The two-way interaction between human beings and their immediate and global environments has been known and accepted for a long time. With rapid increases in population, economic activity and consumption-based lifestyles, generally the harmonious balance between human populations and the environment seems to be under constant threat. Efforts to examine or address perceived threats have not received universal approval, for various reasons. Some attempts alienate the human and make him or her appear as a destroyer to be excluded, rather than an integral part of the system. In many cases the scientific basis has been questioned.
The United Nations International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) could no unequivocally agree on the impact of population growth on the environment. This is because for the most part anecdotal and incomplete evidence exists of such impact. On the surface we find evidence like rapid rates of deforestation, soil erosion, localized climatic changes, loss of biodiversity and the destruction of coastal wetlands and marine fisheries in many parts of the world.
But what are the real problems? How do they manifest themselves at international to village levels? How can they be addressed to achieve environmental sustainability and a good quality of life for all people? Where do the social, economic, cultural, political and ecological issues come into play?
Many experts agree that one important element which keeps us from effectively analyzing or addressing the population and environmental impacts is the lack of much good quality scientific evidence. Although we may see superficial indicators or population impacts, we need to know with more scientific certainty how, for example, migration, urbanization, rapid population growth, tourism or the high rates of resource consumption affect the natural environment and ecosystems on which life depends.
The ICPD held in September 1994 helped bring these and many related issues to the forefront. Chapter Three of the ICPD Programme of Action included many references to population, environment as well as the need for additional research on these topics. Since then, the hard work to implement the ICPD has begun. As part of that effort, governments, non-governmental organizations (NGO's), scientists, and funding organizations are beginning to develop a scientific foundation for population and sustainability policy and field work.
To provide some answers, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) International Directorate's Program on Population and Sustainable Development (EHN) held a meeting in April, 1995 on "Human Population, Biodiversity and Protected Areas: Science and Policy Issues." During that meeting, specialists representing various disciplines from 14 countries came together to discuss the policy and field issues in need of scientific research on population, biodiversity and protected areas.
The results of the meeting, summarized in a set of recommendations which appear in this book, include how to look at population and biodiversity, identifying the policy, field, research and operational needs, and how to frame some of the research questions.
This was the first meeting that I attended where experts from the diverse fields of population and biodiversity participated. It was a critical initial step to addressing these two disciplines as inter-related parts of the human-environment interaction, and to have social scientists sit down with natural scientists, together with policy makers and natural resource managers. It was also a major contribution to understanding and tackling on vital aspect of the population and environment relationship. It is my hope that the recommendations made herein will contribute to specific actions by policy makers and field workers worldwide on human population's impact on biodiversity and protected areas.
Dr. Fred T. Sai, from Accra, Ghana, Chair of the EHN Meeting on "Human Population, Biodiversity and Protected Areas: Science and Policy Issues."
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