World Population Awareness

News Digest

December 09, 2016

'Silent Extinction': Giraffes Listed as a Vulnerable Species After 30-year Population Plunge

December 8, 2016, Washington Post   By: Ben Guarino

Giraffes are among the animals ecologists call "charismatic megafauna," the name for critters that charm people. however, "Only 400 scientific papers have been written about giraffes, versus 20,000 papers on white rhinos," according to the National Geographic. In fact, just how many species of giraffe exist is a matter of some debate.

In 2010, the IUCN, an international NGO headquartered in Switzerland, listed the giraffe as species of least concern. On Wednesday, the IUCN downgraded the giraffe from least concern, skipped "near threatened" and classified the animal as vulnerable. Giraffes are now considered by the IUCN to be as threatened as African elephants, though the giraffe population is a quarter of its pachyderm neighbors.

"There is a silent extinction going on,” Julian Fennessy, an IUCN giraffe specialist and director of the Giraffe Conservation Foundation, told The Washington Post by phone early Thursday.

Over the course of three giraffe generations, the population plummeted between 36 and 40%. 200 years ago, it is possible there were as many as a million giraffes across Africa, he said.

Human population growth, poaching, and habitat loss were listed as factors for the decline. An invasion of woody, "unpalatable species” of trees where the tastier acacia plants once grew is another reason. In areas disturbed by war and civil unrest, such as South Sudan, giraffe subspecies such as the Nubian giraffe have dropped by as much as 95%.

Fennessy and other conservationists hope the vulnerable status will bring needed attention to giraffes. doclink

Want to Reduce Abortions? Help Reduce Unwanted Pregnancies

November 17, 2016, Big Think   By: Dilys Walker

Family planning delivers important benefits and shouldn't be controversial.

The Zika virus outbreak in Brazil had some world class female athletes considered staying home from the 2016 Summer Olympics to avoid the disease that can cause profound birth defects in children of infected women.

But what of the millions of Brazilian women of childbearing age, especially those in the poor and overcrowded neighborhoods, who were adviced by health experts: don't become pregnant? Unfortunately for women in Brazil and many other developing nations, birth control can be hard to obtain. And research shows that millions of people around the world want more access to family planning.

Unplanned pregnancies can create severe economic hardships that perpetuate poverty, and they result in millions of abortions every year, many of them performed under unsafe conditions by untrained people. Having one baby after another often causes complications and even death. Inadequate pre-natal care and unsafe births and abortions are among the biggest killers of women globally.

For women to exercise the right to decide when to get pregnant, they need access to contraception and information about family planning. About 137 million women worldwide who are either married or in a partnered relationships want to delay or stop having children, but aren't using contraception.

Family planning supplies cost about $1.55 per user per year, according to the Population Reference Bureau, which means we could address the entire unmet need for about $212 million. But delivering those supplies to where they are needed would cost between $2 and $35 per year per person.

A bigger obstacle is the lack of knowledge, particularly in developing nations, about family planning. Many women fear the potential side effects of contraceptives. They may not understand the risks that come with pregnancy and how to minimize them. They be worried about reactions from husbands or families, or religious leaders. Education and counseling go a long way toward overcoming these obstacles.

For many women, the first opportunity to learn about family planning comes during a visit to a clinic to have a baby, an abortion or treatment for a miscarriage. It's essential to seize that opportunity and present information on how to delay or prevent another pregnancy to any woman who wants it.

Women who become pregnant less than five months after giving birth are 2.5 times more likely to die during their next pregnancy than women who wait 18 to 23 months, especially among poor women. 99 percent of all maternal-related deaths happen in the developing world. 86% of these occur in sub-Saharan Africa and south Asia.

Of the 210 million women worldwide who become pregnant each year, nearly 80 million do not intend to. About half of those unintended pregnancies end in abortion. Many of those abortions are performed under unsafe conditions, contributing to the deaths of nearly 67,000 women each year. Modern contraceptives could reduce unplanned births in developing countries by 22 million and maternal deaths by 90,000 each year, sccording to the Guttmacher Institute.

