Threat to global stability?
A number of my posts have looked at what the world of the future may be like. There will be some great technology and medical advances, but there will also be a widening gap between rich and poor; the rapid growth of megacities in the developing world; increasing scarcity of conventional oil resources; loss of species and habitats. And the one that really worries me: flash mobs – groups of criminals and terrorists who suddenly gather in a public space to organise themselves into action, responding to socio-economic issues.
But here’s a threat to global security that I perhaps didn’t pay much attention to before I read this article in Reuters. A United Nations study has been released and highlights the issue of desertification. Sub-Saharan Africa and Central Asia are facing the environmental challenge of desert areas encroaching on lands and agriculture. The report was put together by 200 experts from 25 countries and says that tens of millions of people could be forced from their homes, creating an international refugee problem and social turmoil. Specifically, some 50 million people could be displaced within the next 10 years. One third of the Earth’s population could be vulnerable to desertification and surrounding societies may be threatened by instability.
The causes of desertification are numerous: land over-use, climate change, unsustainable irrigation practices, degradation of soil and so on. Here’s a BBC map – showing the human impact on deserts in 2000 and 2050. Interestingly, the UN Report points the finger of blame at climate change. You can get a copy of the UN Report here from the United Nations University site – pdf version entitled “Rethinking Policies to Cope with Desertification“.
New Statesman has news of another UN Report that highlights the rapid growth of the urban population in Africa – it will double in size to 742 million by 2030 and the result will be a dramatic increase in the number of teenagers living in extreme poverty. By 2030, 80 per cent of the world’s urban population will live in the developing world and 60 per cent will be under 18. This is consistent with what I’ve been reading about the world of the future: inhabited by a majority of young people living in less well-off circumstances. It’s referred to as the “youth bulge”.
The consequences of jam-packed megacities are obvious: squalor, infections and disease, lack of access perhaps to essential services, civil unrest and violent crime as people struggle to survive, fortress mini-cities existing side by side with slums and so on. Without a solution to this problem and well-planned cities, there will be growing pressure on natural resources as the Earth herself struggles to cope with an expanded and demanding population. In East Africa, the average time spent waiting for water increased from 28 minutes each day in 1967 to 92 minutes a day in 1997 – how will the region cope when the population doubles in 20 or 30 years from now?
You can check out the full copy of the UN Report entitled “State of the World Population 2007: Unleashing the Potential of Urban Growth” here at the United Nations Population Fund site.