17 March 2020
New high-resolution satellites, AIs, and data tools are going to let us study Earth, and ourselves, in greater detail than ever before.
New high-resolution satellites, AIs, and data tools are going to let us study Earth, and ourselves, in greater detail than ever before.
With the globally adopted Sustainable Development Goals, future demographic trends may be affected around the world.
Disturbing trends in men’s reproductive health demand urgent attention
A recent meta-analysis by Levine and colleagues1 showing significant declines in sperm counts among men in the Western world caught considerable media attention.2 The Levine study followed a similar report in The BMJ 25 years ago.3 Should we be concerned? Is male reproductive health really at risk?
Meta-analyses have some inherent limitations. However, an important and often overlooked point about data on the quality of semen is that trend data should be interpreted with a holistic view of male reproductive health problems, including parallel trends in testicular germ cell cancer (TGCC). Incidence of this cancer has risen substantially over the past few decades, particularly in young men.4 Increases seem to be occurring even in countries that have had low incidence. TGCC is linked to risk of poor semen quality: reports suggest that countries with a high incidence of this cancer have generally lower semen quality and vice versa.5
Another good reason to pay special attention to the trends in testicular cancer is that registry data are considered to reflect true disease incidence. There are no large screening programmes that might skew incidence rates, as there are with cancers such as prostate. Importantly, strong clinical evidence exists that testicular cancer and spermatogenic disorders are biologically interrelated.6 This relation seems to have a fetal origin—congenital cryptorchidism is a risk factor for both TGCC and poor semen quality.67 One hypothesis is that these male reproductive disorders may be linked through a testicular dysgenesis syndrome,89 also affecting the function of testosterone producing Leydig cells. The serum testosterone concentrations among healthy men in the US, Denmark, and Finland have shown noteworthy falls over recent decades.1011
What could be causing such disturbing trends? The short answer is that we do not know. However, data suggesting that the incidence of testicular cancer has more than doubled in recent decades4 leaves little doubt that we should look into environmental causes— including lifestyle effects. Alterations in our genome cannot explain the observations as changes have occurred over just a couple of generations.
Environmental exposures can come through food, water, skin, and work and home environments. Both wildlife research and experimental studies suggest that modern lifestyles are associated with increased exposure to various endocrine disrupting chemicals such as pesticides that together may be harmful to wildlife and humans even though exposure to individual chemicals is low.1213 However, little has been done to explore their potential effects on semen quality and testicular cancer. In particular, studies of maternal exposures in pregnancy and the subsequent reproductive function of their sons are needed.
Should we be worried about our future ability to reproduce ourselves, as some media coverage has claimed?14 This inconvenient question makes sense when we look at what is going on in fertility clinics all over the world—more and more children are now born after in vitro fertilisation, intracytoplasmic sperm injection, and insemination with partner or donor sperm.15 However, despite increased use of assisted reproduction, fertility rates in many countries remain well below the replacement rate of an average of 2.1 children per woman. In many European countries, including Germany, Japan, and Singapore, fertility rates range between 1.0 and 1.5, and fertility has become important in political and economic debates.
In order to help future generations we must act now to prioritise new basic and clinical research programmes in reproductive medicine. Simple research questions urgently need answers. What is the role of exposure to endocrine disrupting chemicals in reproductive trends? What is the role of lifestyle factors, including recreational drugs? What is the role of dysgenesis of fetal testis caused by maternal exposures? Why is the incidence of testicular cancer increasing among young men of reproductive age?
Medical researchers cannot do it alone. We need health and research authorities that can see the urgent need for research in reproductive medicine, not just more infertility treatments, which are a short term solution for individuals not for the fertility of future generations. It’s even possible that the use of intracytoplasmic sperm injection to overcome poor semen quality may be producing new generations with poor reproductive health.16
We have already waited too long. As New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof recently wrote: “Our human future will only be as healthy as our sperm.”17
A Response to David Roberts’ Self-Censorship on Overpopulation
Reading David Roberts’ recent explanation of why he never writes on overpopulation, I felt compelled to reply. While Roberts made a set of superficially convincing arguments, ultimately he’s wrong not to focus directly on the population pressures we’re facing. Not confronting population head-on is like looking out the window of a plane and realizing you’re about to crash but refusing to tell the other passengers about the impending crash. Instead you spend your remaining moments convincing people that it’s “empowering” to wear their seat belts. That it’s a good for their health to put their laptops away and hold their head between their legs. Sure, you’ll convince some—and those you do convince might be better off—but you’ll convince far fewer as the sense of urgency is gone.
