| By H. JOSEF HEBERT, Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON (AP)-Despite greater environmental awareness, growing
demand for resources is threatening the world's environmental health
more than ever, a United Nations-sponsored report said Sunday. In the
long term, it said, humans will pay the price.
The broad decline of the world's ecosystems-the interaction of
organisms with their physical environment-must be reversed or there
"could be devastating implications" for human development, the study
"For too long in both rich and poor nations, development priorities
have focused on how much humanity can take from our ecosystems, with
little attention to the impact of our actions," concludes the report
released by the World Resources Institute, a private environmental
think tank. The report reflects the findings of 197 scientists.
The preliminary findings, based on a two-year study, are to be
presented in detail at a meeting in September of the U.N. General
Assembly. It will be key in deciding whether the United Nations will
direct a broader study on the state of the world's environmental
well-being, similar to an examination of climate change underway
since the early 1990s.
The study was sponsored by the U.N. Development Programme, the U.N.
Environmental Programme and the World Bank. It assessed the current
health of agriculture, coastal areas, forests, fresh water
environments and grasslands.
"We can continue blindly altering Earth's ecosystems, or we can learn
to use them more sustainably," Klaus Topfer, executive director of
the U.N. Environmental Programme, said in a statement accompanying
Among the scientists' findings:
-Half of the world's wetlands have been lost over the past 100 years.
-Dams and other diversions have fragmented 60 percent of the world's
largest rivers, and 20 percent of the world's freshwater fish have
disappeared or are in danger of vanishing.
-Half of the world's forests have disappeared and tropical
deforestation continues at an alarming rate. About 9 percent of all
tree species are at risk of vanishing.
-Fishing fleets are taking in much greater amounts of fish than the
oceans can replace. As a result, 70 percent of the world's fish
stocks are being overfished.
-Two-thirds of the world's agricultural lands have suffered from
significant soil degradation over the last 50 years, and a third of
the world's original forests have been converted to agriculture.
"Governments and businesses must rethink some basic assumptions about
how we measure and plan economic growth," James D. Wolfensohn,
president of the World Bank, said in a statement.
The report was released as many environmental activists were in
Washington protesting that the World Bank and International Monetary
Fund too often support, through their lending practices, activities
harmful to the global environment.
While the U.N. report catalogued broad areas of concern and the need
to change attitudes about ecosystem protection, it also emphasized
the need for greater research.
"Our knowledge of ecosystems has increased dramatically, but it has
simply not kept pace with our ability to alter them," said Topfer,
the United Nations official whose agency is in charge of U.N.
Despite the availability of satellite imaging, remote sensing, the
Internet and other techniques, there is a growing information gap on
ecosystem health and protection, the report said.
"The dimensions of the information gap are large and growing, rather
than shrinking as we would expect," explained Jonathan Lash,
president of the World Resources Institute, adding that "if we are to
make sound ecosystem management decisions" in the century ahead, that
gap must be closed.