Population: Environment at stake | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, September 25, 2010 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, September 25, 2010

Population: Environment at stake

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Environment is a development issue, which is receiving attention now in the world including Bangladesh. Our country today faces major problems of deforestation, desertification, air and water pollution and other environmental degradation. In the context of population and development integration, environment problems cannot be separated from the population problems.
Population increase and economic development to raise standards of living or welfare frequently involve depletion of resources and degradation of the environment. In turn, depletion of resources and environmental degradation adversely affect development, and welfare of population. Yet, to view the problems of environmental deterioration as a consequence of growing population and raising substance requirements is to oversimplify and, in some ways, mistake the real situation.
In Bangladesh, the problems are considerably worse than would follow from the increase in numbers. It is not just population growth that is putting pressure on resources rather, population growth in conjunction with other processes are leading to much more rapid depletion.
Therefore, a review of the inter-relationship between population variables and environmental conditions is essential for attempts to solve environmental as well as population problems. An understanding of the inter-relationships will be useful for the formulation of guidelines for taking curative measures where deteriorating condition exist and for the preparation of preventive measures to forestall the development of environmental problems.
At the same time, an understanding of the interrelationships will also be useful in developing the type of population policies and related activities to assist in improving environmental conditions, welfare of the population as well as regulation of population trends.
The problems are all complex and inter-related. For example, to tackle the problem of deforestation, it is necessary to understand the dynamics of forest ecology, local and regional land use for agricultural purpose, human settlements and industrial development, the socio-economic considerations of the people who raise livestock and cut fuel wood from forests, and international as well as domestic market structures of forest products.
As an example of the intricate inter-relationships involved in the problem, it could be mentioned that environmentally unsound management of terrestrial ecosystems is also bound to degrade the marine environment. Large quantities of silt carried by many of the rivers into the coastal areas primarily originate from large-scale deforestation and desertification activities upstream.
Similarly, the impairment of human health is primarily the result of environmental pollution due to industrial and urban waste discharges into water courses, automobile exhaust in major cities and lack of adequate supplies of potable water and sanitation facilities.
While environmental problems are increasingly visible and serious, we have to admit that not enough is known about the complex interrelationships between population and the environment, especially in Bangladesh,
Thus one of the priorities for population and development planning in the country will be action-oriented research into the linkages to guide national development policies.
In Bangladesh, there is a serious gap in knowledge on environmental conditions and problems, as they relate to population changes. Much of the evidence presented is fragmentary or based entirely on speculation. There is indeed, an inadequate database of environmental information collected on regular basis with sufficient coverage and scale to support research work in this area. For the time being, a deduction based on the available evidence, leads to the conclusion that population factors have distinct impact on the environment and vice versa.
In the country, in spite of a slow decline in the rate of growth population is still a threat, particularly in terms of environmental deterioration. While the ultimate goal of development is the welfare of the population or the improvement of the quality of life, it is also a philosophy of development to maintain the dynamic equilibrium between population and its environment. Thus both population and environmental concerns must be integrated into social and economic development plans in order for development to be sustainable.
To achieve these goals, rapid population growth must be slowed down and eventually stabilized while strategies on optimal population distribution should be formulated. Concomitantly, environmental conditions must be maintained or improved through:
-Reversing deforestation and erosion in major watersheds;
-Checking the spread of deserts;
-Introducing sustainable water management;
-Reducing acidification and hazardous waste;
-Developing and introducing environmentally safe industrial processes;
-Eliminating hunger through sustainable and diversified agriculture;
-Finding new and renewable source of energy efficiency;
-And protecting species and further loss.
The inter-relationships between population and development are complex and dynamic. The lack of clear understanding of them could lead to a policy, which may worsen the situation. For example, policies on rural development designed to improve the quality of village life, to relieve environmental and other rural problems, to relieve the pressure of rural-to-urban movement and to relieve the environmental problems in big cities, may themselves bring new environmental problems to rural areas.
The uses of fertilizer, building more roads leading to rural areas, decentralization of industries, among other measures, carry the threat of polluting the rural atmosphere and upsetting the crop cycle and the environment. Moreover, by contributing to environmental deterioration in rural areas, such development may in turn increase the rate of migration to cities rather than reduce it. To avoid the possible negative consequences, balanced development in an integrated fashion is called for.
As far as environmental problems are concerned, there is a growing need for the planning mechanism to take demographic variables into account in a more integrated way than has been done in the past. To date, most planning exercises have utilized a time horizon of no more than five years -- a period sufficiently short for fertility and mortality, if not migration rates as well, to be projected independently of economic development. Certain environmental problems may not be visible in that short period of time. Thus, for the purposes of environmental and population planning a longer-term approach should be taken, in addition to five-year plans.
Here, it is important to note that Recommendation 4 contained in the World Population Plan of Action, 1984, addressed governments as follows:
“In countries in which there are imbalances between trends in population growth and resources and environmental requirements, government are urged, in the context of overall development policies, to adopt and implement specific policies including population policies, that will contribute to redressing such imbalances and promote improved methods of identifying, extracting, renewing, utilizing and conserving natural resources. Efforts should be made to accelerate the transition from traditional to new and renewable sources of energy while at the same time maintaining the integrity of the environment. Government should also implement appropriate policy measures to avoid the further destruction of the ecological equilibrium and take measures to restore them”
Conclusion: There is a need for Bangladesh to recognize the population problem for what it is. At the national level this is a problem which saps national resources, and leads to the maintenance of poverty and the persistence of illiteracy, with all its attendant ills. What is being advocated is not a reduction of national numbers and consequent power or prestige, but a balancing of the development of the human numbers with national resources and national capabilities, so that the people of Bangladesh would be able to attain their full genetic and social potential and contribute fully to the country and the world. The attainment of this goal is being thwarted in many developing countries including Bangladesh by wrong approaches to development and by a too rapid increase in the numbers of the people; hence the need for balanced, integrated and comprehensive population and people- oriented development programmes.

Mohammed Abul Kalam, PhD is Principal Scientific Officer and Head, Department of Medical Sociology, Institute of Epidemiology, Disease Control & Research (IEDCR) Mohakhali, Dhaka.

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