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close this bookWIT's World Ecology Report - Vol. 05, No. 3 - The Digest of Critical Environmental Information (WIT, 1993, 12 pages)
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentSPECIAL FOCUS: Population Growth: A World in Balance
View the documentCHERNOBYL UPDATE: Another Nuclear Accident
View the documentDID YOU KNOW?
View the documentHEALTH AND THE ENVIRONMENT: Food Safety and Health
View the documentFOOD FOR THOUGHT - Sustainable Development: The Right Path for a Sustainable Future
View the documentGOOD NEWS
View the documentVoices for the Planet
View the documentPOINT OF VIEW: Becoming Environmentally Literate


· Global fish production from most marine resources and many inland waters has reached or exceeded the level of maximum sustainable yield the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) recently reported. In many high sea areas, inadequate management and overfishing are recognized as major problems and are a direct cause of fishery resources degradation.

The need to control and reduce fishing fleets operating on the high seas is now being internationally admitted because excessive fishing is endangering all fishery resources. "Fishery's policies must recognize and address the links between poverty, equity and environmental degradation," FAO Director-General Edouard Saouma said.

SOURCE: United Nations Department of Public Information, March 16, 1993.

· According to statistics prepared by the Climate Research Unit of the University of East Anglia (United Kingdom), the globally averaged surface temperature in 1990 was 0.39 degrees Celsius higher than the mean for the 30-year period 1951-1980, making it the warmest year on record.

SOURCE: World Climate News, January, 1993.

· The United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) has released a survey on forest resources between 1981 and 1990. The survey found that a total of 154 million hectares of tropical forest have been destroyed. The FAO survey estimated that 1756 million hectares of tropical forest existed in 1990. However, in the same year, 15.4 million hectares were destroyed in contrast with 11.4 hectares in 1980.

According to this survey, deforestation increased the most in Asia. The FAO suggests that the cause of increasing deforestation, for the most part, can be attributed to expanded population growth and rural poverty which together produced need for more timber for housing and fuel.

SOURCE: United Nations Press Release, March 1993.

· An environmental toxicologist with the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, Marjorie Kaplan, has completed a study on the health risks associated with indoor fuel oil spills. Ms. Kaplan's study, the findings of which were reported in the American Journal of Public Health suggest that vapors from small basement fuel oil spills (involving as little as 21 gallons of fuel oil) pose neurological and reproductive risks to a buildings' residents. Some 15 percent of U.S. residential structures - almost 12 million households - depend on fuel oil for heat.

SOURCE: American Journal of Public Health, January, 1993.

· Between 1975-1989, military conflicts in Lebanon destroyed the habitat of 400,000 people.

SOURCE: WIT Chapter, Lebanon.

· A recent profile of United States waste disposal, published by Garbage Magazine, provides insight into America's pattern of wasteful consumption. For example, in 1988 American drivers disposed of 247 million used tires. Annually, Americans also dispose of more than two billion razors and razor blades. Only 13 percent of Americans' wastestream is recycled. Exceptions to this sorry situation include cities with aggressive recycling programs like Seattle, Washington and Islip, New York where more than 30 percent of the wastestream is recycled annually.

SOURCE: Washington Spectator, Garbage Magazine, EPA.

· The production of steel from raw ore consumes vast amounts of energy and is a major source of pollution and environmental degradation. In the mid-eighties, steel making consumed 15 percent of all commercial energy in Japan and the Soviet Union, more than 9 percent of all energy used in Brazil, and some 6 percent of world energy use.

SOURCE: Vital Signs 1992, Worldwatch Institute.

· India is typical of many developing countries where environmental degradation is accelerating driven by rapid economic growth and by an unsupportable and rapidly growing population. The following summarizes a number of India's major environmental problems.

Air Pollution - Sulphur dioxide levels in nine of the ten major cities exceed national standards. Levels of particulates are also higher in many urban areas than they are in comparable areas of Europe and North America. Contributors to air pollution include power stations, industrial factories, automobiles and the fuels - including coal, dung and trash - burned for domestic energy needs.

Water Pollution - India's rivers and streams suffer from very high levels of pollution. Untreated sewage and other non-industrial wastes are the major cause, accounting for four times as much pollution as industrial effluents. Of 3,119 Indian towns and cities, only 209 have partial sewage treatment. A consequence of such pollution is high levels of waterborne disease, which account for two-thirds of all illnesses.

Soil Degradation - India's soil resources are endangered. Soils covering 20 percent of the country arc at least partially degraded as a result of overgrazing, deforestation and improper irrigation practices. Overcultivation has depleted some soils of nutrients. Use of marginal lands is widespread because of dire need.

