualize the degree to which we are over-budget in our use of nature. In approximately nine months, we are demanding a level of ecological services - from producing food and raw materials to filtering our carbon dioxide emissions - equivalent to what the planet can provide for all of 2011. From an ecological standpoint, we have effectively spent our annual salary, with a quarter of the year still to go.

"From soaring food prices to the crippling effects of climate change, our economies are now confronting the reality of years of spending beyond our means," said Global Footprint Network President Dr. Mathis Wackernagel. "If we are to maintain stable societies and good lives, we can no longer sustain a widening budget gap between what nature is able to provide and how much our infrastructure, economies and lifestyles require."

This year, Earth Overshoot Day comes as the UN is projecting the human population to reach 7 billion sometime in late October. Current resource trends beg the questions: How will we be able to meet the needs of a growing population? Support the increased consumption as millions in emerging economies join the swelling ranks of the middle class? Provide for the 2 billion alive today that lack access to enough resources to meet basic needs?

Global Footprint Network's preliminary 2011 calculations show we are now using resources at a rate it would take between 1.2 and 1.5 planets to sustainably support. If we continue on the course estimated by moderate United Nations projections for increasing population and consumption, by well before mid-century we will need the capacity of two Earths to keep up with our level of demand.

"Providing good lives for the world’s people is certainly possible - but it will not be possible using the resource-intensive development and growth models we have pursued in the past," said Global Footprint Network Director of Research and Standards Dr. Juan Carlos Morales. "That means finding new models of progress and prosperity that limit demand on ecological assets. It also means maintaining the resources we have left as an ongoing source of wealth rather than liquidating them for fast cash."

Have We Reduced Global Overshoot?

Ecological Footprint and biocapacity calculations Global Footprint Network made last year placed Earth Overshoot Day a few weeks earlier in the year than this year's estimates do. This has raised the question as to whether we have reduced global overshoot. The answer, unfortunately, is no. Global Footprint Network is constantly improving the calculations and data sets that are the basis for determining Earth Overshoot Day, and as such the date shifts from year to year.

It is not, of course, able to determine with 100 percent accuracy the exact moment when we bust our budget. Hence, Earth Overshoot Day is meant as an estimate rather than as an exact date.

Our methodology does change and may continue to shift, but no matter what scientific approach we have used, and what improvements we have implemented to try to account for both human demand and nature's supply, the trends remain consistent: we are in significant overshoot, and overshoot is growing.

The when is less important than the what: a mounting ecological debt, and the interest we are paying on that debt - food shortages, plummeting wildlife populations, disappearing forests, degraded land productivity and the build-up of CO2 in our atmosphere and ocean, with devastating human and monetary costs.

Overshoot and the Global Economy

In spite of the global recession, resource trends indicate that since October 2008, humanity's resource demand has been on the rise, although more slowly than in the first eight years of the millennium.

There is more and more evidence that rapidly rising resource costs, in particular for food and energy, played a major role in accelerating, if not sparking, the current global downturn. Now we are trying to reverse the downturn by building jobs and stabilizing our economies. But this depends on a reliable resource supply.

"As resource constraints tighten even more, it's going to feel like trying to run upward on a down escalator," Dr. Wackernagel said. "As we look to rebuild our economies to be healthy and robust, now is the moment to come up with ways of doing so that will continue to work and be relevant in the future. Long-term recovery will only succeed, and can only be maintained, if it occurs along with systematic reductions to our dependence on resources."

We are moving to a new paradigm - from one in which resources were treated as limitless to one in which they must be as prudently spend and carefully managed as financial reserves.

Global Footprint Network and its network of partners is working with individuals, organizations and governments around the globe to make decisions that are aligned with ecological reality - decisions that can help close the ecological budget gap and provide for a prosperous future in the face of changing and challenging resource trends.

Learn more about Earth Overshoot Day on the Global Footprint Network website.

This article, by the Global Footprint Network, has been reproduced by PSN. Minor changes and cuts may have been made for the purpose of brevity and relevance.

Gender equality: economic growth is not enough

September 19, 2011

SOURCE: The Economist

A new report from the World Bank shows that economic development alone will not be enough to balance the scales to overcome gender equality.


Credit: Curt Carnemark/World Bank

New World Bank report on gender equality and development

There are almost 4 million missing women in the world - that is, women who have died because the rate of female mortality is disproportionately high compared with mens or because fetuses were aborted before birth simply because they were female. The figure is higher than had been previously thought.

