Every day it seems the headlines bring new worries about the future of Pakistan. But among the many challenges confronting the nation—including a growing Taliban insurgency—one significant problem remains largely undiscussed: its rapidly expanding population.
Consider this: Pakistan’s population nearly quadrupled from 50 million in 1960 to 180 million today. It’s expected to add another 66 million people—nearly the entire population of Iran—in the next 15 years. UN projections predict that by the late 2030s, Pakistan will become the fourth most populous country in the world, behind India, China, and the United States.
And believe it or not, the demographic outlook for Pakistan got bleaker in recent weeks. The new medium-range UN projections for Pakistan’s total population have been raised to 335 million for 2050—45 million higher than the UN projection just two years ago. Why the change? Because birth rates aren’t falling as had been predicted—women in Pakistan have an average of four children—and unmet need for family planning remains high.
The case of education provides a snapshot of how these demographics affect Pakistan, from basic quality-of-life issues to the country’s overall stability. Even though the official literacy rate in Pakistan has increased from about 18 percent to 50 percent since 1970, the number of illiterate people has simultaneously jumped from 28 million to 48 million. The literacy rate for women stands at a shockingly low 35 percent.
As public schools have become increasingly overcrowded, more parents have turned to madrasas in an attempt to educate their children—or at least their sons. It’s no secret that some of Pakistan’s madrasas have ties to radical religious and terrorist-affiliated organizations.
So what does this portend for the future?
Even assuming large infusions of assistance from the United States, Pakistan’s public school system will become even more overwhelmed in the years ahead. Building enough schools and hiring enough teachers would be daunting in any country, let alone one facing as many challenges as Pakistan. It seems likely that enrollments in madrasas will swell, and more children will face a future with no schooling whatsoever. Clearly, this is not a recipe for a more stable and peaceful Pakistan.
Pakistan’s rapid population growth is not inevitable, however. A key driver is lack of access to family planning, which is symptomatic of the overall poor status of women and girls. More than 25 percent of Pakistani women have an unmet need for family planning—meaning the demand is clearly there—and nothing in the Koran prohibits its usage. In other majority-Muslim nations, such as Algeria, Bangladesh, and Iran, family planning has been prioritized and is widely used.
Unfortunately, family planning programs in Pakistan and many developing countries have suffered from both inattention and funding cuts in recent years. Traditionally, the United States has been a major source of funding and technical assistance, but since 1995, U.S. international family planning assistance has fallen 35 percent (adjusted for inflation), even as demand has increased.
Today, more than 200 million women—many of them in the most impoverished parts of the world—have an unmet need for family planning. In countries like Pakistan, the resulting rapid population growth makes it increasingly difficult to provide sufficient education, health care, housing, and employment—and depletes land, water, fisheries, and other vital natural resources.
The Obama administration recently proposed a new U.S. assistance strategy for Pakistan—and a key component is a significant increase in development and economic assistance. Let’s hope it will include an increase for family planning. It would be a wise investment in a brighter, more stable future—for Pakistan and for the world.
Tod Preston is vice president for U.S. government relations at Population Action International.
Photo: Children in Jinnah Colony, Karachi, Pakistan. Courtesy of Flickr user NB77.
›April 27, 2009 // By Rachel Weisshaar
Today, the Washington Post’s Ben Pershing called the outbreak of swine flu in North America an “unexpected challenge” for President Obama. Now, Obama’s advisers probably didn’t predict that his first 100 days in office would include this particular threat, but the U.S. intelligence community has been aware of the security threats posed by infectious diseases for a long time.
Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair’s annual threat assessment, presented to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence in February 2009, included the following:
“Highly publicized virulent infectious diseases—including HIV/AIDS, a potential influenza pandemic, and ‘mystery’ illnesses such as the 2003 outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS)—remain the most direct health-related threats to the United States. The most pressing transnational health challenge for the United States is still the potential for emergence of a severe pandemic, with the primary candidate being a highly lethal influenza virus.”
