June 5th is the 41st World Environment Day, which the United Nations General Assembly established in 1972 to mark the opening of the Stockholm Conference on the Human Environment. At that time world population was a mere 3.85 billion people. As the millennium changed in 2000, the total was over 6 billion and just 13 years later, it had topped 7 billion. Close your eyes for 12 more years, and we will be at 8 billion. The good news is that the rate of population growth is slowing, but even so, by 2050 there will be over 9 billion people on the planet, according to most estimates.
What has all this to do with World Environment Day?
In just a few weeks, an entire slope of eucalyptus trees can be felled and cut for transport out to charcoal makers in the hills of Burundi. In some countries in the region the lower price of charcoal is rapidly increasing to match the cost of cooking with gas. Without replanting forests, the price of wood will continue to rise. Several development agencies are focusing on more efficient ways to make charcoal and are funding tree planting projects to reduce the deforestation.
© 2010 Jean Sack, Courtesy of Photoshare
The facts today are pretty much the same as when the Population Information Program (a K4Health predecessor project) published the Population Reports issue: “Population and the Environment: The Global Challenge” back in the fall of 2000. Except there are now a billion more people in the world.
“As the century begins, natural resources are under increasing pressure, threatening public health and development. Water shortages, soil exhaustion, loss of forests, air and water pollution, and degradation of coastlines afflict many areas. As the world's population grows, improving living standards without destroying the environment is a global challenge,” according to that report.
A more up-to-date resource on linkages between population, health, and the environment is K4Health’s innovative Population Health and Environment Toolkit, which has links to over 260 resources, many of which explore the advantages and reasons for integrating population, health, and environment projects.
“More than 1 billion people—one-sixth of the world population—live in ecological hotspots, many of which are remote areas of critically important biodiversity under intense pressure from human activity. Biodiversity loss is a pressing global problem, with species extinctions happening at record levels. Threats to biodiversity include: population pressures from natural growth and human migration; unsustainable natural resource practices, such as slash-and-burn farming; ineffective governance structures and inadequate authority to protect local resources,” according to the toolkit developed under the auspices of the USAID-funded BALANCED Project.