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Lecture details global population problems

Werner Fornos, president of the Population Institute, lectured at the Smith Center on Friday evening, discussing the problems the world faces as population growth continues at a rampant pace.

With already over half the world’s population living in urban areas, and two-thirds by the year 2050, Fornos believes the implications for understanding these issues are as important as ever.

Fornos addressed a filled conference room, citing that we must understand and be aware of population issues “before we commit a global blunder from which there is no recovery” and that “we have to realize what is at stake, and that is the future of this planet and of humanity itself.”

Also, he recognized the importance of the present as “in no other time in history, there are one billion young people between the ages of 15 and 24.” Fornos explained that this means that they “must understand the awesome responsibility of parenting” which will result in either “a better quality of life in the this century, or an environmental armageddon,” with “the four horsemen being deforestation, soil erosion, desert expansion and resource depletion.”

Fornos focused his talk on urban areas, and the growth of megacities, with 75 percent of the world’s resources concentrated in urban settings. The increased necessity of people in rural areas to move to the cities in this country has been due to the movement of jobs, and people are “drawn by the bright lights and neon signs for better opportunities.” This is no different in the third world, where “97 percent of population growth takes place.” In these countries, the poorest of cities are “terribly torn by civil strife and social unrest, and too many live in poverty.”

But even though cities such as Bombay, Karachi and Lagos “become socially disintegrated places, without sufficient health care, sufficient sanitation, sufficient fresh water supply and sufficient security, they still keep coming because the hopelessness of the rural countryside is driving them to the city to do anything to make them survive and have a better quality of life.”

Fornos also mentioned the fact that 2 billion people in this world live on less than a dollar a day, and that another billion more live off less than $2 a day.

The goal we must attempt to achieve, Fornos said, is to “motivate the political commitment to work towards a sustainable environment, towards a sustainable community, where live is indeed pleasant.”

Mexico City was given as an example, where businesses have been paid to leave the metropolitan area, and the employees followed, along with their families, creating a “magnet system which de-emphasized living in Mexico City.”

In China, 600 new cities are being created with emphasis on environmentally sustainable factors, in an attempt to “de-stabilize the mega cities” such as Shanghai.

In the United States and other industrialized nations, Fornos described that companies are reluctant to pay taxes, which has resulted in the relocation of these companies to the suburbs and the paving over of precious farmland, exacerbating the world food shortage problem.

Also, Fornos told of the often ignored water shortage problem, since only 1 percent of the world’s water is fit for human consumption, creating problems for access everywhere.

The former Maryland legislator and George Washington University professor also expressed the need to improve the lives of women and for true gender equality. He said equality “requires of us as fathers, husbands and policy makers, that we fight for women’s rights on all levels,” and that such actions were necessary for “better lives and a sustainable planet.”

Fornos feels that it is urgent to empower and educate women so that they may be in control of their own fertility, and to “get rid of such bestial practices such as female infanticide and female genital mutilation,” as there was “nothing cultural about such practices.”

Fornos finally called for living in a “smart world,” so that “we will not exceed our carrying capacity on this planet,” adding that “we must do much better” and “slow down population growth.” Fornos then closed his speech with four recommendations that he felt should be implemented globally: “the eradication of female illiteracy, full employment opportunity for women, reduction of infant mortality and universal access to knowledge of means to prevent unwanted pregnancies.”