The U.S. intelligence community did not just start thinking about these issues a few months ago. In 2000, the Environmental Change and Security Program hosted a presentation of the findings of a National Intelligence Estimate entitled The Global Infectious Disease Threat and Its Implications for the United States. In December 2008, the National Intelligence Council released Strategic Implications for Global Health, which built on the 2000 report but also explored non-infectious health issues like maternal mortality, malnutrition, and chronic disease.
The current swine flu outbreak has several geopolitical implications. First, governments and international organizations (particularly the World Health Organization) will be perceived as more or less legitimate based on their ability to contain and treat the disease.
Second, governments’ decisions to issue travel warnings or ban certain products coming from affected countries are made with an eye toward both political and health implications. For instance, after the European Union issued an advisory against traveling to the United States, the acting director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention struck back, saying it was unwarranted.
Finally, this outbreak of swine flu won’t do anything to burnish Mexico’s image as a tourist destination, which has already suffered from the brutal drug violence of the last year. Lagging economic growth in Mexico, due to fewer tourists and the fallout from the global financial crisis, could help fuel unrest or increase immigration to the United States.
For more on diseases that can spread between animals and people—and how this relates to the environment—see “Human, Animal, and Ecosystem Health,” a May 2008 meeting sponsored by ECSP.
Photo: Mexican police officers wear surgical masks to guard against the spread of swine flu. Courtesy of Flickr user sarihuella.
›The authors of Asia’s Next Challenge: Securing the Region’s Water Future, a report by the Asia Society, argue that population growth, urbanization, and climate change are converging to make water an important security issue in Asia. The authors argue for including water in policy and development discussions, but warn against “securitizing” the issue.
China’s population is rapidly aging while the country is still developing and modernizing, explains China’s Long March to Retirement Reform: The Graying of the Middle Kingdom Revisited, a report by the Global Aging Initiative of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS). The report recommends steps to ensure that China’s aging citizens are not left without a safety net. Another report by CSIS’s Global Aging Initiative, Latin America’s Aging Challenge: Demographics and Retirement Policy in Brazil, Chile, and Mexico, argues that these countries have a rapidly narrowing window of opportunity to prepare to meet the needs of their aging populations.
According to a study published in the British Journal of Zoology, wild populations of major grazing animals—including giraffes, impala, and wildebeest—in Kenya’s Maasai Mara National Reserve decreased significantly from 1989-2003. “Researchers found the growing human population has diminished the wild animal population by usurping wildlife grazing territory for crop and livestock production to support their families,” reports the International Livestock Research Institute.
On April 22, Bill Butz of the Population Reference Bureau, Paul Ehrlich of Stanford University, and Hania Zlotnik of the UN Population Division discussed world population trends on the Diane Rehm Show.
›April 23, 2009 // By ECSP Staff“Recently, the Defense Department warned that lack of Chinese transparency and dialogue between the Chinese and US militaries could lead to dangerous miscalculations on both sides. The tense confrontation between a US Naval survey vessel and five Chinese ships in the South China Sea in March echoed the rather serious 2001 Hainan Island incident, which was characterized by mutual suspicion and public acrimony. That event affected US-China relations for years.
To avoid further incidents, the Defense Department desires ‘deeper, broader, more high-level contacts with the Chinese,’ said Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell. The White House issued a statement stressing the ‘importance of raising the level and frequency of the US-China military-to-military dialogue,’ and President Obama quickly laid the groundwork by meeting with Chinese President Hu Jintao in London and agreeing to work to improve military-to-military relations.
One such way to begin military dialogue between the United States and China is by using environmental issues.
Environmental collaboration is unlikely to hit politically sensitive buttons, and thus offers great potential to deepen dialogue and cooperation. Military-to-military dialogue can facilitate the sharing of best practices on a range of environmental security issues.”
To read the rest of this op-ed, co-authored by ECSP Director Geoff Dabelko and Kent Hughes Butts, director of the National Security Issues Branch of the Center for Strategic Leadership at the U.S. Army War College, please visit the Christian Science Monitor.
