From combined dispatches
LONDON The world’s population could skyrocket to 10.9 billion people by 2050 if women do not gain better access to education and health care, a United Nations report said yesterday.
Women must receive adequate reproductive health care, enjoy a status equal to men and have the right to plan the size of their families if the planet is to rein in a population already expected to grow to 9.3 billion during the next half-century, according to the U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA).
The report, “Footprints and Milestones, State of the World Population 2001,” also said that unsustainable consumption of resources harms the environment and that economic destruction has a disproportionate effect on the poor.
However, some pro-life groups and the director of the U.N. Population Division, which collected much of the data the UNFPA report is based on, said the group was presenting the most negative scenarios to make a political point.
“The relationship between population and the environment is very complex,” said Joseph Chamie of the Population Division of the U.N. Department of Economic and Social Affairs. “UNFPA is a fund; they have an agenda. The Population Division does not put out a report that has any advocacy role.”
At a news briefing in London to release the report, editor Alex Marshall said wealthy countries were not providing the $20 billion a year needed to meet those goals.
“We are frustrated as to why the resources to implement these targets are not being met,” said Mr. Marshall, singling out the United States, Japan and Germany as not pulling their weight.
All the population growth projected by the report from a current 6.1 billion will take place in developing countries, intensifying their battle against poverty and straining the environment worldwide, the organization said.
Increasing population and consumption will continue to alter the planet on an “unprecedented scale,” degrading soil, polluting air and water, melting ice caps, and destroying natural habits, according to the report.
“We are looking over a cliff here. We are reaching the limits of some clearly definable resources,” said Mr. Marshall, referring specifically to water, energy and food. “The problems are tremendously severe in all these areas. We have a crisis of global proportions.”
The world’s 49 least-developed countries already the most severely challenged by soil and water degradation and food shortages will nearly triple in population, from 668 million to 1.86 billion, the report said.
As incomes rise in these countries, consumption will grow, placing even more strain on the earth’s resources, it predicted.
“Population growth, increasing affluence with rising consumption, pollution and waste and persistent poverty … are putting increasing pressure on the environment,” the report said.
Austin Ruse, executive director of the New York-based Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute, said that UNFPA’s analysis is fudging the numbers.
“UNFPA is caught in an old, hard-left mentality,” said Mr. Ruse. “They are using environmental degradation to stress the need for reproductive health services, including abortion.”
The U.N. Population Fund, launched in 1969, aims to help developing countries find solutions to their population problems. It has three main program areas: reproductive health, including family planning and sexual health; population and development strategies; and advocacy.
Mr. Chamie’s research finds ample food to feed the planet but also pockets of starvation and hunger.
The issue, he said, “is not the amount or availability but the social, economic and political structures that deliver to the people in need.”
He said that the birth rate is an unavoidable part of that story.
“If you can reduce the rate of population growth, you have more time to figure out solutions.”
Staff writer Betsy Pisik contributed to this report from New York.