Jul 11, 2010

People versus the environment

Pressure for agricultural land accounts for 60 to 80 percent of world's deforestation

By Mohammad Niaz

The human population index, reaching to five billion on 11th of July 1987, prompted the establishment of World Population Day by the United Nations Development Programme in 1989. This year, the theme is, "Everyone Counts…the importance of data for development". That means everyone is important in the process of development as demographic data is critical for planning, evolving strategies, implementation, and management protocols.

Numbers are extremely important to indicate the trend and status of various parameters. Rapid increase in human population over the course of the 20th century has raised concerns about over-utilisation of natural resources and multiple threats appearing in different manifestations.

That the world population grows geometrically, great biotic pressure is being placed on arable land, water, energy, and biodiversity to provide adequate supply of food while maintaining the integrity of ecosystem. As a matter of fact, capacity of earth is affected by the size of human population, consumption of resources, and the level of pollution and environmental degradation.

Given the current human population of the world -- 6.81 billion -- the earth resources are depleting fast due to the human factor as they decline significantly because they are divided among more and more people.

Over one-third of Pakistanis are living in poverty. The impact of population growth and poverty on environment is obvious. The meager resources in our country are swarmed by a multitude of human factor which leads to environmental degradation and depletion of natural resources. Another alarming factor is the urbanisation in Pakistan (32 percent) which is highest among the SAARC countries.

One of the major contributing factors that affect earth resources is the human population. While comparing the world population in 1991 (5.4 billion) and 2009 (6.67 billion) with projections for the year 2025 (7.8 billion), the less developed countries will constitute the bulk of that total having low per capita income and poverty.

The high human population index results in an economic upheaval while at the same time contributes as a prime cause of environmental degradation. The activities of over six and a half billion humans, with many more to come, foretell dire consequences in future. Already, there has been a significant increase in greenhouse gases, particularly carbon dioxide associated with fossil fuel burning.

Given the increased number of human beings and resource utilisation scenario, it is safe to assume that everyone is registering a negative impact of its own kind. Human-intensive activities such as unsustainable resource extraction and exploitation exert stress on the fragile ecosystems. As such, with increase in anthropogenic activities ecological footprints are also increasing.

Increased human population has also multiplied pressure on natural resources beyond capacity, rendering poor countries more vulnerable to the impact of environmental damage as total population converges on limited resources. Plentiful of resources can become exhausted or depleted and those that had to get a better part of it are also deprived, as proper planning is lacking.

The poor having high birth rates exert intense environmental pressure due to poverty and lack of basic amenities that crop up multifaceted socio-economic and ecological challenges. Deforestation, habitat fragmentation, pollution, unsustainable and over-utilisation of resources, increased consumerism, and lack of basic amenities are some of the challenges linked with rising population pressure and escalating demands that pose serious threats to development. In developing countries, large cities are experiencing increased human population at a rate that is very difficult to sustain better economic growth. This could lead to various social problems such as an increase in hunger and crime.

Economic, social, and political conditions force many people to move from rural areas to large cities in search for jobs and better opportunities. If appropriate management strategies are not outlined to cope with people's movement to urban areas it will undermine the ability of a large city to provide resources in a sustainable manner.

There is an inverse relationship between the available earth resources and the earth-carrying capacity. Envisaging such a population, they would largely need food, water, heating, and housing with a major impact on natural resources. This will exert huge pressure on the available meagre resources of the world where agricultural lands are being converted and forests are felled to let in urbanisation and commercialisation.

In this quest of expansion, shrinking habitat and fragmentation have been experienced as the price of socio-economic and technological development. The pressure for agricultural land accounts for 60 to 80 percent of the world's deforestation. Competition for water resources among individuals, regions, and countries and associated human activities is already occurring with the current world population.

We have no option but to ensure conservation and careful management of natural resources and maintain a balance in demands and resources that will perpetuate the limited resources on a sustainable basis in the face of modern-day dynamic requirements. This will not only cater for providing an enabling and conducive environment for themselves but also for millions of other living creatures on the surface of the earth. Every individual and nation needs to be prudent in its decisions and actions as to reinforce environmental improvement.

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