WITH the number of people on earth more than doubling over the last halfcentury, resources are under more strain than ever before. First among the shortterm worries is how to provide basic necessities for the additional two to three billion people expected to be added in the next 50 years.
Water usage is set to increase by 50% between 2007 and 2025 in developing nations and 18% in developed ones, with much of the increased use in the poorest countries as rising rural populations move to towns and cities.
Nutritious food is in short supply in many parts of the globe. The World Bank says 925 million people are hungry today, partly due to rising food prices since 1995, a succession of economic crises, and the lack of access to modern farming techniques and products for poor farmers. To feed the two billion more mouths predicted by 2050, food production will have to increase by 70%, the UN’S Food and Agriculture Organisation says.
Climate change could be the greatest impediment to meeting the food target, as rising temperatures and droughts dry out farmlands that are then inundated by intense floods and storms.
Experts say demographic imbalances will also place serious strains on towns and cities across the world as mostly bluecollar immigrants move from poorer rural areas to richer urban centres. In 1950, about 730 million people lived in cities. By 2009, it was nearly 3.5 billion and in four decades it will be 6.3 billion, the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs said in a March 2010 report.
One important policy tool to manage a growing population is to give women access to family planning, experts say, adding that 215 million women worldwide want it but do not get it. Access to education is also important as it motivates women to reduce their fertility and improve their children’s health. A lack of such education has meant that while the overall populations continue to rise in countries such as China and India, the number of women is falling because of a preference for boys leading to deliberate abortions of female babies.
The world is also seeing a demographic anomaly: a declining population in some richer countries has led to an imbalance between the working population and retirees who need expensive social safety nets. – Reuters