Water crisis, population surge prompt rethink on food: UN

August 22, 2011

SOURCE: The Independent

Population growth and water stress are driving the earth to a food and environmental crunch that only better farming techniques and smarter use of the ecosystem will avert, says a new UN report.


Credit: UN Photo/ Ray Witlin

Water scarcity increases with population growth

The number of humans is expected to rise from seven billion in 2011 to at least nine billion by 2050, boosting demands for water that are already extreme in many countries and set to worsen through global warming.

"Currently, 1.6 billion people live in areas of physical water scarcity and this could easily grow to two billion soon if we stay on the present course," according to the report.

"With the same (farming) practices, increased urbanisation and dietary patterns, the amount of water required for agriculture in terms of evapotranspiration would increase from 7,130 cubic kilometres (1,711 cubic miles) today to 70-90 percent more to feed nine billion people by 2050."

The 35-page assessment was compiled by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and the International Water Management Institute (IWMI), drawing mainly on estimates in peer-reviewed journals.

It was released at the start of World Water Week in Stockholm, a forum on water issues.

The report said that in many high-intensity food-producing regions, water limits are already being "reached or breached."

They include the plains of northern China, India's Punjab and the western United States.

Climate change will accentuate scarcity as it will alter patterns and intensity of rainfall. In Africa alone, agricultural output could be reduced by 15-30 percent by century's end.

Using today's farm techniques, focussing on always higher yields and ever-wider use of land, would be disastrous, said the report.

"If the same agriculture practices continue to be used, it would result in the inevitable degration or complete destruction of the terrestrial freshwater and coastal ecosystems that are vital to life itself," it warned.

The report An Ecosystem Services Approach to Water and Food Security called for innovation to improve yields and end hunger but also be less damaging to the environment.

Ideas include better training for farmers, including incentives for environmentally-sound practices.

Crops should be selected that are more suited to scarce or erratic rainfall, better irrigation techniques would improve the efficiency of water use and catchment ponds in hot countries could be invaluable mini-reservoirs, helping small farmers to survive in times of absent rain, said the report.

Planting trees and shrubs on the perimeter of fields discourages water runoff and retains soil moisture, thus helping crops. It also enables habitat links for species living in fragmented patches of forest.

Balancing human needs with those of the environment

The report stressed better governance, in which ecosystems are managed holistically - in other words, governments, farmers, urban dwellers and specialists come together to look at how to balance the needs of all water users with those of the environment.

By putting a dollar figure on the value of natural resources, farmers and consumers would get a better idea of the need to conserve, it said.

It cited a rough estimate of 70 billion dollars for the global economic value of wetlands, of which 5.25 billion is generated in Africa and 37.1 billion in Asia.
"We need to be thinking about bringing more and more agriculture into the 'green economy', where we value farming practices that protect our precious water resources in the same way we are beginning to value forest management that helps reduce greenhouse-gas emissions," said IWMI head Colin Chartres.

The report An Ecosystem Services Approach to Water and Food Security is available on the UNEP website.

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

Science magazine special issue on population

August 3, 2011


The latest edition of Science, a premier global science weekly with an estimated total readership of one million, is a special issue dedicated to population, with the editorial from UNFPA Executive Director, Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin.


Credit: Science Magazine

With the world population set to reach 7 billion in October, the Sciencespecial edition on population provides an overview of demographic patterns the world is facing, exploring the problems they present and debates about how best to address the rapid population that is expected to continue in some of the poorest parts of the world.

With the introduction to the issue entitled Doom or Vroom? a range of news stories and research assignments by leading experts, including online videos and graphics, explore a range of issues which of course continue to split demographers.

Population is central to sustainability

An Editorial on the theme of 'Population and Development' is provided by Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin, UNFPA Executive Director, who introduces the topic stating;

"As the world's population reaches 7 billion this year, we should reflect on the many ways in which population dynamics matter to the planet's future. Population growth patterns are linked to nearly every challenge confronting humanity, including poverty reduction, urban pollution, energy production, food and water scarcity, and health. With world population projected to surpass 9 billion by 2050, the issues and the desire to raise living standards at the same time will create a huge challenge".

