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Growing Population Will Stress Environment, Warns UN - 2002-08-13

A United Nations report is sounding an alarm on the state of the earth's natural resources, in advance of this month's U.N.-sponsored sustainable development summit in Johannesburg.

The report says sea levels rose and forests were destroyed at unprecedented rates during the last decade. It notes that more than 40 percent of the world's population - two billion people - now face water shortages. And it predicts that with the global population expected to increase from six billion to eight billion people over the next 25 years, further environmental stress is expected.

U.N. Undersecretary General Nitin Desai says the most important message in the report is that the world's environmental crises are interrelated. As an example, he cites the "Asian Brown Cloud," a "poisonous cocktail" of particulate matter, chemicals, and various aerosols, currently hanging over a vast area of southeast Asia.

"Here you have a situation which arises because of the unsustainable way energy is used in this region, which is leading to these problems which impact on agriculture, on water, on health," said Mr. Desai. "If you really want to address water, agriculture and health, you have to address energy. You can't reduce poverty unless you also address land and water. You can't improve children's health without addressing water and sanitation and air quality."

Mr. Desai, who will lead the Earth Summit, says that governments must form specific partnerships to reduce threats in five areas: water, energy, agriculture, biodiversity and health.

More than 100 world leaders are expected to attend the summit, which runs August 26-September 4. Mr. Desai expects the United States to play a major role. "They have participated in all of the preparatory processes at the highest level, and in a very substantial way. They are also very involved in what we call the "partnership initiative," he said.

With more than three million people dying each year from the effects of air pollution, and more than two million dying from contaminated water, Mr. Desai says full global participation is essential.