Reducing the global population is essential in addressing humanity’s impact on the planet—along with reducing overall consumption (affluence) and the use of unsustainable technologies (all variables in the I = PAT equation). And after the missteps of the Sierra Club and some governments, Roberts can be excused for why he feels it may be smarter to simply address the P in the equation indirectly by focusing on women empowerment and providing good access to family planning (and I would add providing comprehensive sexuality education to all children, as Mona Kaidbey and Robert Engelman and discuss in EarthEd: Rethinking Education on a Changing Planet). But that won’t be enough.
Stabilizing population is urgent. The goal should not simply be to nudge along a little less growth so population stabilizes at 9 billion rather than 9.5 or 10 billion. Instead, we need to make a long term plan to get population back to a manageable range. How far to scale population back, as noted 10 years ago by Roberts in another essay on why he doesn’t talk about population, “is up for debate, but probably a lot.” Some, including Paul Ehrlich, have suggested the ideal population range is around 1-3 billion, depending on how badly we have damaged the Earth’s systems and how much we want to consume moving forward. If Roberts is serious when he says he wants poor countries to be less poor “than their forebearers” then that means the Affluence variable in the I = PAT equation will increase. Yes, affluence elsewhere must shrink in accordance (and I wholeheartedly agree that wealth inequities need to be grappled with as does consumerism more broadly), but our population—particularly the 2-3 billion of us in the global consumer class—is completely overwhelming Earth’s systems.
In Is Sustainability Still Possible?, Jennie Moore and William Rees explored what a one-planet lifestyle would look like (in a world with 7 billion not 9.5 billion) and their analysis shows that if we lived within Earth’s limits, gone would be the days of driving personal vehicles, flying, eating meat, living in large homes, and essentially the entire consumer society that we know today. Frankly, that’s fine with me, considering the ecological, social and health costs of modern society—but most will not accept that. And considering that—and that policymakers and economists and even most environmentalists still believe further economic growth is possible and even beneficial—it’s increasingly hard to imagine any scenario other than a horrifying ecological collapse in our future.
That is another reason why we should prioritize population degrowth. Every million people not born is a million not to die when climate change brings about terrible flooding, droughts, disasters and famines it will in the increasingly near future. And please don’t take this to the absurd extreme that, ‘well, let’s just stop reproducing altogether and then there’ll be no suffering.’ I’m not saying people should have no children at all (here’s another Tucker Carlson video for you to enjoy, this one with the founder of the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement). But people should have far fewer—particularly in overdeveloped countries like the United States. I personally chose to have one child, even though both my wife and I would like to have a second. But I deemed it morally irresponsible, or in the words of bioethicist Travis Rieder probably not ‘honorable’ to have a second, particularly knowing what’s in store for our kids in the coming century, and knowing that by living in the United States, I am a ravenous consumer no matter how hard I try to be otherwise.
Roberts also selectively focuses on history to better make his point—providing examples of the Sierra Club brouhaha but not the work of all the population organizations that helped shift population trends in a positive direction. And while there have certainly been tragic missteps—such as India’s efforts at forced sterilization—there have been unqualified successes. In his book Countdown, Alan Weissman describes the amazing case study of Iran, which through a focused campaign, reduced population growth dramatically. Yes, the primary tactics were to provide free family planning and education, which I don’t think anyone will disagree are very smart tactics, but the government was clear in its goal and the urgency—and also supplemented its efforts with social marketing to create a smaller “normal” family size, including advertisements on TV, banners, and billboards that “One is good. Two is enough.” Similar successes can be seen in the efforts of the Population Media Center that uses soap operas to shift norms around population size.
While I don’t know if the numbers were or could ever be estimated, efforts like Iran’s and PMC’s, like Stephanie Mills committing so publicly to never have children at the height of her reproductive years, and Paul Ehrlich capturing the public’s attention with his warnings about the population bomb, all of this helped focus our collective attention on population issues in the 1960’s and 70’s and helped slow population growth.
Ultimately, Ehrlich, with as much criticism as he receives, was not wrong about the population bomb. His warnings and the efforts they helped trigger—along with the Green Revolution—allowed us to extend the fuse. But in all those years, the fissile material has also been building, and when the bomb finally explodes, the shockwaves will be felt around the world. In fact, even Norman Borlaug, the father of the Green Revolution warned, “Unless progress with agricultural yields remains very strong,” which Borlaug noted cannot continue indefinitely unless we cut down our forests, which he implored us not to do, “the next century will experience sheer human misery that, on a numerical scale, will exceed the worst of everything that has come before.”
As for immigrants—sure it probably wasn’t the best idea for Professor Phil Cafaro to go on Tucker Carlson’s show to support anti-immigrant sentiments, but Cafaro’s point is valid, even if uncomfortable and confusing for progressives. Until America has a one-planet footprint, all new immigrants are going to increase global impacts because they’ll consume more in the US than in their home countries. (This even suggests all adoption ideally should be domestic, which is a-whole-nother can of worms!)
