could be people, planet problem
By Ann Hoevel
By the year
2050, China will no longer be the most populous country in the
will pass to India, where more than 1.8 billion people could be
competing for their country's resources, according to the U.S.
Census Bureau's International Data Base.
The 2007 population
estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau and the United Nations Population
Division set China's current population at around 1.3 billion
people, and India's at around 1.1 billion. If population continues
to grow at the estimated rate, such rapid growth in India between
now and mid-century could lead to overpopulation and an uncertain
future for the environment and the people living there.
organizations like the Population Institute and the United Nations
Population Fund are working to promote the human rights and environmental
consequences of overpopulation, not everyone views the newest
population estimates with pessimism.
ever continues at its present rate, neither the stock market nor
population growth," said Doug Allen, the dean of the school
of Architecture at the Georgia Institute of Technology, and an
expert in the history of cities and urban design, which he's taught
for more than 31 years.
is a substantial body of evidence that the world population will
flatten out in about 30 years," he said. "Built into
that model would be an assumption that more of the world's population
will become urban, and as such the population will begin to decline."
evidence of falling birthrates in urban populations, Allen looks
to Italy as a current example of the phenomenon.
right now [is] not at a point where it can sustain its current
level. And I don't think that's because people in Italy have suddenly
become aware of the need to conserve resources. I think it has
more to do with decisions that are made by families on the margin
not to have as many children."
occurs when a population's density exceeds the capacity of the
environment to supply the health requirements of an individual,
according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
have long been concerned about the resources threatened by rapidly
growing human populations, focusing on phenomenon such as deforestation,
desertification, air pollution and global warming. But the worst-case
scenario for people experiencing overpopulation, according to
Lawrence Smith, president of the Population Institute, is a lack
of fresh, clean water..
water goes, the species goes," he said.
sounds kind of alarmist," Smith conceded, "considering
there's water all around us, but 97 percent plus is saltwater,
and the freshwater that we use to sustain ourselves is just native
to 3 percent. ... So the accessibility of water, the competition
for water, the availability of water is going to be a major, major
threat," he said, noting world population growth estimates
at more than 9 billion people by 2050.
is an exceptional amount of people, considering the world's population
only reached 1 billion in 1830, according to the Population Institute,
a nonprofit organization that works to fund population and family
planning programs around the world.
By 1999, world
population reached 6 billion, and in the relatively short time
between 2007 and 2050, there could be roughly 2.4 billion more
people on Earth needing clean water, space and other natural resources
from their environment in order to survive.
facing overpopulation will also struggle to manage waste, said
Allen. "Handling your waste and the public health consequences
of not handling it well is the biggest problem that will be faced
in rapidly growing urban areas in the developing world."
When London, England, faced a population boom in the 1850s, for
example, its infrastructure was not prepared for the excess waste,
which resulted in Cholera outbreaks.
outbreaks," said Allen. "Fifty-thousand people dying
over the summer. That's the kind of thing that in the developed
world we no longer have problems with, but in the developing world
are very, very real."
that 97 percent of world population growth between now and 2050
will occur in the developing world, where governments face serious
economic and social challenges.
say most of this is in sub-Saharan Africa, where by every other
health indicator, they rank at the bottom," Smith said. "This
growth rate is taking place despite the high levels of HIV and
AIDS and [tuberculosis] and malaria."
-- and the lack of it -- is also a factor in the rising populations
in developing countries, according to Stan Bernstein, United Nations
Population Fund senior policy adviser.
seen a global trend of people wanting smaller families, but in
the poorer settings that's not quite the case yet," Bernstein
said. "And it's certainly not the case within countries that
the poor [do not] have access to the kinds of services that the
wealthy avail themselves of."
Bernstein said the poorest fifth of people in countries with rapid
population growth have twice as many children, on average, as
the wealthy people in those same countries.
make a difference
growth in developing nations is due in large part to fertility
rates, where women during their reproductive years will have an
average of five children, said Smith. "That's considerably
higher than it is in the developed world."
to the growing demands of developing nations, emerging countries
like China and India are rapidly industrializing, said Smith.
"Their demands for food alone will have considerable impact
on global markets."
has instituted population control methods in order to curb growth.
Their controversial "one child" policies have garnered
an uneasy reception, especially in rural populations, where people
complain of stiff fines or forced sterilizations and abortions
as a result of breaking population laws.
rural populations are larger than urban populations, said Smith.
This is because rural families need to be larger in order to work
and live off the land, and urban populations -- with better education,
health care and family planning opportunities -- offer parents
the luxury of choosing how many children they will have, he said.
is the first year that rural and urban populations are nearly
equal, according to the United Nations Population Fund's annual
report. This creates a mixed bag of concerns, according to Smith,
that include susceptibility of young urban populations in poor
countries with weak governments to recruitment for terrorism and
conditions of instability.
never in the history of the world experienced urban growth rates
or metropolitan growth rates at the same level that we are experiencing
now," said Allen.
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