Turning to the question "What immediate actions can be taken to deal with growth while ensuring a sustainable future for all of the world’s inhabitants?", Dr. Osotimehin goes on to argue that initiatives that protect women’s right to education and reproductive health, and other actions grounded in human rights "must be the central objective of sustainable development policies in all countries".

For in this way we have the potential to "create a world in which a stable population with a balanced approach to resource use and consumption will benefit families, communities and nations".

Further highlights

Additional articles include:

  • The Upside of Downsizing by Dennis Normile, looking at some potential benefits in countries experiencing shrinking populations.
  • Young and Restless Can Be a Volatile Mix by Mara Hvistendahl, examining whether a 'youth bulge' contributes to conflict and instability.
  • Population Policy in Transition in the Developing World by John Bongaarts and Steven Sinding, outlining why voluntary family planning programs represent a cost-effective approach to relieving population pressures, stimulating economic development, improving health, and enhancing human freedom.
  • Global Human Capital: Integrating Education and Population by Wolfgang Lutz and Samir KC, arguing for the need to integrate education into demographic analysis.
  • Cities, Productivity, and Quality of Life by Edward Glaeser, examining both the advantages and disadvantages of urbanisation which require greater attention from governments.

Take a peek

Much of the content in the magazine is limited-access to non-subscribers, but the following content is open access via Science the website: Doom or Vroom? - introduction, several video features and a special show podcast all about population, from the major demographic shift of the Neolithic to the regional youth bulges of today.

Further information is available on the Science website.

Madagascar: fisheries and family planning

August 1, 2011

SOURCE: Wilson Center

An integrated population, health and environment project in Madagascar by Blue Ventures is the focus of a recent publication by The Wilson Centers Environmental Change and Security Program.

Credit: Wilson Center


Integrating reproductive health and conservation

Christine does not know how old she is. She has 16 children and lives on a remote island off the southwestern coast of Madagascar. She and her children, like other members of the Vezo ethnic group, depend entirely on the ocean for their survival. Her husband, a fisherman, struggles to catch enough to feed his family.

In this isolated area, most girls have their first child before the age of 18, and families with 10 children or more are commonplace. But since the marine conservation NGO Blue Ventures launched a family planning program in 2007, couples and women like Christine are able to make their own reproductive health choices.

In focus: an integrated approach

To live with the sea: Reproductive health care and marine conservation in Madagascar provides an overview of this integrated population, health and environment programme which is one of PSN's model projects.

In the article Blue Ventures' Vik Mohan, Rebecca Hill, and Alasdair Harris argue that their integrated approach, which combines reproductive health with conservation measures, offers these communities in Madagascar-and the marine environment on which they depend-the best possible chances of survival.

The article is the main feature of the latest edition of The Wilson Center's Environmental Change and Security Program's (ECSP) Focus publication, issue 23. The programme promotes dialogue on the connections among environmental, health, development, and population dynamics and their links to conflict, human insecurity, and foreign policy.

Lessons learned and recommendations

Several lessons learned and recommendations are put forward in the publication:

  • Conservation organizations are well-placed to offer family planning in remote regions, where an unmet need for this service drives the population pressures that threaten biodiversity.
  • Collaboration with regional government institutions and other key stakeholders can help to ensure sustainability of the program.
  • Empowering both women and men is key.
  • More research is needed to understand and quantify the benefits of this integrated approach.

Download FOCUS Issue 23 To Live With the Sea: Reproductive Health Care and Marine Conservation in Madagascar from the Wilson Center.

This article, published by the Wilson Centre has been reproduced by PSN. Minor changes and cuts may have been made for the purpose of brevity and relevance. The information relating to PSN been added by PSN. 

PSN debates population issues with Mensa

July 25, 2011


PSNs Catherine Budgett-Meakin gave a presentation last week to Mensa, the high IQ society, at their Annual Conference held in Cambridge on Saturday 23 July.

Credit: IRIN


Population: a key issue

Catherine was the first of three speakers on the main day of the Mensa conference. Her presentation Population: Making Connections and Avoiding Heffalump Traps addressed the issue of why population has disappeared off the international agenda until recently.

The central message of the presentation was that discussions about population growth have been troubled and troubling over many years, but it is now becoming easier to tackle the issue, though it must always be within a rights framework.