That’s not to say we should ban immigration or foreign adoption, but it means we should have a clear plan around immigration (along with one on reducing American consumption) and we should offset immigration by reductions in births of Americans (easier done if we have a population goal in mind for the United States). This offset is essentially what’s happening in European countries that have smaller than replacement rate birthrates—but the problem there is that this cultivates anti-immigrant sentiments as white European populations suddenly darken. With America at least, we have always been an immigrant nation so theoretically we could adapt, though obviously the current administration and its supporters are fomenting the same fears and biases that Americans have shown since its early days, as waves of immigrants from Ireland, Southern Europe, China, and Mexico started arriving.
Is it so scary or morally fraught to start advocating for a smaller global population—or at the very least start talking openly about population challenges? Is it impossible to imagine nurturing a one-child family size norm in the US and Europe (where each child’s impact is many times greater than a child’s in a developing country)? One is good. Two is enough. Three is too many.
As Roberts notes, momentum is already bringing us toward smaller family sizes—but that same momentum is also bringing us toward higher consumption rates. Some smart social marketing and celebrity modeling could bring us toward population reductions quicker. Breaking the myth that sole children are spoiled and lonely—as Bill McKibben did in his great book Maybe One—would be a good place to start. As would showing the economic and environmental benefits of having one child. And so would making it cool to have one child. Perhaps that’s the marketing slogan we use: “It’s Hip to Have One.”
And let developing countries shape their own population targets so as to avoid the obvious criticisms of imperialism (maybe it’s even time for a Framework Convention on Population Growth to go along with the Framework Convention on Climate Change—so all countries can feel ownership in this effort). But clearly, population stabilization is as important in developing countries—not because of the immediate effects on human impact (I), but because as Earth systems finally break down after the decades of abuse we’ve delivered, people are going to retreat from their flooding towns, their drought stricken lands, their war-torn regions, and they’re going to have to go somewhere. And then the right-wing extremists will say “we told you so,” waving their copies of Camp of Saints in their hands as they do, and be perfectly poised to take over more government institutions—and that may be the population crisis’ scariest outcome of all.
Supporters’ contributions to our podcast on population and climate change show exactly why we need to talk about this issue
Listen to the podcast here
Many readers ask why childless lifestyles are not more actively promoted by politicians and celebrated in societies.
Many readers ask why childless lifestyles are not more actively promoted by politicians and celebrated in societies. Photograph: Sergei Fadeichev/TASS
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Vicky Frost and Guardian supporters
Saturday 7 October 2017 07.41 EDT Last modified on Saturday 7 October 2017 08.08 EDT
Last month, on these pages, I asked if you might get in touch with your questions and thoughts on population and climate change. You did – in some numbers. These generous contributions form the heart of the latest edition of We Need to Talk About …, our podcast featuring supporters’ voices, in which your concerns are addressed by a panel of Guardian journalists and experts.
As a starting point, we used a Guardian article with an arresting headline: Want to fight climate change? Have fewer children. In the podcast, we hear from one of the academics who produced the research which this article refers to, but equally interesting were your responses to this issue, and the discussions they prompted in our studio.
That’s why we’ve decided to publish some of them here. While we aim to hear from lots of voices and include differing points of view on the podcast, a lack of time means we sometimes have to cut people short, or use one person to represent the views of several who have contacted us making similar points. Here, we can give members a bit more space to air their views.
You can listen to the panel respond to them – our line-up is Damian Carrington, the Guardian’s environment editor; Lucy Lamble, the Guardian’s executive editor for global development, who often writes on and takes part in debates on global inequality; John Vidal, the multi-award winning former Guardian environment editor and Afua Hirsch, a writer and broadcaster for the Guardian and SkyNews among others, who has also worked in international development and the law.
But first gain a flavour of the concerns of your fellow readers below. Many of these questions appear in the podcast, while others influenced the direction in which we headed.
Poor allocation of resources is the problem – Kevin, Canada
The issue isn’t overpopulation – it’s poor resource allocation. We do not live in a world of lack, but of extreme waste and inefficiency. This is true of food, energy, land use and the financial system. The overpopulation argument is a way to once again deflect from real societal change that is needed, and instead focuses the discussion on families, usually poor families, having too many children.
While it is likely that the Earth does have some sort of maximum carrying capacity, even that is not guaranteed with recent technological advancements such as vertical farming. The question is whether those technological advancements will be put to use to raise the standard of living for every human being on the planet, or are put towards continuing to line the pockets of the wealthiest individuals and their investors.
We consume without asking where these things come from – Cristina, Brazil
To my mind, it is not the countries in Africa, or groups with a more traditional and much simpler way of life – such as Native people in North and South America, for instance – that have caused so many environmental problems, but the irrationality and consumerism of our western society. It is the fact that we consume without truly asking ourselves where all these goods come from, how they were produced, what the environmental impact is of producting all these mostly useless things. Unless we seriously address these questions, I cannot see any significant change or serious solution to climate change.