›April 22, 2009 // By Kayly Ober
A graphic published recently in Le Monde reveals that companies from South Korea, China, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) are the top purchasers of foreign farmland. These corporations from water-strapped, land-starved, and/or densely populated countries often make bargain-basement deals with unsavory African and Asian governments—or even warlords—to increase their own profits and their home nations’ food security.
A case in point: The International Criminal Court’s indictment of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir for human-rights abuses has not deterred Saudi Arabia’s Hail Agricultural Development Co. from developing 9,200 hectares of land in Sudan or the UAE from investing in agricultural projects in several Sudanese provinces, including a 17,000-hectare farm for wheat and corn.
As previous New Security Beat posts have pointed out, allowing foreign governments to purchase land could threaten food security within the host country, and around the world. The heads of the Food and Agriculture Organization and the International Fund for Agricultural Development raised eyebrows last weekend when they suggested that these deals could be “win-win” situations, if done right.
These business ventures can also have serious political consequences: Several months ago, seeing an opportunity to capitalize on increasing population growth and limited arable land in its homeland, South Korean conglomerate Daewoo signed a deal to buy more than half of the arable land in Madagascar to grow grain and palm oil. Widespread anger at the terms of the deal—from which the island’s people would gain little—contributed to then-President Marc Ravalomanana’s unpopularity. After weeks of riots, Ravalomanana was ousted by Andry Rajoelina, who immediately axed the deal. “In the constitution, it is stipulated that Madagascar’s land is neither for sale nor for rent, so the agreement with Daewoo is cancelled,” Rajoelina told BBC News.
Yet although Rajoelina’s actions may seem to have preserved Madagascar’s land for its people, the coup he launched has spurred unprecedented destruction of this land, in the form of deforestation. The breakdown of authority that accompanied the coup spread into Madagascar’s protected areas, where groups of thugs have been illegally felling valuable trees at a rapid rate since the coup. This environmental destruction is particularly tragic for a country like Madagascar, which possesses some of the richest biodiversity on the planet and relies heavily on ecotourism for jobs and economic growth.
Next month, a Wilson Center event will explore some of the motivations, patterns, and implications of this rush for farmland. Five Wilson Center programs are co-sponsoring this event—demonstrating the global, cross-sectoral implications of this issue.
Photo: Deforestation in Madagascar. Courtesy of Flickr user World Resources Institute Staff and Jonathan Talbot.
›“The Arctic could slide into a new era featuring jurisdictional conflicts, increasingly severe clashes over the extraction of natural resources, and the emergence of a new ‘great game’ among the global powers,” argue Paul Berkman and Oran Young, two researchers at the University of California, Santa Barbara, in Science. “However, the environment provides a physical and a conceptual framework to link government interests in the Arctic Ocean, as well as a template for addressing transboundary security risks cooperatively.” In the Washington Times, Paula Dobriansky, former U.S. undersecretary of state for democracy and global affairs, argues that the Antarctic Treaty offers lessons for dealing with competing territorial claims in the Arctic.
An article by Fred Pearce in Yale Environment 360, “Consumption Dwarfs Population As Main Environmental Threat,” has re-energized the debate over population’s contribution to climate change. For more, see Suzanne Petroni’s article “An Ethical Approach to Population and Climate Change” in ECSP Report 13.
Time interviews Laurel Neme, author of Animal Investigators: How the World’s First Wildlife Forensics Lab Is Solving Crimes and Saving Endangered Species, about the illegal wildlife trade. Neme will speak at the Wilson Center on May 20.
Slate’s William Saletan discusses the skewed sex ratio in China. For more on this topic, see Richard Cincotta’s review of Bare Branches: The Security Implications of Asia’s Surplus Male Population.
According to Rose George, author of The Big Necessity: The Unmentionable World of Human Waste and Why It Matters, “If you invest a dollar in sanitation, you save seven dollars in health-care costs.” Audio is available of a recent talk featuring George and ECSP Director Geoff Dabelko.