Avoiding the heffalump traps

Catherine began by explaining that population has become disputed territory over the last 20 or so years. Following the UN Population conference in 1994, funding for family planning has reduced. Meanwhile world population grows by about 80 million every year.

Catherine's presentation focused on the various 'heffalump' traps which are partly responsible for silence on 'the population issue', and went on to suggest ways to climb out of them.

A resounding message of the presentation was that population growth, along with climate change, is one of the principal issues which needs to be addressed by those concerned with international development, the environment and reproductive health.

Her presentation was well received and prompted many useful and constructive questions and comments.

Further information about the conference is available on the Mensa website.

Read the presentation: 'Population: Avoiding Heffalump Traps'

PSN debates The Next Chapter in Development - Goals for 2016 and Beyond

July 22, 2011


PSNs Karen Newman took part in an exciting public event in London yesterday evening, looking at where population fits into current and emerging development policies.


Credit: Population Footprints

Where does population fit?

After 'health for all' and the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), what's the next global rallying call? Are "human rights", "sustainability", "universal access" and "security" the new slogans for health and development activists? Whose human rights? Sustainability of whose resources? Universal access to what types of health services?

What kind of security - food, water, natural resources? How can we influence policy and advocacy to make sure grassroots voices are heard and plans are developed at a country level to respond to national and regional needs? And where does population policy fit into these priorities?

This free debate attended by around 70 people was held at the Free Word Centre in London and featured experts in different areas of public health policy and global development. Speakers were Dr. Meera Tiwari from the University of East London and co-author of After 2015: International Development at a Crossroads, Karen Newman from the Population and Sustainability Network, Mr. Patrick Watt, Development Policy Director at Save the Children and Dr. Lucy Scott from the Chronic Poverty Research Centre and the Overseas Development Institute. The debate was chaired by Mr. Mike Rowson from the UCL Institute for Global Health.

Looking beyond 2015

Panellists and participants debated a range of options for the post-2015 agenda. These included: a more equity and rights-based approach, a move away from the universal model to locally identified goals and strategies, and a two-pronged approach with developing country goals focused on wider social aspects well-being alongside consumption-related goals for developed countries. The extension of the current MDG framework with strengthened accountability mechanisms was also identified as a possibility, as well as an integrated approach with the global climate change governance and finance process.

A point of common agreement appeared to be that the multidimensional human development framework is a key strength of the MDG framework which should not be lost, alongside the mobilising power that the MDG approach has brought to the international development agenda. The question of whether the specific targets and measures set for the MDGs are beneficial was more contentious, which were noted for distorting and narrowing focus and having had a divisive effect on the global health community.

On the Population Footprints theme, Karen argued that "population is the common denominator" for the many pressing development challenges the world faces, and therefore addressing the silence on population must be one of the ways that the international community responds to the shortfalls of the MDG Framework.

With four years remaining for the MDGs, the debate raised more questions than it answered, but there appeared to be a degree of consensus that whatever 'The Next Chapter in Development' may be, it must avoid simplistic strategies and top-down approaches imposed on the global South, and effectively place inequalities and rights at the heart of the approach.

You can read about the event on the UCL blog.

Population Footprints Symposium

This event is one of several public engagement events held as part of the UCL and Leverhulme Trust Population Footprints Symposium, which took place in May 2011, bringing together academics and activists to stimulate new thinking in the area of population dynamics and global carrying capacity.

You can read more about PSN's involvement in Population Footprints here and if you missed the symposium you can watch it on the Population Footprints website. 

Climate change threatens peace, UN official warns

July 21, 2011


Climate change poses a major threat to future peace and security, a senior UN official has warned.


Credit: Kate Holt/IRIN

Links between climate change, disasters and security

Achim Steiner from the UN Environment Programme said climate change would also "exponentially" increase the scale of natural disasters.

His comments followed a UN declaration of famine in parts of Somalia.

Meanwhile, Russia rejected a Security Council statement backed by Western nations which asserted the link, but later agreed to a weaker text.

The Russian envoy Alexander Pankin said he was sceptical about the implications of putting climate change on the security council's agenda.