A convenient way to blame others – Marc, France
I‘ve often noticed that some westerners, who have no agenda at all on any environmental question, are keen to invoke “overpopulation” as the main and only threat to survival on Earth. Is overpopulation just a convenient way for westerners to put the blame on Africans for the environmental threats we face?
Entitlement to reproduce - Clare, UK
How can those with the largest carbon footprint be encouraged not to reproduce, when they are ones who make the greatest impact and have the greatest sense of entitlement?
Access to contraception faces a barrier: the church – Angela, UK
Pope Francis recently condemned climate change sceptics. He is passionate about protecting the planet and has called on everyone to care for creation, particularly as climate change disproportionately impacts the poor.
The Catholic church runs 25% of health and education systems worldwide and therefore, through its direct teaching and management, significantly reduces safe access to contraception for millions of women. No debate on controlling population growth and subsequent pollution can therefore exist without tackling this institutional barrier to action. Last year over 170 theologians issued a statement saying there was no reason for the Catholic church’s position against “artificial” contraception.
How does the panel feel the church can continue to do great work on this issue, yet continue to block safe access to contraception for some of the world’s poorest women?
Women are being denied choice about pregnancy – Sally, Hong Kong
I am a gynaecologist working in Hong Kong, occasionally counselling women considering having another child. If someone is ambivalent about doing so, I add into the decision-making the idea that having more children impacts climate change.
Since I was a teenager in the 1970s, I have believed it is a woman’s right to choose whether to continue a pregnancy. Working as a volunteer in an African country where abortion is illegal, I have seen women saved from death after trying to procure an abortion themselves. They were lucky – the hospital was nearby, there were good doctors, antibiotics, surgery, and blood transfusion.
2017: the year we lost control of world population surge?
In African countries where abortion is often illegal, an unmet need for contraception is also common. I applied for a volunteer job in northern Uganda where women having five to six children is the norm; when asked, they say they would have preferred three or four .
Donald Trump’s global gag rule which removes US aid from any NGO providing contraceptive advice, is a huge problem. Not only because maternal mortality due to abortion deaths will rise in Africa, but also because the UNFPA [UN population fund] will stop training midwives, and the resulting reduction in maternal mortality will diminish. In addition, there will be greater unmet need for contraception.
With good information couples will do the right thing – Dave, US
Do you think our society can reach the point where choosing to have fewer children as an essential carbon-cutting strategy is as widely understood as conserving energy?
As a parent I would take a bullet for either of my two children. I’m certain almost all parents would do just about anything to ensure their kids have a decent life. Knowing this, I cannot help but feel that if young couples around the world have good information they will do the right thing. If they understand the ramifications of their family-size decisions on the quality of life – chance of survival even – of their children, then they will make the most loving, compassionate decision possible: to conceive no more than one child.
We are failing to get the family-size issue across – Alison, UK
I joined Population Matters, an organisation that promotes smaller family size and reduced consumption, to find like-minded people and put my energies into a worthwhile organisation. I appreciate the impact we are having on the environment, and am mindful of that. However, I have found people around me such as family, friends and colleagues are largely not interested, or suggest they should have the freedom to do as they please.
How do we start making a difference? Also we seem to have failed with high-profile individuals, royals and celebrities in particular. So what happens now?
What will persuade people? Money? – Gwyneth, UK
We have to reduce the population, hopefully not by severe climate change, war or disease. China’s one-child solution would not be accepted by most people. What do experts suggest? It seems money has the only power over most people. Should we pay people not to have children?
Politicians don’t talk about this – Mike, UK
How do we get politicians to talk seriously about the links between population and climate change? The last three elections in the UK have barely mentioned the environment. Is there an agreement between the political parties to avoid this discussion?
Childless lifestyles need promoting – Michelle, UK
I like children, but have never felt that I would like to have my own.
I am very regularly treated as odd for this decision, and feel that if we don’t open up the discussion about not having children, people will never consider this decision thoroughly, whether for the environment or other reasons.
In the past three years, I have made a number of lifestyle changes in order to reduce my carbon footprint – which has only further cemented my feeling that I don’t want children. I often feel like I need to keep having what can be sometimes difficult conversations with people about this choice, so as to build conversation momentum around the subject. Alternative lifestyles need to be promoted. I would like to focus on supporting and improving the lives of people already on the planet.
Can we ditch our pro-reproduction stance? – Tet-Wo, New Zealand
I have made the decision to be childfree, largely due to environmental reasons. As a childfree person, I am constantly surprised how this decision is commonly questioned by others as being a poor or “selfish” choice when the evidence suggests that it is anything but.
