Part 2: Issues in Sustainable Development

To the Instructor                                       

This issue block examines the interrelationships among population growth, rural-to-urban migration, and food security. Help your students recognize these interrelationships while at the same time facilitating their learning about each issue and ways to address it.

Population

Class activities on the issue of population can include simple math exercises demonstrating the power of exponential population growth, but emphasize poverty and policy, rather than simple fear, in discussing the problems of food supply and environmental degradation. Statistics—if available and reliable—and local reports on population trends and migration patterns will be useful.
 
Students should also be asked about the economic and cultural forces they have seen in their own lives and which have influenced decisions about migration and family size.

Population Assignment Questions

  1. Population: What are the most significant demographic trends occurring in the African region today?

    • (from AEO) Rapid population growth: in the period 1980-2000, the population of Sub-Saharan Africa increased from 469 million to 798 million. Rapid urbanization: in the same period, the proportion of the population living in cities increased from 28% to 39%, which means that the urban population was growing substantially faster than overall population.

  2. Interconnections: Population & Ecosystems: Explain some of the connections between rapid population growth and environmental degradation.

    • (from AEO) Rapid population growth outstrips available resources, leading to unsustainable use and eventual degradation, as in the case of the Alemaya lakes in Ethiopia, which have been almost completely drained as a result of increased demand for irrigation and drinking water associated with a rapidly growing population.
    • (from Determining the Impact) Total human impact on the environment is a function of technology and affluence, in addition to population. As population grows, the poor are pushed onto marginal land, and become the most visible agents of environmental destruction because they are forced to extract a living from a minimal amount of resources; but this does not mean that there is a direct relationship only between high fertility among the poor and environmental degradation.
  3. Interconnections: Population & Human Needs: Fertility, the number of children a woman gives birth to, is one of the central variables in studying demographic changes. Before the advent of modern medicine, populations were relatively stable throughout the world, with high mortality balanced by high fertility. As better health care and sanitation becomes available, infant and child mortality drops, and population growth accelerates. In most developed countries, a subsequent drop in fertility is observed, as women marry later, and couples choose to have fewer children. This process is referred to as the demographic transition, and it implies a strong relationship between increasing levels of human development, and decreasing average fertility. Explain some of the connections between fertility and poverty, education, and health.

    • (from UNFPA State of the World Population: Introduction, Poverty and Desired Family Size, and Economic Impact) Poor women universally tend to have more children than wealthier women. Low human development leads to higher fertility. Poor parents, especially in rural areas, may desire larger numbers of children than wealthier, more educated parents, to help with farm chores and to support the parents in old age. More significant is the fact that even when there is a desire for smaller families, poor and uneducated women are least likely to be aware of modern family planning techniques and contraception. High fertility also leads to low human development. Early marriage and children often interrupts schooling for young girls and health complications associated with frequent childbearing begin at a younger age. Families with large numbers of children are also unable to invest as much in the health and education of each child.

Human Settlements

Assist your students in understanding the effects of urbanization. While the concentration of people in cities makes sense economically, the growth of cities has been unplanned and has overwhelmed public services, especially in slums, where poor residents squat on unclaimed land with no access to municipal provisions of water, energy, and sanitation services.

Human Settlements Assignment Questions

  1. Human Settlements:  Rural-urban migration is one of the two main drivers of urban growth. What are some of the causes of rural-urban migration worldwide and in Africa particularly? What is the second most important driver of urban growth?

    • (from Different Speeds, Different Policies and Global Report on Human Settlements 2003) Natural increase and rural-urban migration both drive urban population growth. Natural increase is related to overall population growth caused by high fertility, both in cities and in the countryside. Rural-urban migration is caused by both push and pull factors. Push factors include rural famine, civil conflict, and environmental degradation. Pull factors include higher income in urban areas and better social support.

  2. Human Settlements: Describe the health problems that arise in slums.

    • (from Persistent Disparities) Informal housing in slums does not provide access to city infrastructure as such water, sewage, electricity, and waste collection. Overcrowding, combined with lack of infrastructure, results in an unhealthy, unsanitary environment with high incidence of disease, especially waterborne illness.

  3. Interconnections: Human Settlements & Oceans & Seas:  How do coastal populations threaten coastal ecosystems?

    • (From Coastal Area Pollution – The Role of Cities) Almost 80 percent of the pollution load in the oceans comes from land-based activities, both in coastal areas and further inland. Municipal, industrial, and agricultural wastes and run-off, as well as atmospheric deposition, affect the most productive areas of the marine environment, including estuaries and near-shore coastal waters. Inappropriate construction in the coastal zone also threatens the marine environment. One of the most damaging ways in which cities pollute coastal areas is the discharge of wastewater and sewage. Many coastal cities discharge sewage, industrial effluent, and other wastewater directly into their surrounding seas. Worldwide, two-thirds of the sewage from urban areas is discharged untreated into lakes, rivers and coastal waters.

Agriculture

Another important topic for bringing local perspectives to the classroom is the issue of food security, especially if there have been major famines in the recent past or in the local region.

Agriculture Assignment Questions

  1. Agriculture: Characterize the situation regarding food security and agriculture in Africa.

    • (from AEO) Rates of undernourishment are extremely high. For example, in 2003, 29 African countries reported rates of undernourishment between of between 20 and 75% of the population. The heaviest burden falls on women and children. Overall, about 26% of the people in Africa are undernourished. In spite of the majority of the labor force being engaged in agriculture, Africa also receives vast amounts of food aid and food imports to feed its population. In 2000, this amounted to $18,700 million in food imports, in addition to 2.8 tons of food aid.

  2. Agriculture: What role does irrigation play in agricultural productivity? What proportion of African agricultural land is irrigated?

    • (from AEO and Water Use in Agriculture) Irrigation increases the yield of most crops by one to four times. Irrigation also provides insurance against poor rainfall, leading to greater stability of production and income. More stable production in turn inspires investment in transportation infrastructure. Only 6% of the total cultivated land in Africa is irrigated. In Sub-Saharan Africa, only 4%. Lack of finance and water resources are major challenges to increasing the proportion of irrigated land.

Human Societies Discussion Questions

  1. The Cairo conference’s emphasis on reproductive decision making as a human right contrasted with traditional emphasis on enforcing low fertility levels to stem some of the harmful effects of rapid population growth. Does supporting reproductive rights and women’s empowerment lead to lower fertility and in turn to better human development and environmental outcomes? What other factors are involved?
  2. How does urbanization relate to food security? Is poverty a greater problem in rural areas or urban areas? Should one or the other be the priority? How are rural poverty and urban poverty related?