By Edgardo Ayala

EL PAISNAL, El Salvador, Feb 10 (IPS) - The memory of a priest killed shortly before civil war broke out in El Salvador is so alive in this small town that it is now the main attraction in a community tourist initiative aimed at providing employment and injecting money into the local economy.

The Historical Memory Tourist Route is the name of the project in Paisnal, 36 km north of San Salvador. The initiative revolves around Rutilio Grande, a locally born Jesuit priest who was killed by government forces in March 1977, before the start of the 1980-1992 civil war.

"Father Rutilio taught people about liberation and commitment to the needy, and that's why they killed him," said 62-year-old María Dolores Gómez who, before she joined the guerrillas in 1980, was a catechist and met the priest. Now she forms part of the El Paisnal Municipal Tourism Committee.

The tourism project, whose first stage begins in March, is part of a growing trend in this formerly war-torn Central American country to draw visitors interested in the political and historical context of the armed conflict and the prewar period. And in the case of this town in particular, in the life of the famous Jesuit priest.

Rutilio Grande was the first priest killed in El Salvador in the context of the 12-year civil war, which left over 70,000 people – mainly civilians – dead and 8,000 disappeared before the 1992 peace agreement put an end to it.

After decades of electoral fraud by the military and the local elites, opponents of the system took up arms and formed insurgent groups to push the military regimes out of power and usher in socialism.

Grande, accompanied by Manuel Solorzano, 72, and Nelson Rutilio Lemus, 16, was driving near the town of El Paisnal on Mar. 12, 1977 when the three of them came under machine gun fire and were killed. They are buried in the village churchyard, which is already a pilgrimage spot for visitors from within and outside the country and will be an obligatory stop on the new tourist route.

Historians and theologians say that after Grande's murder, the conservative views of the archbishop of San Salvador, Oscar Arnulfo Romero, radically changed in favour of the poor.

Romero himself was assassinated three years later, in March 1980, while saying mass in a small chapel in San Salvador.

The Truth Commission set up by the United Nations after the end of the conflict to investigate the human rights violations blamed army Major Roberto D'Aubuisson for planning the assassination.

D'Aubuisson was the founder of the far-right Republican Nationalist Alliance (ARENA), which governed El Salvador from 1989 to 2009, when the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN) came to power. The former guerrilla group won the national elections a second time in March 2014.

Before and during the war, a segment of the Catholic Church in El Salvador espoused liberation theology, which promoted the fight against poverty and broke with the church's traditional alliance with those in power.

The new tourist route starts at a place known as Las Tres Cruces (the three crosses), halfway between El Paisnal and the neighbouring village of Aguilares, where a small monument marks the spot where the priest and the other two men were killed.

"We have delegations of foreign and local visitors who come to commemorate the murder of Father Grande, and the tourist project aims to create the infrastructure needed to give them a better reception," town councilor Alexander Torres told IPS.

He explained that the El Paisnal local government is going to invest 350,000 dollars in establishing basic infrastructure catering to tourists, such as rural hostels and small restaurants, which will be run by local residents and people from nearby villages.

"The good thing is that the community is actively participating," 62-year-old former insurgent Florentino Menjívar, María Dolores Gómez's husband, told IPS.

"This was conceived of to generate possibilities of growth for our local communities," he added.

The couple lives in Comunidad Dimas Rodríguez, a settlement of former guerrillas founded in December 1992 near El Paisnal after the demobilisation of the armed groups.

The community, which forms part of the tourist route, was named Dimas Rodríguez in honour of one of the commanders who led the guerrillas in this area, members of the Popular Liberation Forces (FPL), one of the five armed groups that made up the FMLN.

Every Dec. 15, the date of the founding of the community, the local residents hold a guerrilla military parade to remember their commander, who was killed in combat in 1989, and to keep alive the history of the settlement. The event is attended by local and foreign tourists.

In the last few years, government officials who used to live in the settlement of former guerrillas have also attended the parade.

"The country's current vice president led the forces here, when we were demobilising," said Víctor Escalante, referring to Vice President Oscar Ortiz.