Security Council members finally agreed to a text which spoke of the "possible security implications" of climate change.

Mr Steiner warned that an increase in the frequency of natural disasters across the globe could prove a major challenge in the coming decades.

He said recent crises, such as in Somalia, illustrate that "our capacity to handle these kinds of events is proving a challenge, particularly if they occur simultaneously and start affecting, for instance, global food markets, regional food security issues, displacing people, creating refugees across borders".

"Clearly the international community - if the scenarios in climate change for the future come true - will face an exponential growth of these kinds of extreme events," he added.

His comments came as the Security Council formally debated the environment for the first time in four years, with Germany pressing for the first-ever council statement linking climate change to global peace and security.

Diplomats said there were intense negotiations between Germany and Russia, which initially opposed any council action, before a statement on the issue was agreed to.

Speaking as negotiations were continuing, Mr Pankin argued that the move was unnecessary and opposed by many countries.

"We believe that involving the Security Council in a regular review of the issue of climate change will not bring any added value whatsoever and will merely lead to further increased politicisation of this issue and increased disagreements between countries," he said.

However US Ambassador Susan Rice said that the council had an "essential responsibility to address the clear-cut peace and security implications of a changing climate" and said all countries should be demanding action.

She also called failed attempts to reach consensus earlier in the day "pathetic" and "shortsighted".

Somalia famine

The final statement expressed "concern that possible adverse effects of climate change may, in the long run, aggravate certain existing threats to international peace and security".

It also requested UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to include information on possible climate change impacts in his regular reports on global trouble-spots.

German Ambassador Peter Wittig welcomed the outcome, describing it as a "good day today for climate security".

"We had quite extensive discussions," Mr Wittig said. "We wanted to get everyone on board. And we did."

The council had failed to agree on whether climate change was an issue of world peace in 2007, when Britain brought up the issue.

The move came after two regions of Somalia were declared a famine, after the worst drought in six decades.

Conditions for famine include more than 30% of children being acutely malnourished, and four children out of every 10,000 dying daily.

More than 10 million people have been affected by the crisis across east Africa.

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

World Population Day 2011 - 7 billion reasons

July 11, 2011


PSN marked World Population Day by joining International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF), the All Party Parliamentary Group on Population, Development and Reproductive Health and other organisations to co-sponsor an evening reception at the House of Lords.


Credit: UNFPA

7 Billion Reasons

With the world population set to reach 7 billion later on this year, the theme of this year's World Population Day was '7 Billion reasons'.

The reception was co-hosted by IPPF and the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Population, Development and Reproductive Health, and co-sponsored by PSN alongside fifteen other non-governmental organisations working on issues related to sexual and reproductive health and rights.

PSN’s Catherine Budgett-Meakin and Karen Newman attended the popular event, alongside numerous Members of Parliament and Peers from all political parties, Ambassadors, Department for International Development officials and civil society organizations.

Marking World Population Day

Stephen O'Brien MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for International Development, gave the key note speech, highlighting the crucial need to increase access to rights-based family planning services. He stated that;

"Meeting the unmet need is crucial. The figure of 215 million couples [with an unmet need for family planning] is really incredibly important. The UN's medium population projection to 2050 of 9.3 billion is firmly based on the assumption that the unmet need - the family planning gap - is closed, by giving people the services they're demanding."

Reinstating the UK Government's commitment to championing reproductive health, he concluded by adding that the UK Government;

"will also be championing the importance of global population growth and ensuring it is recognised in discussions on development in an open, honest and constructive way. Rapid population growth will only slow and begin to fall when women are educated and empowered to take control of their sexual and reproductive lives - in short by being enabled to take control of their lives, they give us the best chance that the world does not lose control of all our lives."

A transcript of the full world population day speech by Stephen O'Brien MP is available on the IPPF website. 

Access for All - Reproductive health supplies conference takes place in Addis Ababa

June 24, 2011

SOURCE: Reproductive Health Supplies Coalition

The Reproductive Health Supplies Coalition hosted a two-day Access for All conference in Ethiopia this month, including a session facilitated by PSNs Karen Newman.

