Condom shortage said to worsen climate impact

21/09/2009 07:36

By Jim Efstathiou Jr.

(Bloomberg) -- Unwanted pregnancies in poor countries have led to higher demand for land and water, resources already taxed by climate change, according to research to be published by the World Health Organization.

Runaway population growth in countries such as Ethiopia and Rwanda where contraceptives are in short supply is exacerbating drought and straining fresh water supplies, said Leo Bryant, lead author of the study. Of 40 nations reviewed, 37 said rapid population growth worsened environmental damage.

Climate change has been blamed by scientists for increasing droughts, pushing up sea levels and causing floods from heavy rainfall in countries across the globe. The impact can be worse in developing nations where food and water already are in short supply and there is little funding to help communities adapt.

“It’s time to start looking at the environmental relevance of family planning,” Bryant, an advocacy manager for the London-based reproductive health-care provider Marie Stopes International, said yesterday in a telephone interview. “Reproductive health services ought to be integrated into the climate adaptation strategy.”

Bryant analyzed national plans to adapt to climate change submitted to the United Nations by 40 poorer countries. Most said demographic trends were “interacting” with climate change to speed the degradation of natural resources and raise the risk of extreme weather events. He said the findings are set to be published in November by the Geneva-based World Health Organization, which coordinates UN health policy.

Rwanda Family Planning

Population growth rates “have significant impacts on the state of the environment, aggravating vulnerability and adaptation needs,” the Pacific island nation of Kiribati said in a report to the UN. “In this respect, population policy is an important consideration of adaptation strategies.”

The 33-island archipelago risks being submerged in coming years because of higher seas and may purchase land elsewhere to relocate its people, President Anote Tong said in February.

In Rwanda, where only 10 percent of adults have access to reproductive health-care services and protection such as condoms, demographic pressures are forcing a migration to less- populated areas already prone to drought and desertification, Bryant said. In Bangladesh, a higher sea level is shrinking fresh water supplies even as a growing population demands more water.

East African Drought

Climate change and poor management of water resources is causing a “severe” drought in eastern Africa, according to The Netherlands-based Wetlands International, which promotes the restoration of wetlands. Kenya’s Lake Naivasha, normally a 30- hectare (74,000-acre) site, is in danger of vanishing, the group said.

“Unsustainable water use and pollution has driven the local farmers and fishermen into a situation where they can no longer live off the basic support and benefits of the wetlands,” an article on the group’s Web site said today.

Only six of the 37 countries that said population growth compounds water scarcity or threatens biodiversity proposed solutions through climate-adaptation plans, Bryant said. The world’s population is projected to grow from 6.8 billion people at present to 9.2 billion by 2050.

“We’re not in any way proposing that government should start telling people how many children to have,” Bryant said. “Children should be by choice. The problem is that a majority of people in sub-Saharan Africa don’t have that right because they don’t have access to contraception.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Jim Efstathiou Jr. in New York at