Next time a report on people, please!

BY coincidence, I happened to read two recent reports together. They were UNFPA's State of the World Population 1992 and Towards a Green World by Anil Agarwal and Sunita Narain. Both are lucidly written, carefully documented and cogently argued. And yet I find it difficult to understand the nexus between population and environment.

The UNFPA report implies that population growth poses the main threat to environment and a slower growth would mitigate most of the environmental problems which dog developing countries today. Even global warming is seen as a by product of population growth, although there's a casual reference to "the workings of the market" in the study.

Agarwal and Narain make a frontal attack on this type of reasoning. They argue that "developing countries export sustainability, while industrialised countries import it at the cost of the former ...... If the powerful consumers are not prepared to pay the ecological costs of their consumption, they cannot blame the poor for "discounting their future and for continuing to Scrape the earth".

In a recent book, Science, Population and Development (edited by Vasant Gowariker, 1992), defence scientist V Siddhartha, while commenting on sustainable development for 1.5 billion Indians, remarked, "It is now a truism that the pattern of consumptive affluence (often projected as better or newer technologies) is funnelled by the North into the South by world trade in manufactures and processed food; by bilateral and multilateral money-lending institutions promoting such trade; by global corporations facilitating with manufacture; by lifestyle projection through information technology and by advertising ......"

The UNFPA report presents a statistical appendix, giving on population and social indicators. Unfortunately, these indicators do not throw enough light on the state of the world's population in relation to the environment. There are, of course, several other international publications which deal with the subject, but an engineering view of the problems does not leave us any wiser about the social environment.

Isn't it time we analysed the warming of the social climate; the over-heated social systems; the growing tensions, conflicts and violence all over the world? Isn't it time we moved away from "population" to "people"? Unfortunately, most of our demographers, although technically sound cannot see beyond decimal points. Only solid fieldwork can help us to reach the heartbeat of the people. Only then can we gather statistics that are more relevant. Will the UNFPA consider preparing an annual report on the state of the people?

Ashish Bose, a noted demographer, is a honorary Professor at the is Institute of Economic Growth.