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Friday, March 16, 2007

Consequences of Population Explosion, Global Warming

Saylac - This time around there is a global awareness that the world is facing the challenges of population explosion and global warming that could endanger almost all biological entities in the world.

There is a consensus that the global warming and population explosion is now a significant burden to the environment where biological entities are living.

Last week the Biological Society of Ethiopia, at the opening of its 17th annual conference, picked a central theme: "Population Explosion and Global Warming: Local and Global Context." During a two-day session many scholars presented papers related to the topic.

Dr. Solomon Yirga, president of the Biological Society of Ethiopia, said that the issue of climate change is a headline in almost all kinds of papers and forums, including in business and politics around the world. The impact of global warming can be manifested in various forms of changes in the environment. "For example, hundreds of thousands of our citizens have been victims of the recent flood disaster in Ethiopia and capital-intensive measures were taken to alleviate the problems by the government and the people," he said. Any change in the environment would definitely have negative consequences like droughts, floods and mosquitoes.

Today, he said, the global human population has reached about 6.5 billion. The problem of rapid population growth has assumed critical stage in the least developed countries like Ethiopia. "Unless we create a means to increase production and productivity of the arable land through basic and applied research results, that would minimize effects of global warming and population growth."

The president noted that experience over the last couple of decades in Ethiopia has shows that as human population increases, the carrying capacity of the environment decreases. A high population growth rate induces environmental degradation, increase in demand for resources and the rate at which these resources are exploited.

In Ethiopia, the rate at which agricultural and medical technologies are generated and disseminated to the rural poor is not sufficient enough. However, the research resulted that are formulated in some way and disseminated to end users clearly show that the technologies generated by Ethiopian scientists could have significant contribution towards the improvement in the livelihoods of many of our people Ethiopians. "Such successful results of pilot projects in the area of agriculture, medicine and education would motivate biological scientists towards generating, evaluating and promoting new research results that could change the lives of our society through minimizing effects of environmental factors," he added.

Fisseha Itanna, from the department of biology at the Addis Ababa University (AAU), in his presentation, said that Ethiopia is among the most populated nations in Africa, ranking third after Nigeria and Egypt. Recent annual population growth rate in the country is estimated to be 2.3 percent. It is well understood that increase in population definitely adds to the actively engaged in a taskforce in a community. On the other hand, with increase in population some problems start to be manifested.

According to his observation, one salient feature that commonly occurs is competition among people for limited resources such as land, water and even air. It is also understood, as population increases, that traditional farming and productions systems come under extreme pressure to withstand the needs of the additional mouths. Industrialization and intensification of productive systems then become the only option of nations to come out of this problem.

Fisseha said that thousands after thousands migrate into cities in search of better opportunities from rural communities, thereby accelerating the rate of urbanization in the country. Ethiopia is not an exception to this state of affairs and over the past decades such has been the scenario in this country too. "The major industries in the country are food processing, beverages, textiles, leather, chemicals, metals processing and cement. The industrial production growth rate is estimated at about 6.7 percent."

The scholar said that as processes of industrialization and urbanization continue, degradation of different forms appear in the urban setting. Soil degradation through industrial and urban development is described as sealing, physical, chemical and biological degradation. Sealing of soils occurs through the construction of roads, industrial premises, houses, sporting facilities, and the use of soils as dumping grounds for different kinds of refuse. Agricultural lands, which otherwise could be used for cereal, fruit or vegetable production, or serve as rangelands are converted into roads and housing grounds through sealing.

Reduction of farmlands in urban and sub-urban centers in this manner will consequently result in commensurate crop losses. There are reports that the water from the rivers crossing Addis Ababa was much cleaner before several decades and people even used to drink it. However, he said, with the increase in urban population and industrialization, the water has now become contaminated with organic and inorganic pollutants. With increase in population degradation of the ecosystems takes place at a more rapid rate. Soil degradation through urban activities is mainly due to the enormous consumption of air, water and other goods within towns. Consumption of these products results in the release of huge amounts of solid and liquid wastes in the cities.

With regard to industrial pollution, he said chemical and biological degradation are caused by contamination with inorganic compounds such as heavy metals, as well as organic compounds such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. The physico-chemical and biological degradation resulting from industrial activities is more concentrated and intense than that from urban activities. These urban and industrial activities in many cases irreversibly reduce the multi-functionary soils. "Under natural conditions, plants, animals and human beings are adapted to the local natural metal concentrations. Increased extraction of heavy metals and use of raw materials and fossil energy since the mid-18th century, however, are now leading to global pollution through atmospheric and water contamination." Population explosion has also impact on the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere; land use changes could induce emissions of carbon into the atmosphere with a resultant global warming, he added.

Jason O. Onsembe from the United Nations Fund for Population (UNFPA) in his presentation indicated that Ethiopia has an estimated total population of 79.3 million which is expected to be 170.2 million by 2050. "High growth rate of population affects the future size of population, the age structure, labor force supply, rural and urban distribution, regional densities, all of which have implications on development."

Regarding fertility rate, the presenter said that the total fertility rate in Ethiopia is 5.9 which is high by any standard. Only 17 percent of women favor having fewer than four children, and women consider 5.3 children as the average ideal family size. The Ethiopian government considers high rate of population as a great challenge to its objectives of meeting the demands for social services and facilities, particularly in such areas as health, education employment, housing, environmental security and general well-being.

He added that nine counties, one of which is Ethiopia, are expected to account for half of the world's projected population increase during the period 2005-2007; global life expectancy is expected to rise; and the net international migration to more developed regions is projected to reach 98 million during the period 2005-2050. "In Ethiopia, high population growth will impede all efforts aimed at reducing poverty, as the recent analysis of the trends in economic growth, poverty and population dynamics indicate." He suggested that it now remains the responsibility of policymakers to put in place appropriate policies and strategies to change the direction of population growth. In poor counties, massive efforts are required to ensure non-deterioration of social and economic conditions.

Dr. Solomon said the greater understanding of the factors that affect global warming and population growth patterns can help the country plan for the future; the national population policy has been adopted together with several important policy initiatives on natural resource development and environmental protection. The professional societies like Biological Societies of Ethiopia are expected to contribute a lot towards the development of ways and means of reducing pressure. "Then the combined efforts from various stakeholders will be synthesized to produce packages that could be promoted to the societies and policy makers for possible interventions."

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