Time reports on Mexico’s water crisis. (See “Water Stories” for more on water and sanitation in Mexico.) It also features photo slideshows on the politics of water in Central Asia and the global water crisis.
In a paper published in Ecology (subscription required), Kevin Lafferty, a research ecologist for the United States Geological Survey at the University of California Santa Barbara, argues that climate change may not necessarily expand the range of disease vectors, as many scientists have argued.
While it is now widely acknowledged that environmental change, including climate change, could severely undermine security in the developing world, the implications for the developed world are just starting to be discussed. A sort of “developed-country complacency syndrome” has led many to assume that the main security problems for a country like the United States, such as waves of refugees or the need to intervene when other nations face disasters or conflicts, would be imported from abroad. Unfortunately, the United States is likely to face some fairly severe “Made in the USA” problems, as well.
For instance, as the economic stimulus package is rolled out, the United States is entering a historic period of new infrastructure construction. From a security perspective, this could help maintain stability, or it could be a disaster. What might make the difference is assessing how potential sites could be affected by environmental change. Transportation systems, defensive capabilities, agriculture, power generation, water supply, and more are all designed for the specific parameters of their physical environments—or, more often, the physical environments of the Victorian, Depression-era, or post-WWII periods in which they were originally built. That is why unplanned environmental change almost always has negative impacts.
In the case of a change in precipitation patterns, for example, drainage systems, reservoirs, and hydrological installations can all fail not because they were poorly engineered, but because they were engineered for different conditions. We are literally not designed for environmental change.
Current environmental impact assessments look almost exclusively at a structure’s impact on the environment. These assessments must now be expanded to include the other half of the equation: the impact of a changing environment on the structure. These sorts of “dual” assessments are essential. To put it bluntly, there is no point in building a zero-emissions house in a current or soon-to-be flood zone. However, this is exactly the sort of thing that is being proposed in areas of the U.S. Gulf Coast. We can avoid this by requiring these “dual” assessments when applying for insurance, planning permission, and/or government support.
Just as physical infrastructure is poorly prepared to deal with environmental change, so, too, is legal infrastructure. Very few regulations, international laws, and subsidies incorporate the effects of environmental change. At best, this renders them inadequate; at worst, it can create new vulnerabilities.
For instance, the U.S. government’s National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) can inadvertently contribute to putting people and infrastructure in harm’s way. When private insurers deem areas too risky to be eligible for coverage, the NFIP can step in and insure them, making it possible to build in areas that are current flood zones, as well as areas that may become ones as climate change causes sea levels to rise and storm surges to increase. Already in some areas the same homes have had to be rebuilt multiple times, in part with cash infusions from the NFIP.
There are other examples of developed-world agreements that may cause more damage than they prevent:
- Water-sharing agreements, especially those based on a set amount of water, rather than percentage of actual flow, will become problematic as water levels alter dramatically.
- Fisheries-sharing agreements will be thrown into chaos as fish shift to other regions due to climate change and overfishing.
- Hydropower-sharing agreements will be a major problem, both for precipitation-fed systems and glacier regions, where there will be above-average flows as the glaciers melt, followed by droughts once the glaciers disappear.
Two of the things the developed world prides itself on—its physical and legal infrastructures—are both highly vulnerable to environmental change. However, the stimulus packages and the reassessment of global, regional, and national agreements caused by the financial crisis offer a valuable opportunity to ensure that the structures and mechanisms we are counting on to maintain our security do not end up undermining it.
Photo: Members of the Coast Guard Sector Ohio Valley Disaster Response Team and the Miami-Dade Urban Search and Rescue Team mark a house to show it has been searched for survivors of Hurricane Katrina. Hurricane Katrina, which devastated the U.S. Gulf Coast in 2005, revealed the vulnerability of U.S. infrastructure to natural disasters. Climate change could make hurricanes and other natural disasters more frequent and severe. Photo courtesy of Flickr user Tidewater Muse and Petty Officer Robert M. Reed.