Water Shortages - India as a whole has abundant water resources, but some regions, particularly in the northeast, are arid and lack adequate water to grow crops. Occasional failures of the monsoon rains also can lead to water shortages and crop failures. Irrigation accounts for 9.3 percent of water use in India, although industrial uses are growing. A recent study by the Indian Institute of Technology predicts a state of nationwide water inadequacy by the turn of the century.

SOURCE: Tomorrow, Number 2, 1992.

· World Without End, a comprehensive volume on environmental economics in developing countries has Just been published by the World Bank This study, authored by environmental economists at the University College London, conclusively documents that environmental damage robs developing countries of precious income Damage from deforestation, soil erosion, pollution and water mismanagement can combine to cut a country's gross national product by 5 percent or more as is shown in the following chart.

Estimates of Environmental Damage in Select Countries

Forms of Environmental Damage

Annual Costs
% of GNP

Burkina Faso, 1980


Crop, livestock and fuelwood losses from land degradation

Costa Rica, 1989



Ethiopia, 1983


Effects of deforestation on the supply of fuelwood and crop output

Germany, 1990


Pollution damage (air, water, soil pollution, loss of biodiversity)

Hungary, late 1980s


Pollution damage (mainly air pollution)

Indonesia, 1984


Soil erosion and deforestation

Madagascar, 1988


Land burning and erosion

Malawi, 1988


Lost crop production from soil erosion.

Costs of deforestation.


Mali, 1988


On site soil erosion and losses

Netherlands, 1986


Some pollution damage.

Nigeria, 1989


Soil degradation, deforestation, water pollution, other erosion

Poland, 1987


Pollution damage

United States

1981 - Air pollution control


1985 - Water pollution control


Note Although the estimates use different techniques, relate to different years and vary in the quality of the underlying research, they suggest some broad interpretations In the industrial world total gross environmental damage may be around 2.4 percent of the gross national product, in Eastern European countries, 5.10 percent, and in the poor developing nations, 10 percent and above.

World Without End is priced at $39.95 and available through the World Bank, Office of the Publisher, Marketing Unit, Room T-8054, Washington, D.C. 20433 USA

SOURCE: World Bank New, March 25, 1993.

· In 1992, the ozone depletion over Antarctica started earlier, covered a greater area and reached record low absolute values. A rapid depletion of the ozone layer usually starts in early September when sunlight begins to reach the polar region, triggering chemical reactions on the surfaces of aerosol and polar stratospheric clouds causing chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) to destroy ozone in the stratosphere.

SOURCE: World Climate News, January, 1993.

· Half a century after the world's nuclear industries began accumulating radioactive waste, not a single one of the more than 25 countries producing nuclear power has found a safe, permanent way to dispose of it. Nuclear waste remains dangerous for hundreds of thousands of years - meaning that in producing it, today's governments assume responsibility for the fate of thousands of future generations. Despite the needed short-term focus on the radioactive waste at nuclear weapons facilities, it is civilian nuclear power that has produced roughly 95 percent of the radioactivity emanating from waste in the world. In 1990, the world's 424 commercial nuclear reactors created some 9,500 tons of irradiated fuel, bringing the total accumulations of used fuel to 84,000 tons - twice as much as in 1985 as shown in the chart below. The United States houses a quarter of this, with a radioactivity of more than 20 billion curies.

SOURCE: Vital Signs, The Trends That Are Shaping Our Future, Worldwatch Institute.

Cumulative Generation of Irradiated Fuel from Commercial Nuclear Plants, 1965-1990

SOURCE: Worldwatch, Pacific Northwest Lab.

· In 1991, the world's harvested area of grain shrank from 695 million hectares to 693 million, a drop of 0.3 percent as shown in the chart below.

World Grain Harvested Area 1950-1991


This drop, combined with the addition of 92 million people to the earth's population, led to a reduction of 2.0 percent in grain area per person, adding to a decline that has been under way since mid-century as reflected in the chart below.

SOURCE: Vital Signs, The Trends That Are Shaping Our Future, Worldwatch Institute.

World Grain Area Per Person 1950-1991


· The National Wildlife Federation is trying to head off a rule change being considered by EPA that would exempt Alaska's wetlands from key protections of the Clean Water Act. Oil companies anxious to drill on Alaska's North Slope want to weaken rules that now require developers to avoid destroying wetlands when there are reasonable alternatives and to compensate for wetlands loss through restoration or other means.

The impact of such a rule change would be enormous because some 70 percent of the nation's wetlands are found in Alaska. The state also is a terminus for all four of the major waterfowl flyways in North America.

SOURCE: National Wildlife, October/November, 1992.