It comes from the World Bank ’s annual flagship publication, the World Development Report, published on September 19th. Each year the bank looks in detail at an aspect of development, this year at the impact of economic growth and development upon gender equality. The persistence of high female mortality, says Ana Revenga, the reports co-editor, was one of the biggest surprises revealed by the research.

One might expect female mortality to fall as countries get richer. Better medical care, clean water and improved public health should reduce female mortality along with male. Arguably, women’s mortality should fall more, since public-health improvements should slash deaths in childbirth or during pregnancy, which are particularly dangerous times for women. And in fact, maternal mortality has fallen considerably by a third since 1990.

Yet it remains stubbornly high. In Africa, maternal mortality remains at 640 deaths per 100,000 live births, roughly the level Sweden had reached in 1830. In Afghanistan the level is where Sweden’s was in the 17th century. Economic growth does not always help. Maternal mortality fell by only about 1% a year in Tanzania in 2000-08, even though the economy grew 7% a year. In South Africa maternal mortality actually rose.

The combination of persistently high mortality rates and a growing population means that in parts of the world the number of "excess" deaths is growing fast. In Africa, more than 750,000 women of childbearing age (15 to 49 years) died in 2008, well over twice as many as in 1990. In countries with high rates of HIV/AIDS (such as South Africa), the numbers increased tenfold.

Deaths in childbirth account for about a third of the overall number of missing women (1.35m out of 3.89m). An even bigger share comes from the 1.43m girls missing at birth, mainly in China and India. These are victims of so-called "gendercide". The combination of a traditional preference for sons in Chinese and Indian societies with new technologies that enable expectant parents to know the sex of their imminent children has enabled families to abort female fetuses in their millions. In China, almost 120 boys are born for every 100 girls, resulting in over 1m too few daughters (too few, that is, relative to the natural level).

The World Bank says gendercide is spreading. The number of missing girls doubled in Europe and Central Asia (mainly in the Balkans and the Caucasus), from a low base. The number also rose in the Middle East and in East Asia outside China. Though son preference is often seen as "backwardness" - a product of poverty and insularity- sex-selective abortion is actually independent of wealth and income. It is highest, for example, in some of the richest, most open parts of China and India, such as Guangdong province in southern China and Haryana state in north India.

Women face discrimination at work despite economic growth

And that is consistent with the wider theme of the World Banks report: discrimination against women persists despite economic growth. Women do similar sorts of work - health care, retail business and communications - in countries at very different levels of income. They are also paid less (by anywhere from 20% to 40%) in countries as different as Bangladesh, Mexico and Sweden. This is mainly because women continue to do far more child care and housework than men in every country. In Pakistan, women do 5.5 hours of housework a day, men 2.5. In Italy, women do 4.9 hours, men 1.4. So relative to men, Italian women do more housework than their sisters in Pakistan.

One result is that women take jobs that enable them more easily to combine family commitments and paid employment. They are usually lower-paid, part-time or informal jobs. So women are paid less on average even where they get the same wages for the same work (which of course does not always happen in the first place). The bank argues for legal changes to improve women’s position in the workplace and to limit this tendency to separate out work by sex. By itself, the report suggests, there is only do so much that growth can do.

Read the full report World Development Report 2012: Gender Equality and Development.

This article, published by the, has been reproduced by PSN. Minor changes and cuts may have been made for the purpose of brevity and relevance.

PSN joins the UNFPA 7 billion actions campaign

September 14, 2011


PSN is supporting a campaign launched by the UNFPA with the unique message for everyone in the 7 billion world: You are one of 7 Billion. Every individual and organization has a unique role and shared responsibility to address issues that affect us all.


7 billion actions for a 7 billion world

The world's population will reach seven billion people in October 2011. This unique moment in human history represents both an achievement and a challenge, and will have an impact on every single person on the planet. A world of seven billion has implications for sustainability, urbanisation, access to health services and youth empowerment - however, it also offers a rare call-to-action opportunity to renew global commitment for a healthy and sustainable world.

As the United Nations agency responsible for marking this milestone, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) is leading an innovative global campaign 7 Billion Actions to build awareness around the opportunities and challenges of a world of seven billion people. UNFPA has enlisted a wide group of corporations, organizations, and individuals to deliver this unique initiative, using online, mobile and offline actions to tell the story of the people behind
the number.