Family planning also reduces gender inequality, enables girls and women to stay in school and find better employment. Better educated girls and women are better equipped to understand and make their own life choices and less dependent on their families and husbands. Children from planned families often benefit from greater parental attention, nutrition and other resources, helping them grow and develop into more productive adults with a better chance of breaking the cycle of poverty. Their communities, in turn, have reduced need for social services, allowing them to spend scarce resources on more productive development programs. doclink

Poll: Latino/a Opposition to Abortion Rights a 'Myth'

Poll results suggest Latino/a support for unfettered access to abortion care, with more than half saying that the wave of abortion restrictions enacted since 2010 was
November 3, 2016, Rewire   By: Nicole Knight

In a poll of 608 Latino/a voters registered in Florida, commissioned by the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health (NLIRH), and conducted by PerryUndem Research/Communication, 80% of Latino voters surveyed agreed with the statement: "each woman should have the right to make her own decision on abortion, even if I may disagree with her reasons."

85% agreed that "a woman should be able to make her own personal decisions about abortion without politicians interfering."

66% of voters surveyed agreed that abortion care should remain legal, and 75% supported private and government-funded insurance coverage of abortion care.

"This study affirms that Latino/a voters' views on abortion are much more nuanced and strongly demonstrate support and compassion for a person seeking abortion care," Jessica González-Rojas, executive director of NLIRH, said in a statement.

Over half of Latino/a voters polled saying that the wave of abortion restrictions enacted in mostly GOP-majority legislatures since 2010 represent "a step in the wrong direction.”

70% said they pay attention to a candidate's views on abortion.

75% said politicians shouldn't deny someone coverage for abortion care because she has a low income. Florida follows the Hyde Amendment, which restricts public insurance coverage of abortion care to certain circumstances.

"I think the most pro-life group in America is the Hispanic community,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) claimed last year in an interview with NPR.

In contrast, a 2013 study by Pew Research Center found 40% of Latino adults supported legal abortion in all or most cases, with 53% saying it should be illegal in most or all cases. The results for the general public are reversed.

"It's time to finally put to rest myths and stereotypes that our community is too conservative to support abortion access,” González-Rojas said in a statement. doclink

How Big Banks Are Putting Rain Forests in Peril

December 3, 2016, New York Times   By: Hiroko Tabuchi

Banks around the world have funded $43 billion in loans and underwriting to companies linked to deforestation and forest burning in Southeast Asia, at least a third coming from American, European and Japanese banks, according to the Rainforest Action Network (working with two other NGOs). Not all financing is made public, so the amount may be more.

The money is aiding a process that scientists say destroys ecosystems, displaces indigenous communities and drenches the region in smog. The Union of Concerned Scientists claims that burning away forests generates one-tenth of total global warming emissions. Only about 15% of the world's historical forest cover remains intact, according to the World Resources Institute. Yet while endowments and pension funds are divesting from the fossil-fuel industry, and banks are backing away from coal projects, any move away from financing deforestation has been slow to catch on.

In early 2015, scientists monitoring satellite images at Global Forest Watch focused on the destruction of Indonesian rain forests. In Borneo's West Kalimantan province monitors found a charred wasteland with many orangutans driven from their nests. "There was pretty much no forest left," said Karmele Llano Sánchez, director of the nonprofit International Animal Rescue's orangutan rescue group. Fingers pointed to the Rajawali Group, a local conglomerate known for its ties to powerful politicians, including Malaysia's Prime Minister. Before the fire Rajawali's plantation arm secured $235 million in expansion loans from Credit Suisse and Bank of America, according to the New York Times. As the banks issued those loans, Rajawali was accused of extensive illegal burning, use of child labor, and the use of force against workers at plantations under its control.

In a 2015 report to clients, Credit Suisse Equity Analyst, Priscilla Tjitra, deemed Rajawali's a successful project that increased landholdings for expanded palm oil production. Demand for palm oil is surging worldwide, driven by rising incomes in markets like China and India and a switch away from trans fats by Americans and Europeans. Indonesia is one of the world's biggest palm oil producers, and forestry loss there and elsewhere ranks as one of the biggest single contributors to global warming.

But Credit Suisse funding appears to have violated its 2008 forestry and agribusiness policy, which forbids the company from financing or advising companies with operations in "primary tropical moist forests" like those of West Kalimantan. Bank of America 2004 policy also forbids financing for commercial projects that result in the clearing of primary tropical moist forests. Spokesman Bill Halldin said that the most serious accusations against Rajawali came after the 2014 loan. "Today, we would certainly consider more information before making any decision on any client," he said.

In September, Rajawali's plantation arm secured another $192 million loan from Bank Negara Indonesia, a state bank, to refinance the debt held by its plantation subsidiaries and to double the capacity of palm oil refineries in Papua and West Kalimantan. Bank Negara Indonesia's sustainability policies say that its clients must adopt "minimum environmental, social and governance standards."