Given the evidence that having fewer children isthe greatest decision one can make to combat climate change, do the panel think that society can switch from having a pro-reproduction stance, where policies promote reproduction and society views having children as the “correct” choice, to a neutral stance, where having children is considered optional and policies are made to promote other means of having a fulfilled life?
The global megacity boom
From left: Tokyo, Shanghai, Mexico City, Mumbai, New York City. Photos: AP. Collage by Erica Pandey / Axios
As of 1975, there were three metro areas with at least 10 million people â€” Tokyo, New York and Mexico City. A list of the 10 largest cities at that time would have included Paris (now 25th), Moscow (22nd) and Los Angeles (21st). Now there are 31 megacities with at least 10 million people, and most of them are in the developing world. The UN projects 10 more will join the list by 2030, and all but one (BogotÃ¡) is in Africa or Asia.
The Big Picture: 518 million people (7% of the global population) now live in megacities of 10 million or more people. That's a tenfold increase from four decades ago, and it's radically changing the way people live, work and view the world.
The world's largest metro areas
Tokyo, Japan. 38 million
At a glance: Japan's capital is major international financial center and has the biggest economy of any global metro area. Tokyo's restaurants have by far the most Michelin stars of any city.
GDP per capita: $43,884
Population in 1975: 27 million (Rank: 1st)
New Delhi, India. 26 million
At a glance: India's capital has been inhabited for at least 2,500 years, and boasts multiple world heritage sites. Its growing economy draws significant foreign investment. It is also one of the world's most polluted cities.
GDP per capita: $16,861
Population in 1975: 4.4 million (Rank: Outside top 10)
Shanghai, China. 26 million
At a glance: Shanghai is the world's biggest shipping port and China's financial hub. As the Economist writes, it is in the midst of a "cultural transformation."
GDP per capita: $32,684
Population in 1975: 7.3 million (Rank: Outside top 10)
Sao Paulo, Brazil. 21 million
At a glance: A diverse, cosmopolitan city, Sao Paulo has the biggest economy of any city in Latin America, though it lacks the glamour of nearby Rio de Janeiro.
GDP per capita: $27,366
Population in 1975: 13 million (Rank: 5th)
Mumbai, India. 21 million
At a glance: India's financial capital is also the home of the Bollywood film industry. 41 billionaires live in Mumbai, but more than half of the population resides in slums.
GDP per capita: $10,147
Population in 1975: 7.1 million (Rank: Outside top 10)
Mexico City, Mexico. 21 million
At a glance: Mexico's sprawling capital city was first settled by the Aztecs. It's the center of Mexico's politics and economy.
GDP per capita: $23,017
Population in 1975: 11 million (Rank: 3rd)
Beijing, China. 20 million
At a glance: China's capital city is home to many cultural landmarks, including the Forbidden City and Temple of Heaven. It's home to 52 Fortune Global 500 companies, the most of any city. Air pollution is a significant concern.
GDP per capita: $30,335
Population in 1975: 6 million (Rank: Outside top 10)
Osaka, Japan. 20 million
At a glance: Historically the center of Japanese cuisine and commerce, Osaka is less flashy than Tokyo but has one of the largest economies of any city in the world.
GDP per capita: $36,335
Population in 1975: 10 million (Rank: 4th)
Cairo, Egypt. 19 million
At a glance: An ancient city with some of the world's most impressive Islamic architecture, Egypt's capital also has a bustling metro system. It was the site of the Tahrir Square protests in 2011.
GDP per capita: $7,843
Population in 1975: 6 million (Rank: Outside top 10)
New York, USA. 19 million
At a glance: A global center of finance and the arts, New York has been the largest U.S. city since the country's first census and was the world's largest for some of the 20th century. It is home to the United Nations.
GDP per capita: $74,000
Population in 1975: 16 million (Rank: 2nd)
Of the world's 31 megacities, 6 are in China and 5 are in India. By 2030, both countries will have 7 megacities.
There will be 8 cities with ~25 million or more people by 2030 â€” we may soon need a new definition for what qualifies as a megacity.
Six of the world's 10 largest cities are in Asia. Zero are in Europe.
Worth noting: Estimates of urban populations vary widely, mainly because the boundaries and definitions used can be subjective. All of the population data cited above comes from the United Nations.
GDP data (via Brookings)
by Alex Whiting | @AlexWhi | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Tuesday, 3 October 2017 10:03 GMT
Infections resistant to antibiotics are the greatest threat to human health
By Alex Whiting
ROME, Oct 3 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Giving farm animals too many antibiotics can stoke resistance to the drugs, and despite countries taking measures to curb their use in agriculture, in populous nations such as China and India antibiotic use on farms is expected to soar.
Farming experts say action is needed - especially as global demand for meat rises - to curb drug resistance.