7 Billion Actions aims to achieve two key objectives:

  1. Building global awareness around the opportunities and challenges associated with a world of seven billion people.
  2. Inspiring governments, NGOs, private sector, media, academia and individuals to take actions that will have a socially positive impact.


The campaign will build awareness around seven key issues, then count the activities the campaign stimulates to address them. The issues are:

  • Poverty and inequality;
  • Women and girls empowerment;
  • Reproductive health and rights;
  • Young people;
  • Ageing population;
  • Environment;
  • Urbanisation.

Join PSN in getting involved

PSN is proud to be contributing to the 7 billion actions as a campaign partner. Here are just some of the opportunities for other partners and individual supporters of the campaign to get involved:

  • "7 Billion Stories" - by using an on-line tool or by sending an SMS from their mobile phones, people from around the world can submit a snapshot of their life and sharing how they are making a difference.
  • Join the 7 Billion Actions partner site as a partner in one of the seven themes by linking your site to the campaign.
  • Talk about 7 billion and critical population issues, and encourage others to join the campaign.
  • Tweet using #7Billion and link to 7 Billion Actions on Facebook to profile the initiative in your blogs and newsletter.

You can find out more about the campaign and add your voice at the 7 billion actions website.

Civil society Rio20 declaration promotes universal reproductive health for sustainability

September 9, 2011


A civil society declaration for Rio+20 was adopted this week, highlighting the significance of population dynamics to sustainable development and calling for increased efforts to ensure universal reproductive health.

Credit: UN Photo/Kay Muldoon

UN DPI/NGO Conference

From 3-5 September, over 1,500 participants from civil society, international organisations, governments and other actors gathered in Bonn, Germany, for the 64th Annual United Nations Department of Public Information (DPI)/NGOs Conference to develop proposals to influence the upcoming negotiations on the agenda of the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) to take place in June 2012 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

The Conference's various plenary sessions, roundtables and workshops covered a broad spectrum of issues related to Rio+20. This included ensuring that the "green economy" theme for Rio+20 does not become a "greenwash" for business as usual, but is instead grounded in a truly transformational agenda that not only stops and reverses environmental degradation, but also reduces inequalities, creates decent employment opportunities for all, and restores the social and economic fabric of local communities and societies.

Outcome proposals to inform upcoming negotiations

Under the responsibility of the Chair of the Conference, Felix Dodds fromStakeholder Forum, a drafting committee composed of civil society representatives from North and South, gathered a very wide gamut of inputs from NGO participants. These were consolidated into a declaration adopted by the conference delegates, to be formally presented to the President of the General Assembly by the German government. The content of the Declaration will also be submitted as input to the "zero draft" outcome document for Rio+20.

Under the conference theme Sustainable Societies - Responsive Citizens, the declaration takes stock of the alarming state of the global environment, poverty and inequalities worldwide, and expresses its disappointment with the widely perceived failure of governments to live up to the commitments taken at the 1992 Rio Conference.

To change course, it makes a series of recommendations around the two themes of Rio+20:

  • Green economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication; and
  • Institutional Framework for Sustainable Development.

The declaration then addresses other issues to be considered, and proposes a collection of "Sustainable Development Goals" to be adopted at Rio+20.

Links between population, sustainability and reproductive health

The declaration adopted at the conference calls for a holistic and integrated approach to sustainable development that fully acknowledges "the interrelationships between population, resources the environment and development". In response to these connections the document calls on States to promote a range of appropriate policies, including those relating to population, in order to meet the needs of current and future generations without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

Advocating the use of population data and projections and data to anticipate and plan for population dynamics, the document recommends that;

"Recognizing human rights and freedoms, governments should enlarge individual choices and opportunities by ensuring universal access to sexual and reproductive health and family planning, empowerment of women, and investment in education, particularly of disadvantaged children and youth, and girls and women".

To help achieve these aims the declaration reaffirms the importance of attaining the goals set at the International Conference on Population and Development and the UN Millennium Development Goals.

The importance of sustainable lifestyles is another strong message emerging from the statement, which calls for the elimination of the wealth inequalities and unsustainable consumption and production patterns which contribute to both environmental degradation and poverty.

Draft Sustainable Development Goals for Rio+20

The Declaration outlines a range of ambitious, time-bound "Draft Sustainable Development Goals" to be adopted at Rio+20. This first set of suggestions is in response to a recent proposal by the government of Columbia, backed by Guatemala, to include Sustainable Development Goals on the Rio+20 agenda. According to the NGO Declaration, these goals would be framed in accordance with human rights, and principles of common but differentiated responsibilities, and respective capabilities.

