People everywhere are the main agents of change: of their surroundings and their wellbeing. But governments have to play a key role. They have to empower people, with policies, information, services and support to enable them to protect and improve their environment, and to make informed choices concerning family size.
Many societies have managed to progress towards a satisfactory, dynamic balance between population, natural resources and the environment, and socio-economic wellbeing. Many others are trying hard to achieve such a balance. Policies and programmes for population, for natural resources and the environment, and for development, all have to play vital roles in securing such a balance.
A stabilized population is increasingly seen as an essential ingredient of environmental sustainability at local, national and global levels. Similarly, sustained natural resource productivity and better environmental health and services are seen as key elements of an integrated approach to achieving societies' population and development goals.
Improving access of people to family planning is an essential element in these efforts. But equally important are: broad-based provision of basic health, sanitation, clean water, and social services; and support to communities for managing their natural resources and environment, and for securing sustainable livelihoods.
Globally, fertility and mortality rates are falling. World population is now 5.8 billion and growing at about 1.48 per cent - or by about 80 million - annually. But discrepancies between less developed and more developed regions remain very wide. In the former, population is growing at over 1.7 per cent annually; in the latter, it is growing at 0.4 per cent. Four-fifths of the world's people live in the less developed regions, and 94 per cent of the annual increase of global population is occurring there.
Generalities about population-environment-development interactions are fraught with uncertainty. Much depends on the specific circumstances of communities and countries, and on the policies, programmes, services and other support provided by governments.
Yet, some information on successful linkages is emerging. It shows that there can be synergies between the interventions to improve women's social and economic status, girls' education, primary health care and sanitation, to enhance the productivity of the natural resources with which the poor work, and to improve access to reproductive health services.
Community-level action to protect and improve the environment, and to improve livelihoods is taking a variety of forms, for example: conservation and harvesting of water; sanitation and waste management; planting of trees for fodder, fuelwood and soil erosion control; composting; biogas generation; soil conservation; land rehabilitation; drainage; small scale irrigation; biodiversity conservation; agroforestry; and farming based on integrated nutrient systems.
But to sustain such success, the economic and social benefits resulting from community efforts to conserve and improve the environment need to be shared equitably. Moreover, communities themselves have to own and spearhead such efforts, drawing on their knowledge and wisdom, and on the support and services provided by governments.
Environmental assessment, using modern Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and electronic overlay mapping and scenario analysis, can help identify "hot spots" of harmful population-environment-development interactions. It can also guide better integration and/or coordination of policies and programmes for natural resources conservation, environmental management, agricultural development, area development, settlements planning, and provision of social, infrastructural and reproductive health services.
Issues of religion, ethnicity, gender roles and morality often tend to shroud in controversy a balanced consideration of the population dimension of sustainable development. When viewed in the light of the universal values of: caring for future generations' wellbeing; respect for human rights and dignity; protection and improvement of the human environment; and reduction in poverty, inequity and waste, it seems to become more amenable for effective action. Policies, programmes and projects need to become more coherent, integrated and coordinated to achieve the efficiencies and synergies inherent in pursuing population, environment and development goals."
For more information please contact:
Mr Uttam Dabholkar
Director, Policy, UNEP
Tel. +254-2-623826, Fax. +254-2-624324
UNEP News Release 1998/72
For more information:
Robert G. Bisset
Media and Communications Officer
UNEP, P.O. Box 30552, Nairobi, Kenya
Tel. +254-2-623084, Fax. +254-2-623692