UNITED NATIONS More than 100 world
leaders attending this month's Earth Summit must tackle
the double threat of widespread poverty and increasing
environmental devastation that has left billions of people
facing food and water shortages, a new U.N. report said
The report reviews the most authoritative data from
U.N. and international organizations about the use of
natural resources and presents a sobering assessment
of a planet in peril and in need of a massive global
commitment to secure the future for the world's children.
According to its findings, forests are being destroyed,
drought is becoming more intense, sea levels are rising,
agricultural production can't keep up with the demand
for food, many plant and animal species are at risk
of extinction, and air and water pollution are killing
millions of people.
"The real threat that we face now is the insidious
global spread of poverty and environmental stress
and that is the real security threat that we need to
address," said U.N. Undersecretary-General Nitin Desai,
who will chair the Earth Summit in Johannesburg from
Aug. 26 to Sept. 4. He told a news conference launching
the report that there have been excellent small-scale
initiatives to tackle many of the problems, and the
great challenge of Johannesburg is to mobilize governments,
voluntary organizations, and the private sector to implement
these initiatives on a large scale.
Another challenge is to connect the agenda to preserve
the world's natural resources with the goals adopted
by more than 150 world leaders at the U.N. Millennium
Summit in 2000, he said. Those goals include cutting
the number of people living in poverty in half and giving
every child an elementary school education by 2015.
"You can't reduce poverty unless you also address land
and water," Desai said. "You can't improve children's
health without addressing sanitation and air quality."
The report by the U.N. Department for Economic and
Social Affairs, which Desai heads, said the need to
feed a rising global population now more than
6 billion and projected to reach 8 billion by 2025
is exacerbated by an increase in food consumption. At
the same time, it said, the capacity to produce enough
food is diminishing, especially in developing countries,
and almost 800 million people are chronically undernourished,
though the number is declining.
Desai said close to 30 percent of the 1.5 billion
hectares of agricultural land in the world "is in some
ways under stress either soil erosion stress,
salinity stress, even chemical pollution stress
and we have to address this."
The report found that global water use has increased
sixfold over the last century, at twice the rate of
population growth, and that agriculture represents 70
percent of this consumption. The greatest drain on the
world's freshwater supplies is inefficient agricultural
Meanwhile, about 40 percent of the world population
more than 2 billion people face water shortages,
and by 2025 that figure is expected to increase to 50
percent, the report said.
Signs of climate change linked to global warming are
also taking a toll: droughts have increased in frequency
and intensity in parts of Asia and Africa, and sea levels
are rising, the report said.
Fossil fuel consumption and carbon emissions continued
to rise in the 1990s, particularly in Asia and North
America. Desai said another priority must be to promote
renewable energy sources such as water, wind, and solar
During the 1990s, the report said, 220 million acres
of forests an area larger than Venezuela
was destroyed, almost all in tropical regions in Africa
and Latin America.