Since June 2014 the president of El Salvador is another former guerrilla, Salvador Sánchez Cerén.

There are plans to open a museum, where visitors will be able to see the original weapons used by the insurgents, which were surrendered and rendered useless after the peace deal was reached. And a rebel camp will be recreated in a forested area near the town.

"I still have my backpack, and other people have radios and other artifacts from the war, and all of us together can set up the museum," said Escalante, 45.

The local residents are organising to provide services to tourists, and there are groups working in the areas of food, crafts and other activities tied to the new initiative.

Employment is hard to come by in El Paisnal, a town of 4,500, where most of the locals are dedicated to agriculture and up to now there have been few opportunities for work in other areas.

The route also includes an ecotourism component, with visits to the El Chino hill, seven km from El Paisnal, and to Conacastera, a beach on the Lempa river.

The tour will also take the visitors to the San Carlos Cooperative, which is getting ready to host tourists who want an up-close look at the cooperative's agricultural production processes.

Similar initiatives have been developed in other parts of the country over the last few years.

The town of Perquín in the eastern department or province of Morazán is the best-known for its war-tourism projects. In the local museum, visitors can learn about the civil war and see war memorabilia like guns, artillery pieces and even helicopters shot down by the guerrillas.

And in some rural areas, tourists can visit mountain caves and other bunkers used by the guerrillas as hideouts or even field hospitals.

In this country of 6.7 million people, Central America's smallest, the Tourism Ministry reported that the tourism industry brought in 650 million dollars in the first half of 2014 – a 33 percent increase with respect to the same period in 2013.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

All rights reserved, IPS – Inter Press Service (2015)

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I often think of Belize as, as much of a rainbow nation as one is likely to find!

Rob HironsRob HironsRob Hirons was born and raised in England and left immediately upon completion of a degree in History and Russian Studies from the University of Keele. He began by teaching English as a Foreign Language in Thessaloniki in Greece and spent the next twenty-five years as a teacher, teacher trainer and a manager with the British Council in Iran, Portugal, Kuwait, Syria and Egypt. He moved to Belize in 2001 to establish the Lodge at Big Falls, one of the first lodges in what was at the time the most remote and inaccessible part of the country. He has served as Chair of the local chapter of the Belize Tourism Industry Association and has written and edited The Toledo Howler since 2007. The paper tells stories about the south of Belize aiming to give more people reasons to come and discover Toledo's natural attractions, the rich cultural traditions of the Maya, Garifuna and East Indians as well the opportunities for adventure in the rainforest or under water on the hundreds of offshore coral and mangrove cayes. You are a member of an elite global group of expats who have succeeded in founding and operating an award-winning Ecolodge in harmony with the local community. How or why did you choose Belize and that particular location for your Ecolodge?

Rob Hirons: My wife and I originally came to Belize for a vacation that she had organized. We were looking for a place where we could go snorkeling and diving and also do some bird watching in the rainforest. Belize was the ideal location for both and we visited five or six times before finally moving in 2001. So we chose Belize for its natural attractions; its stability as a functioning democracy, the fact that it is English-speaking and because of its proximity to the huge north American market. Locating inland fitted more closely to our particular interest in birds and nature and we decided at that time that the market in Cayo district about 160 miles north of here was already fairly crowded and that we would prefer to establish ourselves in a new destination. That was not the best business decision and the lodge has grown slowly partly because of the lack of infrastructure in Toledo and because as a result it was less well known. You have been instrumental in organising your tourism industry peers in the region, in launching numerous festivals and producing and editing The Toledo Howler, an excellent Tourism Newspaper. How easy is it to coordinate and cooperate with supposed business competitors, is it easy to explain that it is a win-win situation?

Rob Hirons: Having made the decision to base ourselves in Toledo we quickly realized that we would not only have to market the lodge at Big Falls but also Toledo itself. Visitors would be coming to stay at the lodge because of what we offered access to rather than for the lodge itself. So, for myself, it seemed obvious that time spent in working to develop the destination would directly or indirectly be helping the lodge as well as other local businesses. What may seem blindingly obvious to me is not necessarily so to anyone else and the Belize Tourism Industry Association has a core of members who roll up their sleeves and work on behalf of all and others who keep a very narrow focus on the their own enterprise.