Within different target dates for implementation, the goals cover the following areas:

  • Sustainable Consumption and Production
  • Sustainable Livelihoods, Youth and Education
  • Climate Sustainability
  • Clean Energy
  • Biodiversity
  • Water
  • Healthy Seas and Oceans (Blue Economy)
  • Healthy Forests
  • Sustainable Agriculture
  • Green Cities
  • Subsidies and Investment
  • New Indicators of Progress
  • Access to Information
  • Public Participation
  • Access to Redress and Remedy
  • Environmental Justice for the Poor and Marginalized
  • Basic Health

The final sustainable development goal, on basic health, includes ensuring universal access the health care and services, and specifies that wherever feasible, these services should be provided free to women and children, including sexual and reproductive health services. The declaration also acknowledges the role that access to health care services can play in strengthening resilience to climate change and environmental degradation.

Further information

Further background information about the UN DPI NGO conference and declaration is available from the UN Non-Governmental liaison service website.

To read about PSN's work to influence the Rio+20 agenda, we submitted a response to a parliamentary inquiry, calling on the UK government to ensure that population issues are have also been working alongside the UNFPA and other NGOs in preparation for the summit.

This article credits a UN-NGLs article, sections of which have been reproduced by PSN with additional commentary from PSN.

PSN urges UK govt to put population on Rio20 agenda

August 26, 2011


In a response to a parliamentary inquiry, PSN has called on the UK government to seize opportunities to advance sustainable development through a focus on population issues at the 2012 Earth Summit.


Where is population at Rio+20?

The United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD) - also known as Rio+20 /Earth Summit 2012 - will take place in Rio de Janeiro on 4-6 June 2012 to mark the 20th anniversary of the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development and the 10th anniversary of the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg.

The published objectives of Rio+20 are to:

  • secure renewed political commitment for sustainable development
  • assess the progress to date and the remaining gaps in the implementation of the outcomes of the major summits on sustainable development
  • address new and emerging challenges.

At the time of the first UNCSD in 1992 the world population was 5.5 billion. This year it will reach 7 billion and it is now expected to exceed 10 billion by the end of the century and keep growing. While the significant implications of population dynamics for sustainable development were recognised by the original Earth Summit, to date population dynamics have received little attention in the run-up to Rio+20.

Seeking to address this shortfall, PSN has submitted a response to a parliamentary inquiry by the Environmental Audit Committee examining the preparedness of the UK Government for Rio+20, along with the actions it should be taking to help make the Conference a success.

Ensuring population and reproductive health is on the agenda

PSN’s response to the inquiry sets out the many links between population dynamics and sustainability, including not only population growth but other demographic trends such as urbanisation and ageing which have implications for consumption patterns and other development issues.

Our submission explores the implications of population dynamics for a range of issues relevant to sustainable development, including environmental sustainability, poverty reduction, climate change adaptation and governments' capacity to make the transition to a green economy.

We argue that the success of sustainable development initiatives which fail to consider the consequences of demographic change for sustainability will be considerably limited, and opportunities to achieve more sustainable development at the same time as advancing sexual and reproductive health and rights will be lost.

Policy recommendations to the UK government

PSN believes that the UK government is extremely well placed to play a key leadership role in promoting through the Rio+20 Summit the urgent consideration of the significance of population dynamics for sustainable development. Working in partnership with the UK Department for International Development which already has a strong remit and reputation for advancing reproductive health and rights, we call on the UK government to promote an integrated approach to population, poverty and sustainable development, guided by agreement and outcomes relating to the following policy points:

  • There must be greater recognition of the relationship between population dynamics and sustainability, and particularly of the potential for population stabilization to contribute to sustainable development through poverty reduction, alleviation of environmental pressures and improved quality of life (as recognised by the UN International Conference on Population and Development);
  • Population dynamics should be taken into account in economic and development strategies and considered at all levels of planning, decision making and resource allocation;
  • Global population dynamics can and must be addressed in ways that respect and protect human rights, placing women's needs at the heart of all reproductive health policies;
  • Greater funding must be made available for rights-based family planning programmes so that all women are able to control their fertility as they wish; offering a 'win-win' approach of advancing reproductive health and rights while contributing to the achievement of sustainable development.

