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To win fight against poverty, environmental damage must be reversed: UN report

To win fight against poverty, environmental damage must be reversed: UN report

Human activity is altering the planet on an unprecedented scale, with more people using more resources - and leaving a bigger "footprint" on the earth - than ever before, according to a new report released today by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).

UNFPA's State of World Population 2001: Footprints and Milestones: Population and Environmental Change warns that global poverty cannot be alleviated without reversing the environmental damage caused by rising affluence and consumption as well as growing populations. It calls for increased attention and resources to balancing human and environmental needs.

The report, which examines the close links between environmental conditions, population trends, and prospects for alleviating poverty in developing countries, finds that expanding women's opportunities and ensuring their reproductive health and rights are critically important, both to improve the well-being of growing human populations and to protect the natural world.

Introducing the report at a press conference in New York, UNFPA Executive Director Thoraya Obaid noted that over the last 70 years, world population had tripled but water use had increased sixfold. In the last century, world population had quadrupled but carbon dioxide emissions increased twelve-fold.

The world's wealth was some $30 trillion, but half of the world lived on $2 a day or less, she said. According to the report, there are now 6.1 billion people on Earth, twice as many as in 1960, and the population is projected to grow by half - to 9.3 billion, by 2050.

"Of course, increasing population does not by itself mean increasing damage to the environment," she noted. "Growing populations can equip themselves to sustain and protect their environment, but to be sustainable, growth must be accompanied by access to resources and technology, and the political will to use them responsibly."

By the same token, she pointed out, slower population growth by itself offered no guarantees of environmental protection. Industrial countries were using resources and creating waste at many times the rate of developing countries.

"What we need now is the political will and the tenacity to stay the course: to invest in the future of all of us by investing in the human development of those among us who are marginalized and excluded," she said.