The Lodge at Big Falls, Toledo, BelizeThe Lodge at Big Falls, Toledo, What are in your view Southern Belize's unique attractions for tourists and how satisfied are you that they are being protected?

Rob Hirons: Tour operators always want to know why they should send their clients to one's destination. In Cayo the answer is for access to Tikal, Caracol and other Mayan sites. On the coast and cayes the answer is snorkelling and diving. The answer in Toledo is less obvious. We have small Mayan sites in Lubaantun and Nim Li Punit and the reef is 35 miles offshore here compared with half a mile offshore in Ambergris Caye. What has come into focus over the past few years is the rich diversity of cultural experiences in both the Maya, Garifuna and Creole cultures that is unique to the south of the country. It means that even if it rains there are indoor activities like learning to drum; making hand-made chocolate and tasting local chocolate flavors from salt to ginger to chili chocolate; trying their hands at traditional craft making or learning about the traditional Mayan lifestyle and household culture. These have come about through some well-directed small projects through the Belize Tourism Board's Sustainable Tourism Program with funding from the Interamerican Development Bank (IDB). They had great success because the projects aimed loans at motivated local individuals and families with no requirement that the benefits be communal. This kind of small enterprise is "self-protecting"; the family focus avoids conflict within a vestigial business; the focus on culture reinforces for the younger generation how their own culture is valued and of interest to visitors. Accessing Southern Belize used to be a small adventure in itself, but improved road and air links have changed all that. Is this a mixed blessing?

Rob Hirons: Not so far. Since 2001 we have been linked to the rest of country by a modern 80-mile highway. We have been linked to the national electricity grid. We have mobile phone service now. In 2001 we had to drive 18 miles to make a phone call. Not having that infrastructure was a problem. We have ten flights a day in and out and hourly buses from Belize City. But growth has remained slow and "organic". In 2016 there will be a new southern border opening between Toledo and Guatemala forty miles west of here. I expect that to be a mixed blessing. There is likely to be an increase in cross-border crime and illegal logging in areas that are now more inaccessible. Balanced against that is a general economic stimulus for Toledo and for tourism. Until now Toledo has been a cul-de-sac for tourists who came down here and returned the same way. Next year we will be able to co-ordinate with Guatemalan tour operators for tours that enter Belize via Toledo and go on to the coast and Cayo. In particular, there have been ongoing protests, from local people, environmentalists but also the Belize Tourism Industry Association, against the expansion of Cruise Tourism in Southern Belize and in particular the creation of cruise infrastructure near the quaint and fragile Placencia area, to no avail it seems as works for a dedicated cruise port in Harvest Cay started late in Autumn 2014. Do you consider the expansion of the cruise sector as a environmental threat or as an economic opportunity, or both perhaps?

Rob Hirons: I think cruise tourism down here is a huge environmental threat and there are still many questions to be asked about water and waste management on Harvest Caye. It is unlikely to be an economic opportunity for the Belize government. The per person head tax is low and unlikely to yield more than a few million Belize dollars. That might be eaten up by the cost of the infrastructure maintenance that will be demanded by the cruise operator. Belize will pay for the environmental degradation caused by hundreds of thousands of cruise ship visitors. Local Mayan sites will benefit from increased visitor entrance fees and local cultural experiences may also benefit from being visited by the cruise tour operator. Overall it is not really enough to justify the threat to the environment and to the much more valuable overnight tourism business. BTB figures a few years ago gave cruise ships around 80% of the total visitors to Belize and generating just 14% of the income from tourism. So the Pareto Principle (80/20 Rule) would guide the rational planner to focus on growing overnight tourism. Unlike many of its neighbours multi-cultural and multi-ethnic Belize has traditionally avoided violent race and class violence. Still, ethnic tensions may be rising as reports indicate notable income and occupational differences among ethnic communities and little intermarriage between different ethnicities. The rural poor are reportedly mostly Mayans, the original inhabitants. From your experience and with reference to Southern Belize, is tourism and ecotourism in particular currently providing sufficient opportunities for the local Mayan people?

