Sustainable Development, Poverty and Population Growth

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“Sustainable development (SD) is maintaining a delicate balance between the human need to improve lifestyles and feeling of well-being on one hand, and preserving natural resources and ecosystems, on which we and future generations depend” (Authorstream, 2010, p 1: ¶ 1). In concurrence, the World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED) asserts that SD is, “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” (Authorstream, 2010, p 1: ¶ 2). This essay concentrates on how population growth and poverty issues are interrelated with each other as well as being related to the concept of sustainable development.

Panayotou (2000, p 177: ¶ 2) asserts that in rural, less developed countries such as Sub-Saharan African countries, "population growth, poverty and environmental degradation are entangled in a mutually reinforcing vicious circle." This 'new economic demography' considers population growth as not being exogenous and it attempts to pinpoint fertility influencing factors (Panayotou, 2000, p 177).

It is argued that population growth is one of the leading causes of environmental degradation and resource exploitation, thus preventing sustainable development. It is proposed that since ecological degradation is often assumed to provoke poverty, population growth may lead to environmental degradation, which thus provokes poverty (Pearce and Warford, 1993, p 149). Such an argument is subject to much controversy. It is debated that a decline in population growth is a prerequisite in order to realize a sustainable future. Van Ginneken and van Diepen (1993, p 353: ¶ 3) suggest that, “less population growth certainly contributes to alleviation of problems such as poverty and environmental degradation, but it is not the solution.”

Pearce and Warford (1993, p 150) provide an insightful view on the correlation between ecological degradation, poverty, and population growth (See appendix – figure 6-1). Figure 6-1 portrays several mediating factors that population growth may inflict on agriculture for example. Resources that are already engaged or ‘touched’ (i.e. current cropland, urban land, forest, and rangeland) are differentiated from those that are frontier resources (i.e. untouched forest and untouched range and cropland) (Pearce and Warford, 1993, p 150). Pearce and Warford (1993, p 149: ¶ 2) assert that, “population growth tends to affect both types of resources.” That is, it tends to affect engaged resources and frontier resources. Currently engaged and operating resources tend to be utilized rigorously, and this can lead to environmental degradation and resource exhaustion into the future, i.e. the prevention of sustainable development. Pearce and Warford (1993, p 149) suggest that, expanding population growth has a great tendency to drive the colonization of formerly untouched resources. For example, trees are being cut to free land space to farm, and previously untouched hillsides are now being tended to. “Erosion and overuse tend to follow because the land is intrinsically unsuitable for cultivation or because agricultural practices suited to inframarginal land are not suited to sloped land” (Pearce and Warford, 1993, p 150: ¶ 1). All such factors tend to result in reduced productivity of the land, which cripples the yield the land generates. According to the figure 6-1, incomes tend to plunge down, and thus poverty arises (Pearce and Warford, 1993, p 150).

Furthermore, the land is expected to degrade further, as poverty intensifies, and poor families react by widening their farming boundaries (if possible), only to degrade that land too. From a more optimistic view, it has been argued that expanding population growth can act as an incentive to persuade farmers to strengthen agriculture with the implementation of technological introduction, modification, and transformation (Pearce and Warford, 1993, p 150). However, for poor farmers,...
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