Navigating The Triple Threat: Overpopulation, Water Scarcity, And Waste Crisis – OpEd


As the Earth spins around the weight of its multiplying populace, a formidable concern emerges– overpopulation. With each passing moment of the clock, another individual adds to the global choir, each asserting its claim to a portion of the Earth’s finite resources.

Overpopulation represents a significant challenge in the modern era, with the world’s population surpassing 7.8 billion and projected to reach 9.7 billion by 2050, as per the UN’s statistics. The burgeoning of civilization and the advent of industrialization emerge as prominent consequences of overpopulation. This rapid demographic expansion places immense pressure on finite resources, including water, and exacerbates environmental issues such as waste generation. As societies flourish, so do their demands for sustenance, shelter, and resources, intensifying the strain on ecosystems worldwide.

As reported by UNICEF, approximately two-thirds of the global population presently deals with water stress or encounter challenges in accessing clean water. This indicates that there are currently over a billion people afflicted by water scarcity, water stress, or inadequate water delivery conditions.

Overpopulation imposes significant demands on the industrial sector, notably manufacturing facilities. Consequently, there has been a widespread utilization of water, leading to considerable wastage during the manufacturing process. Moreover, untreated wastewater containing harmful toxins is released into freshwater bodies due to inadequate infrastructure and regulatory frameworks. This indiscriminate waste results in substantial pollution of lakes, rivers, and coastal waters, rendering the water unsuitable for human consumption and exacerbating water scarcity.

The challenge of climate change represents as single biggest threat humanity is facing which has far-reaching impacts and is multiplying the pre-existing challenges. Climate change is causing greater variability in precipitation patterns, thereby complicating water management. Moreover, the groundwater reservoirs are depleted and being polluted at an alarming rate to meet the food and water needs of the growing population, reducing the amount of water available per capita. With the shift in patterns of the monsoon rains and the increase in frequency of droughts and floods would force tens of millions of people to migrate in search of fresh water. Also, extreme weather events and rising sea levels can disrupt waste management systems, leading to a range of environmental and health consequences, including the overflow of landfills, contamination of waterways, increased littering, and increase in pollution and health risks.

The convergence of challenges posed by water scarcity, overpopulation, and waste generation is more pronounced in developing nations. This struggle creates poverty, promotes inequality, and drives vicious cycles of deprivation which trap entire communities in a cycle of destitution. Competition over depleting resources, such as land and water, has the potential to spark conflicts. Tensions develop among communities, ethnic groups, and even nations as the struggle for survival takes front stage. This increases instability, disrupts progress, and compromises the basic foundation of peaceful coexistence.

In light of these challenges, Pakistan is trapped in the complexities of overpopulation, with its population reaching 241.5 million, according to the National Population & Housing Census 2023, making it the fifth most populous nation globally. This rapid population growth intensifies pressure on already scarce resources especially water. A report by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) warns of absolute water scarcity by 2025, as Pakistan surpassed the “water scarcity line” in 2005. Projections indicate that Pakistan is to become the most water-stressed country in the region by 2040.

The phenomenon of overpopulation places considerable pressure on resources such as water and leads to an increase in waste production, underscoring the need to for water conservation and waste reduction efforts to mitigate its repercussions. It has become evident that traditional approaches are no longer sufficient to tackle complex issues like urbanization, infrastructure development, waste management, and social welfare in isolation instead, a more integrated approach is required, and that recognizes the intricate relationships between different aspects of human life and seeks comprehensive solutions.

In the face of very real threats that a changing climate poses to food security; human rights-based policies that empower women, ensure universal education for children, and address unmet needs for reproductive health services across all regions have potential to lower the rate of population growth. These measures will reduce burden on food and water supplies but also enhance communities’ capacity to adapt to climate change impacts.

In addition, governments and international bodies need to enact laws to regulate waste disposal, promote recycling and  encourage sustainable waste management practices. This can include, incentives for businesses to reduce packaging, mitigating the volume of waste deposited in landfills, enforceable recycling programs, and penalties for illegal dumping.

Globally, supporting multilateralism is essential for drawing attention to and fostering constructive discussion on the pressing issue of climate change. Pakistan is a signatory of numerous climate-related treaties, yet, combining top-down policy-making with bottom-up grassroots efforts, it can enhance its collective response to the climate crisis, overpopulation, waste management and water scarcity. Developing countries, which often have fewer resources and less capacity to cope with the impacts of climate change, should not bear the majority of the burden. Instead, the responsibility should fall on developed nations that have historically been the largest contributors to climate change through industrial activities, high emissions of greenhouse gases, and the practice of exporting waste to developing nations. Everyone should strive towards and progress in the direction of a future that is both sustainable and resilient for the entirety of humanity.

Sara Aleem

Sara Aleem is a Public Policy graduate from National Defence University, Islamabad. Her research interests include foreign policy of Pakistan and major powers, regional affairs, Climate Change, and different policy-related issues.

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