Although deforestation has slowed in many parts of the world, notably in the Brazilian Amazon, forest clearing is on the rise in Southeast Asia. Indonesia, in particular, suffers the world's highest rates of forest loss, an average of almost 2.1 million acres a year, a study published in 2014 found. Daily emissions from Indonesia's forest fires last year at times exceeded emissions produced by all economic activity in the United States. A recent Harvard and Columbia study estimated that the fires caused at least 100,000 premature deaths across Southeast Asia. The World Bank estimates that the fires cost Indonesia's economy $16 billion.

The world has lost 60% of its Bornean orangutans since 1950, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature. In July, the Bornean orangutan was listed as critically endangered. International Animal Rescue said its staff had rescued about 50 during the 2015 burning season, which is twice the normal rate. "They were all starving, all skinny," said Ms. Sánchez, the group's director. "The problem is that every time an area is destroyed and orangutans are under real threat, we have to look for areas to release them, and that's challenging,” she said. She is running out of places to release them. doclink

Large Forest Die-offs Can Have Effects That Ricochet to Distant Ecosystems

November 17, 2016, Science Daily

"When trees die in one place, it can be good or bad for plants elsewhere, because it causes changes in one place that can ricochet to shift climate in another place," "The atmosphere provides the connection." said lElizabeth Garcia, a UW postdoctoral researcher in atmospheric sciences and lead author of a study led by the University of Washington and published in PLOS ONE.

Loss of vegetation makes the air drier and also makes the land surface more reflective so that is absorbs less sunlight, producing a cooling effect. These local effects of deforestation are well known, but the new study shows major forest losses can alter global climate by shifting the path of large-scale atmospheric waves or altering precipitation paths. Less forest cover can also change how much sunlight is absorbed in the Northern versus the Southern hemispheres, which can shift tropical rain bands and other climate features.

Co-author Abigail Swann, a UW assistant professor of atmospheric sciences and of biology said "We are only starting to think about these larger-scale implications."

Results show that removing trees in western North America causes cooling in Siberia, which slows forest growth there. Tree loss in the western U.S. also makes air drier in the southeastern U.S., which harms forests in places like the Carolinas. But forests in South America actually benefit, because it becomes cooler and thus wetter south of the equator.

In South America, removing most of the Amazon rainforest also caused Siberia to become colder and more barren, but it had a slight positive impact on southeastern U.S. vegetation. Losing Amazon forest had a significant positive impact on the neighboring forests in eastern South America, mostly by increasing the precipitation there during the Southern Hemisphere summer.

The model's parameters for forest changes are still preliminary, so the exact mapping of cause and effect at each location is not set in stone.

"The broader idea is that we must understand and include the effects of forest loss when modeling global climate and trying to predict how climate will change in the future," said Swann.

Swann's previous research looked at how a hypothetical massive tree planting in the Northern Hemisphere to slow global warming could have the unintended effect of changing tropical rainfall. More recent research has shown how European deforestation over the past thousands of years may have reduced rainfall over modern-day Africa. doclink

Will President Donald Trump Eliminate Access to Healthcare for Some of the Poorest Women on the Planet?

November 18, 2016, UN Dispatch   By: Mark Leon Goldberg

If President elect Donald Trump follows Republican precedent, on January 22 he will re-instate what is know as the Mexico City Policy, or by opponents as the "Global Gag Rule." This is a restriction that bans NGOs from receiving funding from the American government if those NGOs provide abortion services, counsel patients that abortion is a family planning option, or advocate for the legalization of abortion in their countries. Even if the dollars used to do these things do not come the USA, the entire organization is nonetheless banned from receiving US funding.

This policy was first enacted by President Reagan in 1984 then rescinded by President Clinton in 1993. It was enacted again by President Bush in 2001, and once again rescinded by President Obama in 2009.

Caught in this back-and-forth are millions of women around the world who visit health clinics supported by the United States government, often through grants administered by USAID - the United States Agency for International Development.

US policy from the early 1970s, known as the Helms Amendment, already bans US funding for "the performance of abortion as a method of family planning." But the global gag rule prohibits all funding for an organization even if it suggests to patients that abortion is an option -- or lobbies its government on abortion related issues.

During years in which the gag rule is enforced, the number of abortions (often unsafe) has increased. That's because the organizations that are affected by the gag rule tend to also be important providers of contraceptives to poor women in the developing world. When access to contraception decreases, the number of women seeking abortion increases.

