UPDATE - Earth on edge of a precipice - UN report
Author: Jeremy Lovell
"We are looking over a cliff here. It is a crisis of global proportions that needs to be addressed with some urgency," Alex Marshall, editor of the U.N. Population Fund's annual report for 2001 told a news conference.
The report, "Footprints and Milestones: Population and Environmental Change", said bluntly more people were using more resources more intensively than ever before.
"Putting this report together scared me stiff quite frankly," Marshall said.
But he added that a ray of hope lay in the fact that women were winning the war to control their fertility and had finally gained the ear of government and big business.
"One of the major changes is the increasing power of women's groups. Women are getting together as never before and are making changes," he said.
"Nearly 60 percent of women now have access to some sort of family planning - even if you take China out of that you still have about 40 percent," he explained in an interview to Reuters.
His report painted a bleak picture of the planet.
The world's population, which has doubled to 6.1 billion in the past 40 years, is projected to surge 50 percent to 9.3 billion within another half century, with all the growth in developing countries whose resources are already overstretched.
"By 2050, 4.2 billion people (over 45 percent of the global total) will be living in countries that cannot meet the daily requirement of 50 litres (11 Imp gallons) of water per person to meet basic needs," the report said.
AGENDA FOR EARTH SUMMIT TWO
It said water was being used and polluted at catastrophic rates.
At present 54 percent of available fresh water supplies is being used annually - two-thirds for agriculture.
This figure is set to surge to 70 percent by 2025 due to population growth alone, and 90 percent if consumption in the developing countries reaches the levels in the developed world.
Water was being used at unsustainable rates in many places, with water tables under some Chinese, Latin American and South Asian cities dropping by more than one metre (three feet) a year and water from seas and rivers being diverted with disastrous results.
The report said 1.1 billion people already did not have access to clean water, and in developing nations up to 95 percent of sewage and 70 percent of industrial waste was simply being dumped untreated into water courses.
The HIV/AIDS epidemic was threatening to swamp Africa and and was spreading very rapidly in Asia with four million people already infected in India alone out of a world total of 35 million carriers of the deadly disease, Marshall said.
The report said 15.5 million more people would die from HIV/AIDS over the next five years in the 45 most affected countries than would otherwise be the case.
On climate change, it said vital rain forests were being destroyed at the highest rate in history, taking with them crucial sources of biodiversity and contributing to global warming, thereby boosting already rising sea levels.
"We seem to be engaged in some vast experiment of which nobody knows the outcome," Marshall told the news conference, adding that he hoped his report would set the agenda for the second Earth Summit in Johannesburg next September.