Infections resistant to antibiotics are the greatest threat to human health, the World Health Organization (WHO) warned last month, and by 2050 some 50 million people a year may be dying of drug resistant infections, according to a major review in 2015.
"Resistance develops when bugs are exposed to antibiotics, and so the more they're exposed the faster the resistance develops," Liz Tayler at WHO said in an interview.
The more antibiotics are given to animals, or people, the more likely drug-resistant bugs will affect people's health, she said.
"Their poo gets into the system, their meat gets into the system, they pee out the antibiotics that go into the water that then humans consume," she said.
As growing and wealthier populations consume more meat, antibiotic use in agriculture is expected to increase by 67 percent between 2010 and 2030, according to the World Bank. In Brazil, China, India, Russia and South Africa, antibiotic use could double in the same period.
Although some countries have made progress in cutting their use in farming, many have a long way to go.
"The fact that the agricultural sector is starting to talk about it and get involved is very encouraging," said Tayler, who is helping develop national action plans on drug resistance.
"But actually implementing things on the ground and going to scale, particularly in poorer countries, is really very slow and very, very worrying," she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Several European countries have significantly cut their use.
The United States, where each year at least 2 million people become infected with resistant bacteria and 23,000 die as a result, has introduced a voluntary ban on the use of medically important antibiotics to promote animal growth.
Fast-food chain McDonald's has stopped serving chicken in the United States which has been treated with antibiotics which are important for human medicine. It plans to roll this out globally by 2027.
DON'T CUT OUT ANTIBIOTICS
Farmers use antibiotics to treat sick animals, and prevent an infection from spreading on a farm. They are also used in intensive farming to speed the growth of animals.
The use of antimicrobials - which include antibiotics used to treat bacterial infections, and other drugs used against parasites, viruses and fungi - is crucial for food safety and quality, says the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
"(It) is not simply a matter of taking antimicrobials away, because they are vital ... for animal welfare, food safety and security," said Suzanne Eckford, antimicrobial resistance officer at FAO.
But they should not be used as a substitute for good farm hygiene and better ways of managing animals, she said.
Changes needed include better tracking of animals from farm to consumer, regulation of antibiotic use and better hygiene on farms, said Juan Lubroth, chief veterinary officer at FAO.
"If you ask if we're doing enough to diminish the use, I'd say no we're not, because we don't have the systems or research in place to be able to offer possible alternatives," he said.
Research is needed to produce more affordable and quality animal vaccines, develop alternative treatments to antibiotics, and improve diagnostics, he said.
More than half of countries lack strong laws governing the use of antibiotics, according to the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE).
In many countries, farmers - as well as patients - can buy antibiotics over the counter without a prescription. They can also end up buying cheaper, but ineffective, counterfeit drugs being sold in the street.
KNOWLEDGE IS KING
It took European countries decades to make the changes needed to address the issue, so countries like Burundi, Bolivia or Bhutan cannot be expected to do it overnight, Lubroth said.
The first step is to know where drugs are being used, how much are used, and improve veterinary services in developing countries, said Matthew Stone, OIE's deputy director general.
"Encouraging a worldwide statutory ban is not going to be effective when the veterinary services don't have the basic means of regulating the use of antimicrobials, let alone the ability to regulate for and enforce a ban," he said.
In the meantime the clock is ticking.
Some cheap and - until recently - highly effective antibiotics can no longer be used to treat people in many countries, said WHO's Tayler.
There have even been signs of emerging resistance to the antibiotic colistin which is used as a last resort to save people's lives when all other drugs have failed.
The impact of losing cheap and effective antibiotics for treating people will be felt hardest in developing countries, Tayler said.
"They have more infection sloshing around, less other ways to treat it," she said. "...nearly every country has got more to do". (Reporting by Alex Whiting @Alexwhi, Editing by Ros Russell.; Please credit the Thomson
ULAN BATOR, Mongolia — The land beneath Dolgor Dashnyam’s home is wet and gritty and smells of decay. Here, atop one of Ulan Bator’s largest landfills, Ms. Dashnyam lives under a roof made of soggy mattresses. She spends her days rummaging through piles of gin bottles and discarded animal bones, picking up pieces of scrap metal to sell in order to buy water and bread.
Ms. Dashnyam, 55, was once an ambitious college graduate who dreamed of owning a farm and getting rich. But a scarcity of affordable housing has pushed her and thousands of low-income residents to the fringes of Ulan Bator, the city of 1.4 million that is Mongolia’s capital, where they struggle for basic necessities like food and clean water.
“Nobody cares about us,” said Ms. Dashnyam, who makes about $3 a day and says she has been unable to obtain government-subsidized housing. She was laid off from a job in farming. “We don’t exist.”
Hundreds of thousands of people have flocked to Ulan Bator in recent years, drawn by the promise of high-paying jobs and a path to the middle class. Many are fleeing harsh conditions in the countryside brought on by climate change, with droughts and bitter winters devastating fields and livestock.