Rob Hirons: My initial reaction is that it is much more complicated and nuanced than that. I often think of Belize as, as much of a rainbow nation as one is likely to find. My colleague Catarina Choco is a K'ekchi Maya with an East Indian partner. We both think that there is much more intermarriage than you suggest and that the Garifuna are another group who have been considered poor. Poverty is relative. Many a poor Mayan has their own 20-30 acre plantation from which they can subsist and produce cash crops. Being poor in the city or town is an entirely different level of poverty. Tourism will never benefit everyone. Those people who live along paved roads or not far from them have the potential to benefit as do those who live close to resorts and lodges. For many years Mayans have found work in tourism elsewhere in Belize and are highly sought after employees. Now they have the opportunity to work in tourism and stay in Toledo. All our staff is K'ekchi Maya who live in Big Falls and walk or cycle to work. In the course of a few years peaceful Belize has come to be ranked, unfairly perhaps, by the UN as the 6th most violent country in the world, with about 95% of murders relating to gangs and the international drugs transshipment trade. Following a related incident, the mayor of the best-known Belizean island destination of Ambegris Caye, is quoted in a recent report in Vice magazine as indirectly linking crime to tourism, arguing that "The big hotels, the big condos, the big restaurants are all owned by foreigners" and that this creates a large wealth discrepancy between foreigners and locals. Do you share this view, and is Belize's overall tourism model really worsening as well as threatened by the crime rates?

Rob Hirons: There are some people who will always characterize inward investment as the foreigner taking over and others who will welcome it. There is an increasing number of Belize owned accommodations and a vast majority of Belize owned restaurants outside of hotels. But it was kick-started by inward investment. That created jobs that created wealth and gave the employees experience and skills enough to begin their own enterprises. The BTB's own advertisements used to claim that direct employment in tourism accounted for 25% of all jobs. Employment reduces wealth inequality between those who have work and those who do not. Nationality is not the issue. On a per capita basis (murders per 100,000)Belize City is one of the most dangerous in the world. Most travelers pass briskly through Belize City to rural areas that are among the most peaceful. According to recent reports poaching, including the poaching of endangered scarlet macaws - just 100 pairs remaining - and illegal logging of mahogany and cedar are a problem even within Chiquibul, Belize's largest national park. The average annual deforestation rate has been estimated at 0.6% between 1980-2010, while most extractable timber reserves are in private hands and with no tax incentives to preserve the forest. Beyond funding more park rangers, what more should the tourism sector, environmental NGOs and the government be doing to protect Belize's pristine natural beauty which after all is the biggest attraction for visitors?

Rob Hirons: Belize needs a legal regulatory framework relating to sustainable forestry and responsible stewardship of natural resources. This is needed to allow the export of finished wood products to European markets, for example. Without that wood is exported as logs mainly to China with no value added here in Belize. With such a framework an export industry, focused on fine finished wood products, would create jobs and give owners a vested economic interest in reforestation etc. As an employer, what is your position and experience in relation to volunteer tourism? Some argue, rather sweepingly perhaps, that their only real impacts are stealing jobs from the local community and removing the need for local training infrastructure.

Rob Hirons: I tend towards the sweeping generalization. We do get individual requests from people who want to volunteer at the lodge but since we are almost always staffed with the people we need have so far declined such offers. Guests have asked us to arrange volunteer assignments but only for a day or two. It is very difficult for them to make much of a contribution in such a short time. In fact briefing and training volunteers creates work for the host. WWOOFers (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms/ Willing Workers on Organic Farms) do seem to carry out work that in their absence would be done by a paid local employee. An organization in Punta Gorda focused on volunteers has done some useful small infrastructure projects around the district. So voluntourism seems to work better in organizations focused on this niche but does not really fit my own market. And the point is moot whether the volunteer or those being volunteered upon get more out of the transaction. What future plans do you have at The Lodge at Big Falls and beyond, perhaps in connection with some of the topics we have discussed in this interview?

