Population Matters



Overpopulation makes almost every problem we face harder to solve. Here are just a few examples.


Australia’s droughts

While droughts are nothing new, growing populations make humanity more vulnerable. Australia’s latest drought, from 2003 to 2010, seriously affected both communities and agricultural production. Globally, aquifer depletion, climatic changes, glacier retreat and pollution have raised real fears about future availability. By 2025, four billion people, half the world’s then population, may face severe water stress according to the United Nations, with conditions particularly severe in Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia.

Climate change threatens Bangladeshis

Bangladesh with 140 million people is one of the most densely populated countries in the world. Two-thirds of the country is less than five metres above sea level and a quarter of the country is typically inundated each year. Every four to five years, more severe floods can cover 60 percent of the country. Climate change impact, including sea level rise, changes in weather patterns and an increase in extreme weather events, will exacerbate this situation, causing widespread suffering and major migration flows.


Ethiopia’s unmet need

One-third of fertile women in a relationship in Ethiopia would like to delay or prevent pregnancy but don’t have access to family planning services. Half marry below the age of 18 and many lack reproductive information, supplies and trained personnel. Maternal mortality is high and the birth rate at over five is one of the world’s highest. Combined with a welcome fall in the death rate, this has led to the population quadrupling in just 50 years.

Great apes in the Congo

All great apes — bonobos, chimps, gorillas and orangutans — are at risk of extinction. They are affected by habitat destruction, bushmeat poaching for meat and souvenirs, and capture for use as pets and performance animals. Logging not only reduces their range but provides access for poachers armed with modern weapons. In the Congo, an additional factor is the bitter, decades-long series of civil wars.

Girls carrying water

India’s sinking water table

Much of India relies on groundwater drawn from long-established aquifers, but as water is extracted for irrigation, the level falls. In the short term, this risks salination — pollution from salt — in some areas, while in the long term this simply is unsustainable. India also faces the challenge of climate change resulting in less predictable rainfall.

Travel becomes slower

Traffic volumes have increased dramatically in the last 50 years and are increasing further, particularly in some developing countries, as vehicles become more affordable, population numbers rise and pressure on housing means that people have to live further from their place of work. The predictable results are frustrating delays and greater emissions and air pollution. Simultaneously, public transport of all kinds is also increasingly under pressure and overcrowded.

Next: Sustainability Insights

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