Economists think population as an asset but from an environmental perspective, it’s a curse. July 11 is celebrated as the World Population Day as the world population reached 5 billion on this day during 1987. This day is observed to raise awareness among people about the impact of growing population, family planning, reproductive health, maternal health, poverty, issues on gender equality, human rights and environmental issues.
No simple relationship exists between population size and environmental challenges. However, overpopulation triggered climate change, pollution, water crisis, soil erosion, deforestation, loss of ecosystems and biodiversity, fossil fuels and emergence of new diseases. We cannot have a sustainable planet without stabilizing population. It will lead to more starvation, hunger and unhygienic living conditions in poor countries. As human populations grow, the price of all this “growth” is paid for by other endangered plants and animals and an increasingly volatile and dangerous climate crisis.
Each human being has a legitimate claim on a sufficient and fair amount of Earth’s resources. But with a population approaching 8 billion, even if everyone adopted a relatively low material standard of living, it would still push Earth to its ecological breaking point. Unfortunately, the average person on Earth consumes about 50 per cent and in developed countries, it’s almost five times more than the sustainable yield of the planet. Thus mankind will need two Earths by 2030. Overpopulation and overconsumption will affect everything from climate change to socio political unrest.
The current world population is 7.96 billion and India’s population is 1.40 billion as on July 7, 2022 as per Worldometer. Thus 1 in every 5 persons on the earth is an Indian. The world population will touch 12 billion by 2100 and that will really be a population bomb. The theme for world population day, 2022 is "A world of 8 billion: Towards a resilient future for all - Harnessing opportunities and ensuring rights and choices for all.”
India was the first country to launch the national family planning programme in 1952 with the objective of reducing birth rate to stabilize the population with the requirement of national economy. Reproductive health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease. Therefore it implies the rights of the citizens to have access to safe, effective, affordable and acceptable methods of family planning at their choice.
It gives the message that to live together equitably on a healthy planet will depend on the choices and decisions we make now. This is an opportunity to celebrate our common humanity in diversity. It is also a reminder of our responsibility to care for each other and our planet.
Human and environmental health underpins the millennium development goals which seek to eradicate poverty and hunger and ensure environmental sustainability. But to fulfill the requirements for 7.96 billion people on mother earth is almost impossible. Thus 821 million people in the world – 1 in 8 – do not have access to enough food. Around 2.2 billion people i.e. one-third people do not have safe drinking water and one-fifth do not have their adequate housing.
One of the reasons for the rapid population growth is technological development which pushes environmental capacity to another limit. We mined, farmed, built power plants and many development works to make us suitable, which in turn leads to population growth. Another reason for population growth is improvement in the health sector. People live longer and longer, increasing the average global life expectancy from 67 years in 2000 to 72.6 in 2021.
At present, globally, five persons are born and about 2 persons die every second resulting in an increase of approximately 9.46 crores population per year. FAO estimates that a person requires about 1.57 kg. of food per day. Hence in order to feed these increased populations, a huge tropical rainforest is cut to the size of 20 football grounds per minute, amounting to 6 billion trees which is almost the size of North-East India every year. But, a tree can sink about one ton of CO2 and can also produce the oxygen requirement for 8-10 persons annually.
Due to faster population growth in forest and tribal areas, naturally available forest resources and non-timber forest products are becoming inadequate for their basic livelihood. Many tribal people are giving up their traditional lifestyle and taking up farming and cattle ranching in the forest areas causing irreparable damages. Such people, formerly the protectors of forests, are gradually becoming threats to the forests and wildlife. Governments should devise schemes to avert this harm and save the dwindling forest areas, including the flora and fauna.
Our planet can offer a quality of life to not more than 2 billion people. Humans have a greedy tendency to want more and more in the name of development. Thus, there will come a time when population growth and welfare collide. That time, floods of people will trek all over the world searching for more food and welfare causing political conflicts and wars. The only solution is a population policy applied on a worldwide scale. The business world and the religions are generally interested in population growth.
In Manipur, the population impact to our environment is innumerous. To meet the requirement, many wetlands of the state have now turned into croplands and fish farms. But we know wetlands are the cradle for biodiversity. Hence, we should protect our wetlands and paddy fields by strictly implementing the Manipur Conservation of Paddy land and Wetland Act, 2014. Due to large scale poppy plantation, Jhuming, illicit felling of trees, extraction of firewood etc. have given a big challenge to our environment too.
Therefore until and unless we control the population explosion, we would not be able to save our environment and if we do not voluntarily accept this fact and take the responsibility, then we will surely be in an environmental dilemma within the next few years.
(The views expressed are personal)