Rob Hirons: I have high hopes that the new road from Guatemala will provide a stimulus to really boost tourism in our area. With a larger market we would invest in more cabanas, probably up to a total of fifteen and a multi-purpose space for workshops and seminars, meditation and yoga or educational groups. That would go hand in hand with developing the birding market which is one of our specializations. And when I am exhausted I will shuffle off into retirement. Finally, what advice, if any, would you like to offer to those pondering operating an Ecolodge and in particular those mistaking it for owning a summerhouse in the tropics?

Rob Hirons: I do take exception when visitors ask when I "retired" here. General pearls of wisdom would include: do lots of research especially financial and make sure that your projections are very conservative unless living by the sea that sells itself; talk to people who have already been through it but are not necessarily direct competitors; listen to local advice but not the advice of the first person who takes hold of your elbow and wants to be your friend; use local suppliers if they are of the quality you require and avoid duplicating and competing with existing services; focus your business primarily on quality for the customer and not fairness for the community where you live. Do not underestimate the strain it can put on a couple and make sure that both partners are equally committed to the adventure. Understand that in creating skilled jobs that make women economically independent you may be subverting the established order in your community. And never forget that it's no fun if it's not fun. So enjoy yourself. Thank you very much, we are certain that our readers will enjoy this interview!


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New York, USA / Madrid, Spain, 14 January 2015 (UNWTO): A milestone resolution recognizing the contribution of sustainable tourism to poverty eradication, community development and the protection of biodiversity has been adopted by consensus by the United Nations General Assembly.

Emphasizing the need to optimize the economic, social, cultural and environmental benefits stemming from sustainable tourism, particularly in developing countries, the resolution entitled "Promotion of sustainable tourism, including ecotourism, for poverty eradication and environment protection" calls upon the UN System to promote sustainable tourism as an instrument that can contribute to achieving the Millennium Development Goals.

The resolution, significantly broader in scope than previous ones on the subject, builds on a 2012 UN resolution on ecotourism and draws on a report prepared by UNWTO. In line with UNWTO recommendations, it underlines the importance of appropriate national policies, guidelines and regulations for promoting sustainable tourism, including ecotourism, and encourages UN Member States and regional and international financial institutions to support sustainable tourism projects, enabling the creation of small and medium-sized enterprises, promoting cooperatives and facilitating access to inclusive financial services, including microcredit initiatives for the poor, local and indigenous communities.

The resolution was adopted by consensus and sponsored by an impressive total number of 107 Member States, including Morocco, which, as on previous occasions, was the lead sponsor and in that capacity had steered the whole negotiating process to a successful conclusion.

"UNWTO welcomes this remarkable acknowledgement of tourism's ability to advance sustainable development across the world", said UNWTO Secretary-General Taleb Rifai. "The wide-ranging support to this resolution mirrors the increasing awareness of the vital role tourism plays in a sustainable future for all and opens the doors for supportive national policies and international financing for sustainable tourism."

The resolution places sustainable tourism firmly on the UN post-2015 agenda as it requests UNWTO and other United Nations agencies to develop "... recommendations on ways and means to promote sustainable tourism, including ecotourism, as a tool for fighting poverty and promoting sustainable development ..." to be submitted to the seventy-first session of the UN General Assembly in 2016.

Useful links:

Resolutions from the 69th Session of the United Nations General Assembly

Press release: UN General Assembly: Ecotourism key to eradicating poverty and protecting environment

Press release: Harnessing the power of one billion tourists for a sustainable future

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By Saleem Shaikh and Sughra Tunio


A boy grazes his cattle on farmland close to the site of a landslide in northern Pakistan's Bagrot valley. Credit: Saleem Shaikh/IPSA boy grazes his cattle on farmland close to the site of a landslide in northern Pakistan's Bagrot valley. Credit: Saleem Shaikh/IPSBINDO GOL, Pakistan, Jan 15 (IPS) - Khaliq-ul-Zaman, a farmer from the remote Bindo Gol valley in northern Pakistan's Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, has long lived under the shadow of disaster.