But city life has grown increasingly bleak. While luxury high-rises are plentiful along sleek downtown streets, affordable housing is scarce. Homelessness is rising, advocates for the poor say, as an economic slowdown hurts jobs and wages. Pollution is worsening, and access to public resources like electricity and sewers is strained.
Ulan Bator, nestled in a valley about 4,400 feet above sea level, was never designed to house more than a few hundred thousand residents. Now it is on course to expand indefinitely, raising fears that the government may not be able to keep up with the influx of migrants.
City officials, citing concerns about a lack of space at schools and an overburdened welfare system, said this year that Ulan Bator would not accept any more rural migrants. The government has cautioned against constructing homes in some areas because of the dangers of overcrowding.
Still, many Mongolians are defiant. On craggy hillsides and rocky plains, they are setting up makeshift shacks and gers, or yurts, the traditional homes of Mongolian nomads.
On a secluded hill in northern Ulan Bator, Enkh-amgalan Tserendorj, 50, washed clothes outside the family yurt, where she and her husband have lived since last year. Ms. Tserendorj said she did not want to live so far from downtown but had no choice. Under Mongolian law, citizens are entitled to claim small plots of land of about 7,500 square feet — about 700 square meters — leaving many people struggling to find attractive spaces.
“It’s unfair,” she said. “Every good piece of land is occupied.”
Ms. Tserendorj’s 26-year-old son has tuberculosis, and she said the family’s isolation had made it difficult to find proper medical care. She said she was also concerned by a lack of reliable electricity and the threat of natural disasters like landslides.
Ulan Bator’s government has vowed to invest billions in affordable housing by 2030 and to begin transforming several yurt districts into residential complexes. The government hopes to have 70 percent of its citizens living in apartments by 2030, compared with about 40 percent right now. The city’s population is estimated to increase to 1.6 million by 2020, and 2.1 million by 2030, from 1.4 million in 2015.
But advocates say the government’s housing plan falls short. And some worry that the city does not do enough to protect residents who are forced by the government to leave their homes to make way for new construction.
“Families are living in fear that they will be left homeless,” said Nicholas Bequelin, the East Asia director for Amnesty International in Hong Kong. “The authorities are falling short in their responsibilities to protect residents’ rights.”
Climate change has intensified the pressure to resolve the housing crisis. Mongolia has been particularly hard hit, with a series of devastating droughts. Temperatures are also on the rise; this summer was the hottest in more than a half-century.
Gandavaa Mandakh, a former herder, moved to Ulan Bator three years ago from a town in southern Mongolia after losing dozens of cows, camels, goats and sheep during harsh winters.
Mr. Mandakh, 38, now works as a taxi driver; his wife works as a cook at a Korean restaurant. They have three children and earn about $500 per month.
“Of course, we have many problems here,” he said, noting the city’s bad traffic and overcrowded schools. “But it’s still better than staying in the countryside.”
In a yurt a few miles away, Dolgorsuren Sosorbaram, 59, a retired private business owner and a lifelong resident of Ulan Bator, said she had grown tired of rampant air pollution, which can reach hazardous levels in the winter. She said that life in the city was becoming too difficult and that the government should do more to encourage city residents to take up jobs in the countryside.
“There’s no more space here,” Ms. Sosorbaram said as she yanked stalks of flowering yellow wormwood from the ground outside her home. “It’s time for us to return to our roots in the countryside.”
While Ulan Bator once offered the promise of riches, a sharp economic slowdown has brought fresh anxiety. Mongolia’s economy, which depends heavily on mining, was once a darling of global investors, growing by 17.3 percent in 2011 as commodity prices surged. It has sputtered in recent years, expanding 1 percent last year and 5.3 percent in the first half of this year.
Some of Ulan Bator’s poorest residents say the slowdown has hurt their earnings and made homeownership a distant dream.
At the Ulaan Chuluut landfill in the northern part of the city, scavengers like Ms. Dashnyam have given up hopes of an ordinary life. They wake each morning to the sound of rumbling garbage trucks, chasing after each one with a metal rod in hand to sort through garbage and pick out the most lucrative items, like cans and pieces of metal.
n May, Ms. Dashnyam thought her problems might be solved. Officials who said they represented the General Intelligence Agency of Mongolia showed up at the landfill, saying they would pay several thousand dollars a head if Ms. Dashnyam and the other landfill dwellers could locate a stack of documents that had been mistakenly discarded.
After several days of searching, Ms. Dashnyam and her friends found the documents. But when the government workers took the files, they paid only a small portion of what they had promised, the scavengers said.
Ms. Dashnyam, who has lived at the landfill for several months, said she worried she would be stuck there in the winter in subzero temperatures.
