Growing environmental damage and unplanned growth are becoming core issues for nations across the world. Ensuring basic amenities like food and shelter are significant issues that nation-states need to work towards.
Bharat Dogra is a Senior journalist who has been involved with several social movements and initiatives.
It is possible for the world to meet the basic needs of growing population in the middle of fast increasing environmental stress? This is a crucial issue of our times and other critical issues like political instability and social unrest are closely linked to this.
The most likely estimates suggest that world population will grow from around 7.5 billion today to exceed 10 billion by the end of the century.
The United Nations Secretary General’s High-Level Panel on Global Sustainability (UNSHPGS) wrote in 2012,
“The world’s population now stands at over 7 billion. Another billion people are expected to arrive within the next 15 years or so…. The latest data suggest that the global population is likely to reach 9 billion people by 2040 and to exceed 10 billion in 2100.”
The struggle to meet basic needs of all is likely to be most acute in least developed countries. These countries have a much higher population growth rate. These countries had a population of 832 million which, the panel said, is projected to grow to 1.26 billion people in 2030, an increase of 51 per cent in just 2 decades.
A majority of the world’s people now live in cities. In 2010 the world’s urban population was 3.5 billion. It is projected to go up to 4.9 billion in 2030.
The UN Panel pointed out that basic needs of significant sections of world population are still unmet.
- One billion people currently lack access to nutritious food.
- 2.6 billion are without access to basic sanitation.
- 884 million people lack access to clean water.
So ensuring that basic needs of all people are met as the world population rises from 7.5 to billion to around 10 billion people is going to be a huge challenge. This is made more difficult by two factors.
Firstly, in the past several ecologically destructive, non-sustainable paths have been pursued which are going to make future development achievements more difficult.
As the UN Panel stated, “The loss of services derived from ecosystems is a significant barrier to the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals to reduce poverty, hunger and disease. Nearly two-thirds of the services provided by nature to humankind are found to be in decline worldwide. In effect, the benefits reaped from our engineering of the planet have been achieved by running down natural capital assets.”
Further the Panel stated, “If ocean acidification continues, disruption of food chains and direct and indirect impacts on numerous species are considered likely with consequent risk to food security ,affecting the marine-based diets of billions of people seriously.”
As climate change and related environmental problems are accentuated, livelihood and other systems critical to meeting basic needs of people can be severely disrupted.
What could be more easily managed was the reduction of inequalities and it is well known that reduction of inequalities can help greatly to meet basic needs of the poor. But even in this respect there have been glaring failure as huge inequalities have not just persisted but even widened.
The UN Panel noted several aspects of these inequalities.
- Gross national income per capita (based on purchasing power parity) in high income countries was about 5 times higher than in middle-income countries in 2010 and about 30 times higher than in low-income countries. Food wasted by consumers in high income countries (222 million tons) is roughly equal to the entire food production of sub-Saharan Africa (230 million tons)
- The irrigation required to produce the amount of food wasted annually is estimated to be equivalent to the domestic water needs of 9 billion people.
- Estimates suggest that as much as 80 million hectares of land (and the water that flows over or beneath it) have been acquired in new international investment deals since 2000, more than half of it in sub Saharan Africa.
Oxfam has noted in its widely quoted report ‘Even it up’ (2017) that reduction of inequalities can contribute to meeting the basic needs of vulnerable people but this potential has not been realized.
In 2014 a tax of 1.5 percent on the wealth of billionaires could fill the annual gaps in funding needed to get every child into school and deliver health services in the poorest countries. If India reduces inequality by 36 percent; it can virtually eliminate extreme poverty.
In 2013 the world was losing $156 billion a year in tax revenue as a result of wealthy individuals hiding their assets in offshore tax havens. In future projections of meeting basic needs of people the difficulties and problems that are likely to arise in the future are frequently underestimated at present.
Some environmental problems (not just climate change) are taking the form of survival issues, and unless checked soon will make it more difficult for billions of human beings to meet their basic needs,. Disasters linked to these threats will be a particularly serious problem. Hence it is very important to make a realistic examination of the seriousness of the challenges ahead and strengthen the efforts for justice, peace and environmental protection which alone can provide a strong base for meeting the needs of all people.