With plenty of fertile land and fresh water, this scenic mountain valley would be an ideal dwelling place – if not for the constant threat of the surrounding glacial lakes bursting their ridges and gushing down the hillside, leaving a trail of destruction behind.

There was a time when families like Zaman's lived in these distant valleys undisturbed, but hotter temperatures and heavier rains, which experts say are the result of global warming, have turned areas like Bindo Gol into a soup of natural hazards.

Landslides, floods and soil erosion have become increasingly frequent, disrupting channels that carry fresh water from upstream springs into farmlands, and depriving communities of their only source of fresh water.

"Things were becoming very difficult for my family," Zaman told IPS. "I began to think that farming was no longer viable, and was considering abandoning it and migrating to nearby Chitral [a town about 60 km away] in search of labour."

He was not alone in his desperation. Azam Mir, an elderly wheat farmer from the Drongagh village in Bindo Gol, recalled a devastating landslide in 2008 that wiped out two of the most ancient water channels in the area, forcing scores of farmers to abandon agriculture and relocate to nearby villages.

"Those who could not migrate out of the village suffered from water-borne diseases and hunger," he told IPS.

Now, thanks to a public-private sector climate adaptation partnership aimed at reducing the risk of disasters like glacial lake outburst floods (GLOFs), residents of the northern valleys are gradually regaining their livelihoods and their hopes for a future in the mountains.

Bursting at the seams

According to the Pakistan Meteorological Department (PMD), there were some 2,400 potentially hazardous glacial lakes in the country's remotest mountain valleys in 2010, a number that has now increased to over 3,000.

Chitral district alone is home to 549 glaciers, of which 132 have been declared 'dangerous'.

Climatologists say that rising temperatures are threatening the delicate ecosystem here, and unless mitigation measures are taken immediately, the lives and livelihoods of millions will continue to be at risk.

One of the most successful initiatives underway is a four-year, 7.6-million-dollar project backed by the U.N. Adaptation Fund, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the government of Pakistan.

Signed into existence in 2010, its main focus, according to Field Manager Hamid Ahmed Mir, has been protection of lives, livelihoods, existing water channels and the construction of flood control infrastructure including check dams, erosion control structures and gabion walls.

The project has brought tremendous improvements to people here, helping to reduce damage to streams and allowing the sustained flow of water for drinking, sanitation and irrigation purposes in over 12 villages.

"We plan to extend such infrastructure in another 10 villages of the valley, where hundreds of households will benefit from the initiative," Mir told IPS.

Further afield, in the Bagrot valley of Gilgit, a district in Gilgit-Baltistan province that borders KP, NGOs are rolling out similar programmes.

Zahid Hussain, field officer for the climate adaptation project in Bagrot, told IPS that 16,000 of the valley's residents are vulnerable to GLOF and flash floods, while existing sanitation and irrigation infrastructure has suffered severe damage over the last years due to inclement weather.

Located some 800 km from Pakistan's capital, Islamabad, Bagrot is comprised of 10 scattered villages, whose population depends for almost all its needs on streams that bubble forth from the Karakoram Mountains, a sub-range of the Hindu Kush Himalayas and the world's most heavily glaciated area outside of the Polar Regions.

Residents like Sajid Ali, also a farmer, are pinning all their hopes on infrastructure development that will preserve this vital resource, and protect his community against the onslaught of floods.

An even bigger concern, he told IPS, is the spread of water-borne diseases as floods and landslides leave behind large silt deposits upstream.

Preparing for the worst

Just as risk reduction structures are key to preventing humanitarian crises, so too is building community resilience and awareness among the local population, experts say.

So far, some two million people in the Bindo Gol and Bagrot valleys have benefitted from community mitigation schemes, not only from improved access to clean water, but also from monitoring stations, site maps and communications systems capable of alerting residents to a coming catastrophe.

