Land's end

World Resources, 1994-95, A Guide to the Global Environment Publisher: Oxford University Press Price: not stated

By Bibek Debroy
Last Updated: Saturday 04 July 2015

THIS is the 6th in the World Resources series -- which provides information on environment and development -- and has a special focus on people and the environment. These chapters deal with natural resource consumption, population and the environment, and women and sustainable development. A 2nd section has a regional focus and has special reports on China and India. The 3rd and longish section is on conditions and trends: it has chapters on food and agriculture, forests and rangelands, biodiversity, energy, water, atmosphere and climate, industry, international institutions, and national and local policies and institutions. The India chapter covers familiar territory -- the balance sheet on social and economic development is presented in stark terms and bears repetition: India adds 3,000 babies every year to the national census count, which means that 16 per cent of the world's population has to be supported with 2.3 per cent of its land resources. In 1987-88, the poor totalled 238 million, 30 per cent of the country's population. About 40 per cent of India's population is malnourished; the national literacy rate was estimated at 52 per cent -- 39 per cent for women -- in 1991; in cities like Calcutta, Bombay, Delhi, Madras and Kanpur, one-third to half the population lives in slums and squatter settlements.

About 70 per cent of India's water is seriously polluted; sanitation services are available to about 48 per cent of the urban population, but to less than 3 per cent of the rural population; India's forests can sustainably provide 41 million cubic metres of fuelwood per year (current annual demand: 240 million cubic metres); soil degradation affects 85 million ha of farmland.

The report thankfully singles out some promising initiatives: controlling pollution in the Ganga, participatory forest management, wastelands development, Project Tiger, and incentives for pollution control. The key challenge is clearly one of sustainable food production. To quote, "India has a wealth of natural resources, but poverty and the rate of growth of its population, as well as increasing industrialisation, are straining those resources and increasing the risk of serious degradation."

The chapter on natural resource consumption carries some departures from conventional wisdom. It argues, for instance, that it is renewable resources that are in the greatest danger of depletion, not non-renewable resources. As a group, industrial countries are the source of most of the natural resources that they consume. But their natural resource consumption has had the most adverse impact on global environmental problems.

The chapter on the environmental impact of population growth concludes that the impact is not a simple function of population size: it depends on many other social factors. The chapter on women's role in sustainable development focuses on the fact that elevating the status of women, and education and health care, is crucial to achieving sustainable development.

The importance of this volume is in terms of the awareness it creates about environmental concerns. An Indian edition has also been planned. The volume's effectiveness is marred somewhat by editing and typographical errors.

Bibek Debroy is a former professor of the Indian Institute of Foreign Trade

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