Sat, 06 Aug 1994

Uncontrolled population is big problem to environment

JAKARTA (JP): Uncontrolled population growth, particularly in developing countries, poses a major threat to the world's population, an executive of the Population Council says.

A rapid population increase will burden the environment and the world's natural resources, crowding out species which in turn leads to an irreversible change in soils, woods and the habitat of rivers, the council's president, Margaret Catley-Carlson said.

"Maybe you can produce food for a great deal of populations, but the question becomes the cost, in terms of the environmental impacts," Catley-Carlson said at a discussion on Thursday held at the Widjojo Centre.

"Each person on earth needs food, needs space, clean water and has certain amounts of wastes created either by that person or the products he has used," she said.

"We think that environmental degradation is bad because it directly or indirectly impacts adversely on human welfare. And it does," she addressed local experts on population who attended the discussion.

The Population Council is a New York-based science and research organization. Catley-Carlson took an active part in the conference of population and development involving 10 developing countries in Jakarta last week.

Catley-Carlson said the situation is somewhat different in developed countries where the biggest threat to environment there comes from the people's pattern of consumption.

"Population growth and environment have many crossovers. However, it's absolutely the case that the Western world very much needs look at the population issues. And in the mirror of western consumption pattern issues, at least after the next decade, is going to be the chief part of environmental worries."

She pointed out that people in the West are far more consumptive, and this has serious implications on the environment.

In Britain, a person's energy consumption reaches the equivalent of 35 barrels of oil each year while in Bangladesh, it is only three barrels. In terms of transportation, there are 75 Africans per automobile compared to 2.5 North Americans. "You can see that the mathematics of carbon dioxide emission, global warming, and so on can get fairly complicated."

Catley-Carlson said the size of the world's population, currently put at 5.7 billion is estimated to increase in the next 10 years to between 8.5 billion and, under the worst imaginable case scenario -- 15 billion.

"And it's quite well known that over 95 percent of the forthcoming population expansion will be in the developing world," she said.

Population all over the world increases over a quarter of a million every day, day after day. Of the number, Africa alone adds a million every week as population is growing fastest where people are poorest.

She said the biggest problems can be found in countries where 40 to 50 percent of the population is under 15 years of age. In these societies, which mostly have very low gross national products, development just does not happen.

Still, 53 developing countries, excluding Indonesia, have an over three percent growth rate which means that their populations will double in the next 23 years.

The population growth has been more worrisome as one third of the world's population is under 15. This means that the population of young people coming into reproductive age will expand by 25 percent in the next decade.

A research suggests between 25 and 40 percent of fertility is not wanted. And family planning deals mostly with unwanted fertilities.

She noted that 150,000 pregnancies are terminated every day by induced abortion -- about two thirds under legal conditions, which does not always mean safe. And every three minutes, a woman dies from unsafe abortion.

Maternal mortality

Maternal related mortality is also a problem in developing countries. In India, for instance, more women die in a week than in Europe in a year from maternity related causes.

"I know that this is still a worrying issue in Indonesia with the rate above 400 per 100,000 births," she said.

However she acknowledged that women and families' acceptance of contraceptive measures as part of their family health has changed radically in developing countries.

Contraceptive use has been also accelerating in developing countries, from 10 percent three decades ago to over 50 percent today.

Indonesia -- the fourth largest country in the world -- is exactly at the mid point of this trend. While contraceptive use in industrial societies is 75 percent.

Total fertility rate -- measured in terms of the average number of children per woman -- has declined in developing countries, from 6.1 in late 1960s to 3.9 in late 1980s.

The decline in Indonesia from 5.6 to 3.0 over the past 20 years is very much in line with this trend. While in the whole world the decline is from 4.9 to 3.4. (rid)