Khalil Ahmed, national programme manager for the project, told IPS that early warning systems are now in place to inform communities well in advance of outbursts or flooding, giving families plenty of time to evacuate to safer grounds.

While little official data exists on the precise number of people affected by glacial lake outbursts, Ahmed says, "We can safely say that over 16,000 have been displaced, and remain so even after several months."

Over the past 17 months alone, Pakistan has experienced seven glacial lake outbursts that not only displaced people, but also wiped out standing crops and ruined irrigation and water networks all throughout the north, according to Ghulam Rasul, a senior climatologist with the PMD in Islamabad.

The situation is only set to worsen, as temperatures rise in the mountainous areas of northern Pakistan and scientists predict more extreme weather in the coming decades, prompting an urgent need for greater preparedness at all levels of society.

Several community-based adaptation initiatives including the construction of over 15 'safe havens' – temporary shelter areas – in the Bindo Gol and Bagrot valleys have already inspired confidence among the local population, while widespread vegetation plantation on the mountain slopes act as a further buffer against landslides and erosion.

Scientists and activists say that replicating similar schemes across the northern regions will prevent unnecessary loss of life and save the government millions of dollars in damages.

Edited by Kanya D'Almeida


All rights reserved, IPS – Inter Press Service (2015) 

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New Worldwatch Institute analysis explores the debate about our planet's future population

Washington, D.C.----The human population nearly tripled from 2.5 billion people in 1950 to 7.3 billion today and will continue growing through 2070, according to two recent demographic projections. After that, demographers disagree on whether populations will begin to shrink or continue to rise into the next century, write Worldwatch Institute Senior Fellow Robert Engelman and Research Assistant Yeneneh Terefe in the Institute's latest Vital Signs Online article (

Two population projections----one from the United Nations Population Division, the other from the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA)---- agree on how population has grown until now. But their future scenarios document a breakdown in consensus.

U.N. demographers rely on a methodology that applies past behavior and expert opinion about the future to assign quantified probabilities to various population outcomes. Defying a widespread media and public perception that a stationary world population of 9 billion in 2050 is a near certainty, the U.N. analysts report that the most likely long-term future is for continued growth into the 22nd century.

Demographers associated with IIASA, based in Laxenburg, Austria, however, differ with this analysis. They foresee world population peaking around 2070 at 9.4 billion people and then gradually shrinking to 8.9 billion by the century's end.

The disagreement between these two respected groups of population researchers lies in their varying assumptions, mostly regarding two topics: Africa and the future of education. The U.N. demographers point to recent surveys showing that human fertility (defined as the average number of children that women in a population give birth to over their lifetimes) is not falling in some countries as earlier projections had assumed they would.

The IIASA demographers, by contrast, focus largely on educational trends. In every region of the world, including Africa, the proportion of young people enrolled in school has generally been rising. and these rates are likely to continue to rise, the analysts argue. Because even moderately high levels of educational attainment are associated with reductions in fertility, fertility even in high-fertility countries is likely to fall more than current fertility trends on their own suggest, the demographers reason.

Two Australian environmental scientists, Corey J. A. Bradshaw and Barry W. Brook, recently published another set of population projections---- with a twist. They add scenarios in which humanity experiences increases in the deaths of children due to climate change or outright demographic catastrophes due to "global pandemic or war." In their most extreme scenario, 6 billion people die in the early 2040s, in which case human population would decline to about 5 billion by 2100.

The Australian analysts are non-demographers engaging in a one-off thought exercise. But the significant differences among the various projections tell us something important about population and the human future. Despite general perceptions that demographers confidently forecast future population, no one knows when population will stop growing or the level at which it will peak. Moreover, the future of population growth may respond to decisions made today, so ideally these decisions would support a reduced incidence of unintended pregnancy (now about 40 percent of all pregnancies globally) rather than allow environmental and social conditions to deteriorate until death rates reverse their historic decline.


About the Worldwatch Institute:
Worldwatch is an independent research organization based in Washington, D.C. that works on energy, resource, and environmental issues. The Institute's State of the World report is published annually in more than a dozen languages. For more information, visit

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