Rising population: A drawback for India's sustainability
Sustainability is the key to the future of the human race. The rising population exerts pressure on available natural resources and commodities alike. This article briefly discusses the drawbacks faced by India due to the increasing population.
At present, the world faces challenges in environmental, social and economic quarters1. Over 1 billion people in the world are living in substandard accommodations, and the numbers are ever-increasing. India, in particular, has a projected population of more than 1.5 billion by the year 20502. For such a vast population, practising sustainable development requires global operations to convey original and lawful ambition towards additional economic and social improvement. It will require growth and employment, along with the establishment of provisions for the protection of the environment3. The rising population poses a challenge, especially to a developing country such as India, in terms of resources and necessities.
Is the current population and expected growth sustainable?
The past decades have witnessed an increase in life expectancy and decreased fertility rates. Living standards have risen, especially in urban domains4. The economy grew and diversified with the rising population, and food production kept pace with the growth5. However, India's environment paid the price, which worsened considerably during this period. This necessitates an examination of the links between population growth and the amount and abundance of natural resources. Studies have found that a growing population could potentially harm savings and capital formation6 including the extent of poverty7 and placing increased environmental pressures. A slower population growth rate would have experienced a higher per capita expenditure and enhanced quality. The current population of around 1.4 billion dilutes services such as health, sanitation, water and infrastructure significantly. The current life expectancy stands at 70 years on average, compared to 33 years in 19518 with a humongous population density standing at 460 people per square kilometer9.
It is a fair assumption that the progress made in the past 50 years would have been more remarkable had India's population growth been slower10. The rising population’s demands for employment, poverty reduction and food security depends on economic output, agriculture and imports. This, in turn, puts pressure on limited natural resources in the country11. It is particularly true, in the current situation, where extractive and carbon-intensive industries are the basis of economic growth. Moreover, the current pandemic has shown wide scale mismanagement and various loopholes in our policies and execution, which will only be compounded in the subsequent years if not amended. Growing population induces growth in agricultural production which further erodes the natural resources. We are suffering from rapid degradation of land, a high rate of deforestation, and lack of usable water. If India faces an acute problem anywhere arising from population growth, it is likely to be with water. The commonly accepted standard is 100 litres per person per day in developed nations12. A simple calculation will provide an estimate of the amount of water used by every household, which is unbelievable!
Human encroachment activity has transformed the ecosystem and the organisms living in it, and is even modifying the world's climate. The report of WWF asserts that the leading cause of habitat loss is human habitation, with urban areas doubling since 1992. Moreover, the growing population requires more food with an already persistent problems of malnutrition and hunger13. High population also causes migration, which is often triggered by economic opportunities, leading to urban areas getting increasingly congested. Currently, nearly 35% of the Indian population dwells in the cities. Rapid urban population growth has the potential to outdo the pace at which clean water, sanitation, health, jobs and education is offered. The coronavirus pandemic showed us the unhygienic living conditions which the poor experience. Pitiful sanitation, terrible social conditions, scarcity of resources and a general denial of this outbreak are the leading causes of the aggravated situation at this point of time.
Fig: Probabilistic projection of the population of India. Economic possibilities are intimately associated with the changing environmental conditions14. Industrial and technological developments have positive feedback with demand, and this demand pays the price on the limited resources that we possess. The environment suffers from the pollution which arises from industrial exhausts, effluents and waste and little has been done to combat it. Air pollution in many Indian cities has reached appalling levels, with two-thirds of the pollution coming from the exhaust of the numerous vehicles, the numbers of which are rising several times faster than the current human population15.
Being the second most populous nation, it is increasingly challenging to govern and execute new strategies to accommodate the swelling population . Environmental destruction could have been prevented if management and execution were done accurately with more rigorous product standards and enlightened consumer behaviour17. Sustainable development should be comprehensive and care for the needs of the poorest. Action oriented policies need to be determined, collaborative with potential for adaptation. Systematic production patterns might entail necessary price revisions, promoting the conservation of natural resources, reducing the rising inequality, and strengthening economic governance. Future studies could look for ways to curb the growing population and research tactics, policies and schemes to tackle this problem, which is turning into a disaster.
Subham completed the integrated BS-MS degree programme with a major in Earth Sciences from IISER Kolkata in 2020. He is the “drummer guy” of IISER Kolkata and takes interest in playing percussion instruments.
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