“We have no other option,” she said. “I just hope I can survive.”
Munkhchimeg Davaasharav contributed reporting.
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CAIRO — About 2,500 years ago, the Greek historian Herodotus called Egypt the “Gift of the Nile."
Today, Egyptians say their ancient ancestors would have done anything to protect their indispensable Nile River, and so should they.
But overdevelopment and construction of a massive dam upstream in Ethiopia jeopardizes their vital water supply — and very existence.
As Hassan Hamid, 36, a boatman in Luxor who ferries passengers across the Nile, explained: The pharaohs "knew all the good in their lives came from the river. We only believe in one God now, but still the Nile is our life.”
Workers stand on scaffolding during the construction
Workers stand on scaffolding during the construction of the Grand Renaissance Dam near the Sudanese-Ethiopian border, March 31, 2015. (Photo: Zacharias Abubeker, AFP/Getty Images)
The Grand Renaissance Dam, standing more than 500 feet tall, is slated to become the biggest in Africa when it begins operations later this year. The dam, about 450 miles from the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa, will generate 6,450 megawatts at full capacity — more than three times the energy produced by the Hoover Dam. Three-quarters of Ethiopians currently lack access to electricity, according to the World Bank.
“We’ve consistently been the fastest-growing economy in Africa, and this dam will help us keep up this level of growth,” Ethiopia's top energy official, Motuma Mekassa Zeru, said in April when he announced the dam was 60% complete.
But Egypt and Sudan are worried that the dam will curtail their share of the Nile’s waters as global warming and less rainfall also threaten to lower the river's level. The Nile provides nearly 100 million Egyptians with virtually all their water.
Ethiopia’s dam could drop the Nile's levels by 25% for as long as seven years while the reservoir behind it fills up, according to a recent article in the Geological Society of America’s journal GSA Today.
That estimate was based on computer models, said Hany Hamroush, professor of geology and geochemistry at the American University in Cairo.
“It is alarming how much information is missing about the dam,” Hamroush said. “There has to be a complete transparency and honesty and full professional data to make sure that that dam will be safe.”
River boats are moored in the Nile at a marina at sunrise
River boats are moored in the Nile at a marina at sunrise in the Egyptian city of Luxor on Sept. 10, 2017. (Photo: Khaled Desouki, AFP/Getty Images)
Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi has launched a diplomatic offensive to press Ethiopia to slow the timetable for filling the reservoir. He has visited the Nile basin countries of Sudan, Tanzania, Rwanda and Ethiopia five times so far this year.
“Egypt’s water security is non-negotiable,” said Ahmed Abu Zeid, spokesman for the Foreign Ministry in Cairo. “It is considered a red line that no one can approach.”
But even without the Grand Renaissance Dam, the United Nations estimates Egypt will face “absolute water scarcity” by 2025 for reasons largely of its own making.
Egypt’s population has almost tripled in the past 50 years to 97 million. Egyptians now have 15 times less water per person than the average American.
Pressures from the growing population also is resulting in 30,000 acres of land lost each year to illegal construction, most of it along the Nile, according to Egyptian government figures.
Such development is one reason that el-Sissi is pushing to build new cities in largely uninhabited desert areas, like the $45 billion New Administrative Capital 28 miles east of Cairo.
Authorities are taking drastic measures to protect the Nile's banks from urban sewage and industrial waste.
In May, el-Sissi ordered the demolition of 50,000 illegally built homes on Warraq, a large island in the Nile in Cairo. The government claimed the homes were on state-owned property. In July, police clashed with the homeowners, killing one.
“Where does their sewage go?” el-Sissi asked at the time. “It goes into the Nile water, which we drink.”
�We have to tell our children not to build on the banks
�We have to tell our children not to build on the banks of the Nile,� said water engineer Omar Badaw in Luxor, Egypt. (Photo: Mina Nader)
Urban sprawl and changing agricultural practices — due in part to Egypt’s Aswan Dam that allows for year-long irrigation — have caused groundwater problems along the Nile.
“I used to drink directly from the Nile,” said Ahmed Sefelnasr, 43, a geologist at Assiut University. “I can’t do that now and would never recommend that my students do it.”
The U.S. government is helping address the issue at historical sites that attract tourists — tourism accounts for 13% of the Egyptian economy. The U.S. Agency for International Development is spending $14.8 million for Egyptian pumping projects at six key world heritage sites.
Those projects include operations at Luxor and the Giza Plateau, home to Egypt's most magnificent pyramids and the iconic Sphinx, to prevent salt-saturated Nile groundwater from damaging the popular antiquities.
“We have to tell our children not to build on the banks of the Nile,” said Omar Badawi, 68, an engineer who helps manage miles of drains encircling the colossal monuments at anchient Karnak Temple.
Contributing: Mina Nader from Luxor, Egypt
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