World Population Awareness

Why Population Matters

Having one fewer child is the most effective way an individual would have to fight climate change. The next best actions are selling your car, avoiding long flights, and eating a vegetarian diet, according to a study published in Environmental Research Letters.

These four actions reduce emissions many times more than things like recycling, using low energy light bulbs or drying washing on a line.

Carbon emissions must fall to two tons of CO2 per person by 2050 to avoid severe global warming, but in the US and Australia emissions are currently 16 tons per person and in the UK seven tons. "That's obviously a really big change and we wanted to show that individuals have an opportunity to be a part of that," said Kimberly Nicholas, at Lund University in Sweden and one of the research team.

Having one fewer child equates to a reduction of 58 tons of CO2 for each year of a parent's life. Getting rid of a car saved 2.4 tons a year, avoiding a return transatlantic flight saved 1.6 tons and becoming vegetarian saved 0.8 tons a year.

The figure was calculated by totaling up the emissions of the child and all their descendants, then dividing this total by the parent's lifespan. Each parent was ascribed 50% of the child's emissions, 25% of their grandchildren's emissions and so on.

"We recognize these are deeply personal choices. But we can't ignore the climate effect our lifestyle actually has," said Nicholas. "It is our job as scientists to honestly report the data. Like a doctor who sees the patient is in poor health and might not like the message 'smoking is bad for you', we are forced to confront the fact that current emission levels are really bad for the planet and human society."

Overpopulation has been a controversial factor in the climate change debate, with some pointing out that an American is responsible for 40 times the emissions produced by a Bangladeshi and that overconsumption is the crucial issue.

The savings from switching to an electric car depend on how green electricity generation is, meaning big savings can be made in Australia but the savings in Belgium are six times lower. Switching your home energy supplier to a green energy company also varied, depending on whether the green energy displaces fossil fuel energy or not.

Nicholas said the low-impact actions, such as recycling, were still worth doing: "All of those are good things to do. But they are more of a beginning than an end. They are certainly not sufficient to tackle the scale of the climate challenge that we face.”

Chris Goodall, an author on low carbon living and energy, said: "The paper usefully reminds us what matters in the fight against global warming. But in some ways it will just reinforce the suspicion of the political right that the threat of climate change is simply a cover for reducing people's freedom to live as they want.

"Perhaps more importantly, cutting the number of people on the planet will take hundreds of years. Emissions reduction needs to start now.”   Want to Fight Climate Change? Have Fewer Children July 12, 2017, Guardian doclink

From data covering up to 2015, the latest United Nation's World Population Prospects report shows that Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania are among the 33 countries whose population is projected to increase at least five-fold by 2100. The growing population will exacerbate problems of ill health, poverty, environmental degradation, unemployment and declining agricultural productivity.

The East African Community (EAC), comprised of Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and Tanzania, has a population of about 150 million people with land area of 1.82 million square kilometres and a combined gross domestic product of Sh7.4 trillion ($74.5 billion).

Africa's population is currently estimated to be 1.4 billion while the world's is at seven billion.

In the EAC, about 60% of pollution related deaths are due to contaminated water or poor hygiene, 40% due to indoor air pollution and one per cent due to outdoor air pollution.

"Demographic changes are one of the most crucial long-term challenges that will have a grave influence on the economy....using a regression analysis, this paper found that population growth affects real economic variables on the negative side," says a 2014 World Bank report dubbed 'Impact of Demographic Changes on Inflation and the Macro-economy'.

Ms Jesca Eriyo, the deputy secretary-general of the EAC, said: "If we don't control the number of children we are giving birth to, poverty levels will grow. This requires re-alignment of policies, processes and systems and sharing of resources for coordinated actions."

She added that it was also life threatening for a woman to give birth to more than eight children.

Changing human habitation patterns, overgrazing, bio piracy, deforestation, pollution, unsustainable exploitation of natural resources and introduction of invasive as well as alien species are some of the changing environmental characteristics that are associated with extremely negative impacts of climate change.

Dr Matano, executive secretary of the Lake Victoria Commission, said that EAC's population growth rate of 6% is overburdening its resources.

United Nations Environment Programme (Unep) executive director Christopher Cox says heavy metals deposits discharged from industries into water bodies including Lake Victoria pose a health hazards to the populace who consume contaminated fish.

