Environmental Conservation

Main Papers

Population, Desertification, and Migration

Arthur H. Westinga1

a1 Westing Associates in Environment, Security & Education, RFD 1, Box 919, Putney, Vermont 05346, USA.

It is noted that the number of more or less permanently displaced persons throughout the world (now of the order of 1% of the total human population) continues to increase at a rate of approximately 3 millions per year; the situation in Africa is especially grave, with the number of displaced persons there (now of the order of 3% of the African population), continuing to increase at a rate of approximately 1.5 million per year. Human displacement — which can be seen to originate largely in rural areas — results primarily from one or more of three factors, namely escape from persecution, escape from military activities, or escape from inadequate means of subsistence. A number of examples from Africa are provided of the social and political consequences of human displacement, with emphasis on conflict situations at the sites of relocation.

It is further noted that the numbers of displaced persons continue to grow relentlessly despite there being no discernible rise in persecution or military activities, and despite the long-sustained ameliorative efforts and financial assistance by intergovernmental agencies and others.

It is accordingly suggested that the major cause of the continuing increase in the numbers of displaced persons is an ever-growing imbalance between population numbers and the human carrying capacity of the land. Population increases lead to smaller per caput natural resource bases, a predicament exacerbated by over-use — and thus degradation — of the land and its natural resources. In the arid and semi-arid regions of Africa, over-use of the land most often takes the form of overgrazing, leading to land degradation that is severe enough to be referred to as desertification. It is concluded that to achieve sustainable utilization of the land and its natural resources will necessitate the integrated attainment of environmental security and societal security — the latter inter alia requiring participatory governance, non-violent means of conflict resolution, and especially population controls.