The Convention on Biological Diversity's 190 participant countries warned humanity in 2002, in the first edition of the Global Biodiversity Outlook (GBO), about biological diversity loss. This report indisputably states that the current rate of biodiversity loss is an immediate threat to humanity, especially the poor. In response to this report the participant countries set the goal of significantly reducing biodiversity loss on a global scale by 2010. The third edition of the GBO, published for the 2011 convention, clearly states that those goals were not met.

Biodiversity, as defined in the third edition of the GBO, is "the variability among living organisms from all sources including, inter alia, terrestrial, marine and other aquatic ecosystems and the ecological complexes of which they are part; this includes diversity within species, between species and of ecosystems" (GBO, 2011). Humans depend on biodiversity for everything from climate regulation and aesthetic beauty to food, medicine and shelter. The vast diversity of the plant and animal world directly reflects the vast diversity of products available for purchase; any threat to that diversity directly affects the availability of commodities.

The Living Planet Index (LPI), the section of the GBO which monitors more than 7,100 populations of over 2,300 species of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish, observes trends in wild species populations. The LPI has observed more than a 30% decline in the vertebrate population since 1970. Since 1980, the farmland bird population in Europe has, on average, decreased by 50%. From 1968 to 2003, North American grassland bird population decreased more than 40%. Amphibians, considered the most endangered animal species, have decreased over 40%. Warm water coral reefs are considered to be deteriorating the fastest (GBO, 2011). Among the 47,677 species assessed in 2009 in the Red List Index (also included in the GBO), more than 36% were considered in danger of extinction if current conditions of population expansion and habitat fragmentation persist (GBO, 2011).


The LPI considers habitat loss to be the biggest contributing factor to species extinction. Forests constitute 31% of the world's surface and provide a home to thousands of species essential to the ecological chain. From 2000 to 2010, over 400,000 square kilometers of forest was eliminated due to agricultural land expansion and/or natural causes. That is an area about the size of Zimbabwe (GBO, 2011). Although deforestation is significantly declining in the Amazon basin, scientists are still claiming about a 20% cumulative loss of the overall original forest (GBO, 2011).

Even more dramatic changes are in evidence in flood plains, lakes and wetlands. This can be attributed in large part to human activities including drainage for agriculture, household use and introduction of invasive species. For agricultural use in Europe and North America data suggest more than 50% loss of these areas by 1985 (GBO, 2011). Seventy-three percent of Northern Greece's wetlands were drained before 1930 and 60% of Spain's original wetlands are lost. In Mesopotamia, Iraq lost more than 90% of its original marshes due to a huge irrigation project (GBO, 2011). As stated in the executive summary of the GBO, it is the poor who will suffer the most from this.

In addition to deforestation and wetland drainage, the marine and coastal ecosystems that remove significant carbon dioxide levels from the atmosphere and provide habitats for marine life are being threatened. The LPI estimates that one-fifth of the world's mangrove forests were eliminated between 1980 and 2005 (GBO, 2011). Data suggest that mangrove forests, coral reefs and tropical forests have suffered 29% disappearance since the 19th century, a yearly average of 110 square kilometers (GBO, 2011). Salt marshes, especially important for removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and providing storm barriers, are said to have lost 25% of their original land coverage. Although some of these ecosystems have been regenerating since the 80's, what they are being replaced with is considered less diverse than what originally thrived. This is significant because more than 500 million people depend on coral reefs as a food source. Of those 500 million people it is estimated that 30 million are considered poor and dependent on the strength of those marine and coastal ecosystems for their well being (GBO, 2011).



"Our decisions about water--how to use it, allocate it, and manage--are deeply ethical ones; they determine the survival of most of our planet's species, including our own" (Postel, 2010, p. 3). The current clean water crisis, like the food crisis, is a crisis predominately facing the rural poor. In 2010, only 29% of the rural poor globally were reported to have water piped into their houses (United Nations Children Fund, 2012, p. 9). In addition to being priced out of the food market, the people that make only $1.50 per day are also priced out of the water market. Even when purified bottled water is available, many people, because their primary water source is contaminated, cannot afford it. Consider the following statistics to put the global water crisis in perspective:

  • According to UNICEF 400,000,000 of the world's 2.2 billion children have no access to clean water (Pirozzi, 2011).

  • Unclean water takes the lives of 4,400 children under the age of five every single day (UN News, 2012).

  • The number of people using bottled water to meet their clean drinking water needs increased from 37 million to 228 million in 2010 (United Nations Children’s Fund, 2012, p. 10).

  • 88% of diarrheal disease is attributed to unsafe water supply, inadequate sanitation and poor hygiene (WHO, 2012).


"Sanitation is fundamental to human development and security" (Childinfo). The combined effects of inadequate sanitation, unsafe water supply and poor personal hygiene are responsible for 88% of childhood deaths from diarrhea and estimated to cause over 3,000 child deaths per day (Childinfo) Although the world water distribution situation is on track to meet the 2015 Millennium Development Goals, the sanitation situation is not. According to a UN report, Progress Towards Drinking Water and Sanitation, two and half billion people are without access to improved sanitation. In 2010, only 41% of the sub-Saharan population and 30% of Southern Asia had access to sanitation services (United Nations Children’s Fund, 2012, p. 18). Over one billion people have no facilities at all and are forced to engage in the hazardous and demeaning practice of open defecation (United Nations Children’s Fund, 2012, p. 19).

These water and sanitation figures are based on an analysis of data released by WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme (JMP) for Water and Sanitation in 2012. Information to create the JMP database was collected from 1980 through 2010 and is the result of surveys and censuses collected from 1,100 participants in developing countries and 300 reports produced by developed countries.