After President George W. Bush reimposed the gag rule in 2001, in Kenya the gag rule led to the termination of critical activities run by the Family Planning Association of Kenya and Marie Stopes International (MSI) Kenya -- the leading providers of health care to people living in poor and rural communities in the country. In addition, enforcement of the policy drastically curtailed community-based outreach activities and the flow and availability of contraceptive supplies. Government clinics, exempt from the gag rule, were never able to pick up the slack nor regain the trust of women turned away by the NGOs.

USAID had to cut off shipments of contraceptives -- already in short supply -- to 16 countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, Asia and the Middle East. The Lesotho Planned Parenthood Association, for example, had received 426,000 condoms from USAID over two years during the Clinton administration. Once the gag rule went back into effect, USAID had to end condom shipments to Lesotho entirely because the association was the only available conduit for condoms in that country. At that time, one in four women in Lesotho was infected with HIV.

Under the Obama administration, funding for international family planning assistance has increased and partnerships with organizations implementing reproductive health programs abroad have expanded, which has allowed U.S. aid to reach underserved or never-served populations. MSI, for example, first received USAID funding in 2010 to scale up delivery of free or highly subsidized family planning services in Madagascar to rural and hard-to-reach areas. Since 2010, U.S.-funded work has enabled 436,000 women and men to receive voluntary family planning services; about 40% of all women using a modern family planning method in Madagascar have received their method from the U.S.-supported MSI-Madagascar program. Many of these critical health services could be put at risk if the Mexico City policy were reinstated.

About a quarter of married women in 24 poor countries want access to family planning services, but cannot get it, according to the Guttmacher Institute. This leads to high birth rates. There are 16 countries in the world with average fertility rates of more than than 5 children per woman. doclink

Trump's New HHS Secretary Tom Price on Birth Control

In 2012, the newly appointed HHS secretary claimed the ACA's contraceptive mandate trampled on religious liberties and helped literally no women.
November 29, 2016, The Atlantic   By: Olga Khazan

House Budget Committee Chairman Tom Price, a Republican and a fierce opponent of abortion, the Affordable Care Act, and the law's birth-control mandate was picked by President-elect Donald Trump announced to head the Health and Human Services Department.

At the 2012 Conservative Political Action Conference, Price was asked, "One of the main sticking points is whether or not contraceptive coverage is going to be covered under health insurance plans and at hospitals and whether they're going to be able to pay for it, especially low-income women ... where do we leave these women if this rule is rescinded?"

Price replied, "Bring me one woman who has been left behind. Bring me one. There's not one," .. "The fact of the matter is this is a trampling on religious freedom and religious liberty in this country."

However, Obamacare doesn't require anyone to buy or use birth control.

Before contraceptives were added as a mandatory benefit under Obamacare, millions of women had trouble affording it. A survey from the Planned Parenthood Action Fund in 2010, before the mandate went into effect, found that a third of women struggled with the cost of prescription birth control- their co-pays ranged from $15 to $50 a month. Earlier surveys found poor women were more likely to use less-costly, and less-effective, methods of birth control, such as withdrawal or the rhythm method, rather than IUDs and the pill. The rapid decline in the teen pregnancy rate in recent years is largely thought to be due to the proliferation of free long-term reversible contraceptives, which can cost hundreds of dollars if not covered by insurance.

Even now that birth control is supposedly covered without cost, not all women are eligible for the discount, including millions of women who are uninsured or in the Medicaid coverage gap.

If the contraceptive mandate is taken away there will be many women who have to stop taking their the more effective means of birth control. doclink

Philippines: RH Advocates: Denying Women Access to Contraceptives is Cruel, Unjust

November 30, 2016, GMA News Online   By: Virgil Lopez

Reproductive health advocates said the continued implementation of the Supreme Court's temporary restraining order on the use of contraceptives in the government's family planning program may lead to a rise in unwanted pregnancies and even abortions.

Nearly 610,000 Filipino women underwent abortion in 2012, according to researchers from the Guttmacher Institute.

These women cited inability to afford raising a child as a common reason for going through the illegal procedure.

"The bottomline really is we (want to) prevent abortion. In other words, if we use contraceptives, then you prevent abortion. Denying access to women is very unfair, very unjust and I can say cruel to our women who really want to practice family planning," Former Presidential Assistant for Social Development Ben De Leon said. The Supreme Court must not put up any obstacle to the right of couples, especially women, to decide when to start or expand a family, he added.