Cleo Paskal is an associate fellow in Chatham House’s Energy, Environment, and Development Programme. She is the author of UK National Security and Environmental Change.
›April 16, 2009 // By Linden EllisLast Friday, China announced plans to become the world’s largest producer of electric cars. The Chinese government will invest $1.46 billion in consumer subsidies for electric cars, just as Washington is plowing $25 billion into flagging Detroit automakers. With doubts looming about China’s enthusiasm for the tough upcoming Copenhagen climate negotiations, and with China set to displace the United States as the country with the largest auto fleet by 2025, this commitment to electric cars has vast implications for climate change, energy, and global geopolitics.
China is already the third-largest car producer and the second-largest car market in the world. If China could electrify its entire auto fleet by 2020, it could cut annual oil consumption by 130 million tons, reducing dependence on foreign oil by 20-30 percent more than if it were to adopt high-efficiency combustion vehicles. This would go a long way toward easing global competition for oil. It would also effectively eliminate the number-one source of air pollution in major Chinese cities, relieving a huge environmental health burden. Reports indicate that residents of at least 400 Chinese cities will face significant health hazards—including brain damage, respiratory problems and infections, lung cancer, and emphysema—from airborne sulfur by 2010 if auto pollution is not brought under control.
As these subsidies and other policies (including next year’s nation-wide adoption of EURO IV emissions standards) demonstrate, the Chinese government is committed to reducing cars’ impact in China, and the country is poised to be a global leader in electric cars. China’s battery-company-turned-automaker BYD (which Warren Buffet is apparently investing in) will release the first zero-emission vehicle, the F3e, in late 2009. The plug-in, dual-fuel F3 was the top-selling car in China last year, selling for $22,000. In a report released last month, McKinsey & Company found electric vehicles the best option for reducing greenhouse gas emissions from China’s transportation sector. China’s low labor costs, fast-growing auto market, and successful battery manufacturers make it a candidate for world leadership in electric-vehicle production, especially as no clear leader already exists.
The greatest obstacles to electric vehicles taking off in China are the costs—both to the government and the consumer—and the current lack of support infrastructure, including battery-charging and replacement stations. Installing support infrastructure could cost 5–10 billion RMB by 2020, not to mention the costs of further research and development to improve the safety and speed of batteries and cars, as well as the cost of consumer subsidies.
However, the China Environment Forum reports that many new car owners in China display a surprising indifference to the price of a prospective vehicle, preferring to save longer in order to afford a better car rather than settling for the first car they can afford or buying a used car. An interesting cost-effective alternative is the electric bike, which China vehicle emissions expert Vance Wagner notes “should be given high priority as an urban sustainable transportation solution [as they] provide much greater urban mobility than buses, with comparable environmental impact.”
Further research on the health and environmental impacts of electric vehicles is needed before large-scale adoption. There are many concerns, for example, about how to safely recycle car batteries without causing lead pollution. Additionally, having cars run on electricity will reduce air pollution, but will also place a huge burden on China’s already-strained power sector, which experiences energy shortfalls every year. Making the entire vehicle fleet dependent on the power sector would require a major expansion of regulatory and generating capacity. It could also raise questions of environmental justice, as rural communities with little access to health care—but in close proximity to coal-fired power plants, from which China derives 80 percent of its electricity—would bear the pollution burden of city driving. Although most experts and officials agree that electrifying China’s vehicle fleet is the best option in terms of environmental health, energy security, and climate change, additional research into the cumulative impacts of electric vehicles is necessary.
Photo: Smog blankets the eastern Chinese city of Jinan. Courtesy of Flickr user Sam_BB.
By China Environment Forum Program Assistant Linden Ellis.
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- Extreme Realities: Severe Weather, Climate Change, and Our National Security [Screening] Thursday, November 6, 2014
- Bridging the Gap: A Conversation About Family Planning and Climate Change Tuesday, October 28, 2014
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