Last year, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) celebrated 150 years of their mission to “protect the lives and dignity of victims of war and internal violence.” Though this mission hasn’t changed in the past century-and-a-half, the nature of conflict and crisis response has. [Video Below]
›October 17, 2013 // By Wilson Center Staff
Today approximately 44 percent of the world’s 7.2 billion people are under 24 years old – and 26 percent are under 14. Of those 7.2 billion people, a staggering 82 percent live in less developed regions of the world – primarily sub-Saharan Africa and Asia. Currently, the global median age is 29.2 years old, a sharp contrast to Europe, for example, where the median age is 41.
›June 7, 2013 // By Wilson Center Staff
The original version of this article, by Michael Kugelman, appeared on The Diplomat.
On May 11, Pakistan’s Election Day, approximately 60 percent of eligible voters went to the polls. This figure far exceeded the 44 percent who turned out for Pakistan’s previous election in 2008. Media reports have featured moving accounts of the elderly being carried to the polls, and of women standing in the heat for hours to cast their ballots.
On the occasion of International Women’s Day 2013, the Middle East Program at the Wilson Center invited a cross-section of women activists, politicians, academics, and entrepreneurs to give us their views on the challenges women face to their security. This publication, “Challenges to Women’s Security in the MENA Region,” includes pieces from 42 women from 20 countries, including the United States, Malaysia, Indonesia, and countries in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) shared with us their concerns, disappointments, and hopes for women in the region.
Historically, the concept of “water wars” – inter-state wars fought solely over water – has been fairly unsubstantiated. But continued population growth, accelerating development, and environmental changes are making water more scarce and in turn increasing the chances of related tensions and violence. To illustrate the growing role water plays in tensions around the world, Al Jazeera has put together a map linked to a series of stories they’ve done on water “flashpoints.”
Every year, there are mixed reactions over the rankings and the efficacy of the Fund for Peace’s Failed States Index (FSI), the eighth edition of which was released in June. But this year, the criticism seems especially intense.
“Failed means there is no way back. Failed means a binary division between those countries that are salvageable and those beyond redemption. It is a word reserved for marriages and exams. It does not belong in a pragmatic debate,” wrote Claire Leigh for The Guardian in June.
In the “first spatially explicit comparison of groundwater use, availability, and environmental flow for aquifers globally,” a new article in Nature finds that the “size of the global groundwater footprint is currently about 3.5 times the actual area of aquifers.” An aquifer’s footprint is the theoretical size it would need to be to sustainably support use at its current rate, so groundwater footprints being much larger than their corresponding aquifers is a sign of overuse.
›How should the seven billion or so of us on Earth mark World Population Day? Today, major global players are focusing on increasing access to family planning around the world. But there are other important aspects to population that also deserve our sustained attention.
The links between demography and development have come into the limelight over the last few months, first as advocates decried the last minute removal of reproductive rights language from the Rio+20 outcome document and now as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation prepares a massive funding push for reproductive health (starting today, not coincidentally).
“Multiple crises – food, fuel, and financial – have caused significant suffering and served as a wake-up call about the need to pay far more attention to the building blocks of sustainable development,” UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says in an address for today. “Reproductive health is an indispensable part of the sustainable development equation.”
The sustainable development connection is fairly obvious. Environmental destruction in some of the most biodiversity-rich parts of the world has complex but significant population drivers, as Wilson Center consultant Laurie Mazur explains:
Human impact on the environment is mediated by a host of factors, including culture, technology, institutions, and market forces. And inequitable socioeconomic systems mean that some human beings have far greater impact than others.“Often, the value of biodiversity becomes apparent only when it is lost,” Mazur continues. “For example, with the global decline of honeybee populations, growers can now calculate the monetary value of pollination services that were once provided for free by nature. ‘Bee pollination is worth $190 billion,’ said Pavan Sukhdev, a Yale environmental economist, in an interview with Bloomberg. ‘But when did a bee ever send you an invoice?’”
But some generalizations can be made. We live on a planet dominated and transformed by human activity. As we have become more numerous, we have also become more adept at altering ecosystems for human use, replacing species-rich natural landscapes with simpler monocultures.
In other areas, population drivers threaten more basic scarcities: food and water, which in turn impede development and cost human lives. Some of the most successful efforts to address these relationships have combined women’s empowerment, family planning, and basic health interventions with site-based conservation and livelihood efforts.
But besides reproductive rights, there are other important aspects of population that deserve attention on this day.
The demographic dividend – a concept that marries population dynamics and development economics – requires more than just fertility decline to take effect in countries. Economic and social policies that prepare and enable young people to enter the workforce are just as important.
And the Arab Spring helps illustrate the complex relationship between population and democracy. “Among the five countries where revolt took root, those with the earliest success in ousting autocratic leaders also had the most mature age structures and the least youthful populations,” writes Wilson Center consultant and demographer Elizabeth Leahy Madsen. The work of fellow Wilson Center consulting demographer Richard Cincotta shows that countries with very young age structures are prone both to higher incidence of civil conflict and undemocratic governance. What happens next in Egypt, Libya, Yemen, and Syria will further test the connection between youth and democracy.
In South Asia, Madsen finds that as Afghanistan and Pakistan’s political circumstances have become more entwined, their demographic paths are more closely parallel than expected. “For Afghanistan, given its myriad socioeconomic, political, cultural, and geographic challenges, this is good news. But for Pakistan, where efforts to meet family planning needs have fallen short of capacity, it is not,” she writes in the first issue of the newly re-launched ECSP Report, “Afghanistan, Against the Odds: A Demographic Surprise.”
In more developed countries, population aging is a concern. At the Wilson Center last year, economists Andrew Mason and Ronald Lee explained the challenges that those on the other side of the “demographic divide” will face in the near future. From 2010 to 2015, 85 countries are projected to witness the largest absolute increase in history of their populations aged 60 and over, straining public welfare systems and reducing labor forces. It’s not the “catastrophe” that it has been portrayed to be in the media, they said, but like many demographic issues, it is a challenge that will require planning for.
These connections demonstrate the wide importance of population dynamics to understanding how the world works today. Demography is the study of us – all seven billion of us. Demography affects – and is affected by – economics, political stability, health, the environment, food security, foreign policy, development, and conflict. Let’s not overlook that breadth on this World Population Day 2012.
For more, be sure to read some of our additional resources from the recent archives:
- Food Security in a Climate-Altered Future: More Than a Supply Problem
- Taming Hunger in Ethiopia: The Role of Population Dynamics
- Uganda’s Demographic and Health Challenges Put Into Perspective With Newfound Oil
- New Surveys Generate Mixed Demographic Signals for East and Southern Africa
- In Building Resilience for a Changing World, Reproductive Health Is Key
- Demographic Security 101 (video)
- Yemen: Revisiting Demography After the Arab Spring
- Hania Zlotnik Discusses Latest Changes to UN Population Projections (audio)
- Book Review: ‘World Population Policies’
- Tunisia’s Shot at Democracy: What Demographics and Recent History Tell Us
- Joel E. Cohen on Solving the Resource-Population Equation in the Developing World (video)
Photo Credit: UN Day Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon with students in October celebrating the seven billion mark, courtesy of Eskinder Debebe/UN Photo.
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