Credit: Reproductive Health Supplies Coalition

Celebrating a decade of struggle and success

On 22-23 June 2011 members of the reproductive health community convened in Ethiopia's capital, Addis Ababa, to celebrate a decade of struggle and success in ensuring that women and men around the world can choose, obtain, and use the supplies they need to ensure their reproductive health.

The gathering marked the 10th anniversary of the 2001 Istanbul conference, Meeting the Challenge, which many view as having given rise to today's global reproductive health commodity security movement.

Promoting Access for All

To celebrate this anniversary, the Coalition hosted the two-day conference, Access for All: Supplying a new decade for reproductive health, where global leaders and other decision-makers spoke out for a reinvigorated effort to ensure RH commodity security and advance the aims of the Coalition's HANDtoHAND Campaign.

Access for All formed the centerpiece of a host of supply-related activities taking place throughout the week. These included a Working Group and other specialized meetings as well as the Coalition's annual membership meeting on Friday, 24 June.

PSN at Access for All

PSN's Karen Newman was delighted to take part in the conference and to facilitate several of the conference sessions.

Karen also facilitated the participation of Population and Climate Change Alliance (PCCA) founder-member PHE (Population, Health and Environment) Ethiopia's Director, Negash Teklu, as a speaker at the meeting.

Further information about the conference is available on the Reproductive Health Supplies Coalition website.

Uganda's soaring population a factor in poverty and riots

June 13, 2011

SOURCE: The Washington Times

KAMPALA, Uganda - Politicians and protesters have blamed rising inflation for recent riots that have claimed 10 lives here, but officials and policymakers are beginning to focus on how the countrys rapidly growing population is contributing to the unrest.


Credit: USAID

Inflation escalates, as does Uganda's population

Uganda registered its highest annual inflation rate in 17 years in May, when it hit 16 percent - a 2-percentage-point increase since April, according to the Uganda Bureau of Statistics. The inflation rate for food crops topped more than 44 percent and for fuel more than 9 percent.

But the East African nation’s population growth rate is just as startling, if not more so.

With a fertility rate of 6.8 children per woman and a population growth rate of 3.2 percent, Uganda has the third-fastest-growing population in the world, behind Niger and Yemen, according to the Bureau of Statistics. Home to 34.6 million people, Uganda is expected to have 103 million by 2050.

Most of those births are occurring among Uganda's poor and uneducated, which is weighing heavily on the country's economic potential.

"The riots have a lot to do with our population-growth trends," said Hannington Burunde of the Population Secretariat in the Ministry of Finance. "When you are not producing educated, skilled people, they have a lack of purchasing power and don't contribute meaningfully to commercial development."

Even those with skills are finding that life in Uganda can be bleak.

Among the 390,000 Ugandans who acquire a college degree each year, just 113,000 get jobs - and about 150 people apply for every job opening, according to the Bureau of Statistics.

Most of the demonstrators who have protested against rising inflation are unemployed, but not uneducated.

Population pressures for the economy, health, education

Uganda's burgeoning population has begun wearing out the country's roads and the government's ability to provide services such as health care, deepening citizens' political frustrations.

The country's health care system - once widely hailed as one of the most effective in sub-Saharan Africa - now faces shortages of doctors and nurses as well as medicines and facilities.

The population boom also is affecting education: Universal primary schooling, instituted in the 1990s, is in jeopardy.

Primary schools cannot charge for tuition but can levy fees for uniforms, books, meals and other necessities. Most schools in May defied a government directive not to raise fees to offset rising administrative costs.

With such a rapidly increasing population, it is estimated that the economy needs to expand by 10 percent a year to absorb the country's 3.4 percent population growth rate.

While Uganda's overall poverty rate has fallen from 33 percent in 2000 to 24 percent today, the total number of poor people over that same period has declined by just 100,000, to 8.3 million.

What’s more, Uganda's "formal" economy, which registers and taxes merchants, has provided fewer job opportunities than the "informal" economy, in which unlicensed sellers hawk wares on the streets and skirt taxation.

The result: The Health Ministry has reported that the country's tax base is growing much more slowly than the population, and the government is missing out on tax revenue that could be used to repair roads, build schools, improve health care and provide jobs.