"Studies have shown that 95 per cent of waste go directly to the lake leading to nitrification and also health concerns. Micro-plastics are getting into the fish that we eat,” said Mr Cox during the Environmental Research and Scientific Conference to protect Lake Victoria basin from degradation in Mwanza, Tanzania in February.

Experts also warned that huge chunks of forest cover have been transformed into farms leaving most land in the region bare.

Poor farming methods lead to the deposition of nitrogen and phosphate fertilisers into the waters, one reason which has been blamed for the mushrooming of hyacinth and decline of fish in Lake Victoria.

The EAC, once endowed with natural resources, now struggles to sustain water supply, food security and agricultural productivity. Other than health, tourism and livestock production are also threatened, risking sources livelihoods.

Depletion of natural resources is to blame for poor health indicators and high levels of poverty, which is further compounded by the high dependent population ratio.

The average life expectancy at birth is 57 years for the region. Diseases such as tuberculosis malaria, typhoid and bilharzia are widespread while malnutrition is rife among children.

Access to healthcare services is hampered by inadequate and inaccessible medical facilities.

A large number of children in East Africa often die due to starvation, malnutrition, diarrheal diseases and flooding, according to Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report.

Nutritional status is still a big challenge with prevalence of low birth weight being a leading cause of neonatal mortality. This is as high as 7.1% in Rwanda, 8.0% in Kenya, 8.4% in Tanzania, 11.9% in Uganda and 12.9% in Burundi. Moderate to severe stunting is highest in Burundi at 57.7% and lowest in Uganda at 33.4%.

The effects of climate change are already being felt by people in East Africa. In Kenya the ongoing drought has been declared a national disaster.

Observable effects of climate change on water resources in East Africa include change in rainfall patterns, receding or drying up of rivers and flooding that has led to loss of life and destruction of property East Africa, worsening poverty conditions.

Glaciers on Mount Kilimanjaro are disappearing and several rivers are now drying up. It is estimated that 82% of the ice that capped the mountain, when it was first recorded in 1912, is no more.

Women spend days looking for food and water hence cannot engage in any other meaningful economic activities.

Since early 90s, individual countries have made several attempts to control population including limiting the number of children to not more than three, keeping girls in schools to reduce the number of fertility years and step up family planning.

Adoption of family planning services more than half a century ago has not helped much. Kenya, for instance, was the first sub-Saharan African country to adopt a national family planning programme in early 1970s. The slow uptake of the family planning means that there are unmet needs, especially for rural women and teenage pregnancies.

Dr Obeth Nyamirimo, a member of the East African Legislative Assembly said Rwanda's bid to implement a Reproductive Health Bill, limiting the births by every woman to three had hit a snag.

"We introduced the bill but had difficulty in limiting the number and even lacked penalties to spell for those who breached the rule,” she said.

"We realised it is important for the governments and stakeholders to invest in empowering individuals and communities through dialogue and understand the contribution of a healthy environment to good health and manageable population,” she said.

The five EAC partner states agreed to strengthen the integrated population, health, and environment (PHE) programme under Lake Victoria Basin Council so that players from the sectors which affect one another would plan, budget and work together as a strategy for sustainable development.

The initiative involves government ministries and civil societies dealing in health, environment, water, forestry and wildlife for efficiency.

The integrated approach means that if an NGO had pre-dominantly been implementing on HIV/Aids programme, they must adopt environmental conservation.

Those involved in forestry could also educate the public about population control and its effects on environment.

"The PHE approach is one of the key solutions to attaining Sustainable Development Goals in the region.

Community champions in these areas have been trained to educate other community members about environmental conservation, family planning, reproductive health, HIV and Aids, malaria and control of communicable and non-communicable diseases.

Kenya has 50 PHE champions, Uganda 86, Tanzania 42, Rwanda 44 and 34 in Burundi.

Households are taught to have minimum requirements which include ensuring that all children under five are fully immunized, a couple does birth spacing or family planning, treat drinking water, have a dish rack, a clean latrine, a kitchen garden and also plant at least 50 fruit trees to promote agroforestry.   High Population Piles Pressure on East African Bloc April 10, 2017, Business Daily doclink

Bob Walker of Population Institute discusses the origins of population growth and its implications for the future, covering social change, scarcity, and environmentalism along the way.   Our Origins Are Our Destiny December 20, 2016, You Tube doclink

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