"It is about the right to choose when and how big or small a family a couple wants to have. It is about the right to choose whether to use natural or artificial family planning methods."

With this temporary restraining order, the increase in high risk teen pregnancies and pregnancies in general is unimaginable," added Rom Dongeto, executive director of the Philippine Legislators Committee on Population and Development (PLCPD).

1.8 million Filipinos are added to the country's population each year.

The Court could not lift the TRO because the Food and Drug Administration has yet to conduct a hearing on the concerns that contraceptive implants, particularly the brands Implanon and Implanon NXT, have abortifacient features.

"The TRO is a major stumbling block for the government to reduce maternal and newborn deaths in the country, decrease poverty, and uplift the lives of Filipinos by providing information and access on the full range of modern family planning methods," the Office of the Solicitor General said. doclink

Population Media Center: Power of Stories

November 14, 2016, Population Media Center

Population Media Center (PMC) works worldwide using entertainment-education for social change. PMCs programs encourage positive behavior change among the audience. doclink

Feeding the World: Did Scientists Just Figure Out How to Grow More Food?

To feed the growing global population, food production will have to increase significantly in the next 30 years. Scientists may have just come up with one possible solution: more efficient photosyntesis.
November 18, 2016, Christian Science Monitor   By: Rowena Lindsay

With world population expected to go from 7.4 billion today to over 9 billion by 2050, we will need to increase global food production by at least 70 percent., according to FAO - Food and Agriculture Organization .

To make that happen, scientists have come up with a gene editing method that could make the process of photosynthesis more efficient in plants, thus increasing crop yield without increasing agricultural land use. Their technique is detailed in a study recently published in the journal Science.

The research was funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Study co-lead Johannes Kromdijk of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign,says plants "are optimized to reproduce, but they are not necessarily optimized to reproduce as much as possible."

During the green revolution of the 1950s through the 1980s, breeding research improved plants' ability to intercept radiation. Today the best crops absorb around 90% of the light available during the growing season. Scientists also worked to improve the percentage of the above ground dry matter that contributes to food - so that now 50 to 60% of that biomass is seeds.

"The other determinant of yield potential is photosynthetic energy conversion efficiency - the efficiency with which the plant can take that intercepted light and turn it into biomass," said Donald Ort, a professor of plant biology.

Direct sunlight can damage important molecules within the plant, so when the sun is particularly bright the plant converts photons into heat in a process called photoprotection - a kind of sunblock that protects the plant from sunburn. However, as a result, the efficiency of the plant's photosynthesis process drops significantly and it takes hours for it to return to a normal rate of photosynthesis, and in that time the plant loses out on an estimated 20% of potential growth and crop yield.

This lag time would not be a problem in the wild, where the only evolutionary pressure is to reproduce enough to pass on genes, but it does raise concerns when the world's food supply may need to double in 30 to 40 years.

Using tobacco plants as a test plant, the researchers changed just three genes involved in photoprotection, and the plants' leaves, stems, and roots all got larger, says Krishna Niyogi, a co-author on the study and professor of plant and microbial biology at University of California Berkeley and researcher at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

The plants were transplanted to a field, where in 22 days they weighed 14 to 20% more than unmodified plants.

Eventually, the researchers will test the same process on such crops as cassava, rice, and cowpea, which will help farmers in the developing world, particularly across sub-saharan Africa and southeast Asia. If the concept applies to these crops as well, it would allow for more food to be produced without increasing the amount of land dedicated to agricultural production, which is already at its limit in many parts of the world.

Dr. Niyogi says the actual gene manipulation in this highly productive process is fairly minimal.

"In this first proof of concept, we did take the genes of one plant and put them into another plant, but all plants have these three genes," Niyogi said. "So in the long run, what we can do is just manipulate the genes that are already in the plant and not introduce the genes from another organism.”

"There is the belief that we need to develop these capabilities so that they exist at the time when push comes to shove and we simply don't have enough food and then maybe some of these things get reassessed at that time,” Ort said. doclink

Karen Gaia says: supposing the scientists could increase crop yield 20%, assuming that all other variables remain the same (water, climate, soil, availability of fertilizer), the population will increase from 7.4 billion to 9 billion - that's an increase of about 23%. But water, soil, fertilizer availability, climate, and fertilizer are not going to stay the same. Depletion of resources and pollution must be taken into account.