Labor Minister Emmanuel Otaala has noted that the majority of Uganda's workers are in the informal sector and that most working Ugandans are classified as "underemployed." According to the Foundation for Human Rights Initiative, about 65 percent of Uganda's 34 million people are perennially underemployed.

Moreover, Uganda will need about 500,000 jobs created each year to keep up with population growth trends, according to the National Organization of Trade Unions.

Population Policy Action Plan lauched

In May, the Ministry of Finance, Planning and Economic Development launched the National Population Policy Action Plan, which aims to unite politicians, officials, activists and advocates to help shape government policies on population trends.

A key component is family planning, which poses unique challenges to curtailing Uganda's population:

  • Currently, about 40 percent of married women of reproductive age who would like to limit births do not have access to contraceptives.
  • Most large families live in rural areas that are difficult to reach because of poor roads, shortages of doctors and nurses, and a lack of media outlets, said Dr. Jennifer Wanyana, assistant commissioner for reproductive health in the Health Ministry.
  • Most religious groups in this predominantly Christian nation have been silent on the subject of population control. About 42 percent of Ugandans practice Roman Catholicism, which historically has opposed the use of contraceptives.
  • Culturally, a large number of children is associated with masculinity and a source of labor and wealth.

Parliament has approved spending $6 million a year on reproductive health, and about half of that sum will be spent on family planning.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Agency for International Development, which provided $341 million to Uganda last year, and other donor agencies have been working with local groups like Reproductive Health Uganda to curb population growth.

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

Blue Ventures integrated population health and environment project wins award

June 11, 2011

SOURCE: Blue Ventures & PSN

A marine conservation project backed by PSN has won the Buckminster Fuller Challenge 2011 award for its unique work in Madagascar that integrates family planning with natural resource protection.

Credit: Blue Ventures

A prestigious award

Blue Ventures, a London-based marine conservation organisation, won the prestigious Buckminster Fuller Challenge award last night for its work to protect marine resources and improve the livelihoods of poor coastal communities in Madagascar.

During an awards ceremony in New York City, Blue Ventures was selected from 165 entries from more than 35 countries as winner of the $100,000 award. Upon announcement of the award, Jonathan Katz, Chairman of Blue Ventures' board of trustees explained;

"The Buckminster Fuller Challenge is the premier global competition recognising initiatives which take a comprehensive, anticipatory approach to radically advance human well-being and the health of our planet's ecosystems. With the help of this award, we are now expanding our work and replicating our projects around the world to demonstrate how nature and human well-being are inextricably linked."

An integrated project

Blue Ventures integrates marine conservation with economic and social development strategies in order to improve the livelihoods of some of the world's poorest coastal communities in Madagascar and elsewhere.

The Buckminster Fuller Challenge recognised Blue Ventures' Madagascar project for its unique whole-system approach - combining scientific research, the development of sustainable aquaculture, family planning support, environmental education, and the creation of community-led protected areas - to bring direct benefits to both people and nature.

"Alongside the ecosystem and fisheries benefits of conservation, we're diversifying incomes, and empowering women often for the first time in their lives with the ability to make their own reproductive health choices" said Fanja Rakotozafy, a Reproductive Health Officer with Blue Ventures in Madagascar.

Demonstrating results

Dubbed "Socially-Responsible Design's Highest Award" by Metropolis Magazine, the Challenge uses a distinguished jury to award visionary initiatives that provide tangible solutions to some of the most pressing challenges facing the world today.

In recent weeks, results of Blue Ventures pioneering work have demonstrated for the first time that community-based marine conservation brings direct economic benefits to traditional fishing communities. Because of these benefits, fisheries management models developed by Blue Ventures in the Indian Ocean have been replicated by coastal communities in over 100 sites along several hundred kilometers of coastline, and have given rise to new national environmental legislation.

PSN Model Projects

Blue Ventures' population, health and environment project in Madagascar is one of several projects supported by PSN, serving as model projects demonstrating the benefits of integrated approaches to health and conservation issues.

PSN is delighted with this news and congratulates Blue Ventures on this latest award, which is one of many awards that Blue Ventures has received in recognition of its innovative work to advance integrated, community-based strategies addressing complex social and environmental issues.

Read more about PSN model projects.