Read more about PSN's work to influence Rio+20

You can read PSN's submission to the inquiry here.

Mega cities could trigger water shortages and social unrest

August 23, 2011


The rapid growth of urban population - described as one of the worlds major demographic trends - has triggered an explosion of in Asia, Latin America and Africa, causing a breakdown in basic services, including water supplies and sanitation facilities.


Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

Urban growth linked to slums and poverty

By 2050, about 70 percent of the world's population will live in urban areas causing considerable problems for basic services, particularly water supplies, predicts a new 80-page study released here by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).

The current world population of over 6 billion is expected to reach a historic high of 7 billion by the end of October, according to figures released by the UNFPA, which also estimates a figure of 9.1 billion for 2050.

As city infrastructure cannot keep pace with massive urban growth, many people will be left without adequate access to drinking water and sanitation, says WWF.

In most developing countries, urban growth is "inextricably linked" with slum expansion and poverty. In 2000, nearly one third of the world’s urban dwellers lived in slums, the current figure is much higher.

The study focuses on six of the world's "exploding mega cities": Mexico City, Mexico, with a population of 21.1 million; Buenos Aires, Argentina, with a population of 12.8 million; Kolkata, India, with a population of 15.4 million; Karachi, Pakistan, with a population of 18 million; Nairobi, Kenya, with a population of 3.5 million; and Shanghai, China, with a population of 23 million.

Water shortages may contribute to unrest

Asked if growing socio-economic problems in mega cities could be a trigger for future social revolutions - as happened recently in the Arab world and during street riots in the UK - WWF's Martin Geiger told IPS: "No, I don’t think water alone will trigger social unrest."

However, he pointed out, social unrest did take place in South Africa when a shortage of water led to protests in July 2009.

And in Cochabamba and La Paz, Bolivia, when people were not satisfied with water prices and deliveries, including problems relating to the installation of water metres and equity in distribution.

The issues involved in the "water wars" in Bolivia, that took place between January 1999 and April 2000, included price hikes and privatisation contracts with foreign investors.

Asked if big cities in developed countries could also face similar problems because of increased migration, Geiger said that major urban growth would primarily be in Africa, Asia and in some South American countries.

"Even with global migration, we don't see any major shift in this," said Geiger, director of WWF's Freshwater Programme based in Germany, stressing that, "it is difficult to foresee what will happen in 10 or 15 years from now."

Water problems in megacities breed health and environmental problems

Meanwhile, the WWF study, released to coordinate with the 21st international water conference in the Swedish capital, paints a gloomy picture of the current situation in the six mega cities under scrutiny.

In the port city of Karachi in southern Pakistan, around 30,000 people die due to the effects of contaminated drinking water, while in Kolkata (formerly Calcutta), there are both traces of faeces in drinking water and high concentrations of arsenic in ground water.

The Chinese city of Shanghai, which has enjoyed good water access, is now facing water shortages and problems related to salination, according to WWF.

In the rivers of Buenos Aires, described as "public cesspits", there are high levels of dumped toxins making the Argentine river Matanza-Riachuelo "one of the world’s most polluted waterways". And millions of people in the city lack safe access to drinking water and are not connected to sewer systems.

In Kenya, the capital city lacks capacity to manage the increasing demand for water. And 60 percent of Nairobi’s inhabitants live in informal settlements with inadequate access to quality water and are forced to buy their water at kiosks at a higher price.

Additionally, says the study, the lack of access to sanitation results in untreated waste and wastewater not only endangering human health but also deteriorating the river systems.

In Mexico City, excessive overexploitation of groundwater has led to the sinking of the city over time by five to 10 centimetres. "The giant metropolis depends on pumping water from areas about 150 kilometres away," the study notes.

Better urban planning for water sustainability is needed

Anna Forslund, WWF’s fresh water expert based in Sweden, said: "Rapid uncontrolled urbanisation is definitely a threat to the ecosystems we all depend on. We need better urban planning, efficient water use, and increased input from civil society."

The study makes a series of recommendations for future urban planning with regard to water sustainability, including innovative financing of water and wastewater infrastructure, an inventory of critical infrastructure at risk of flooding, droughts or sea-level rise, and the incorporation of green infrastructure and low-impact development.

Further information about the WWF report Big cities, Big Water, Big Challenges is available on the WWF website.

This article, published by the IPS, has been reproduced by PSN. Minor changes and cuts may have been made for the purpose of brevity and relevance.