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Efficient Use of the Earth’s Natural Resources

For this portion of Agenda 21, we will highlight some of the perils that we, as a global society, are facing, what they mean, and how we can relieve the affects.  

The following subjects will be discussed on this page:
  • Fresh Water
  • Agriculture
  • Deserts
  • Mountains
  • Biological Diversity

Fresh Water Resources

Fresh water is an undebated requirement in sustaining all life on Earth.  Humans continually pollute and deplete this finite resource, especially in developed nations, leaving it in poor quality and low abundance for Earth’s natural ecosystems.  It is used to control desertification and deforestation, as well as sustain human activities, including: agriculture, industry, hydropower, urban development, fisheries, transportation and recreation.


  • Deforestation and unsustainable agriculture have caused widespread erosion and soil loss.  This loss of nutrients has led to an increase in fertilizer use and, in turn, is causing the acidification of surface water due to agricultural runoff
  • Salinization is occurring in rivers, lakes and soils as a result of domestic and industrial waste
  • Microbiological pollution has resulted in an increase in disease, of which has been intensified by the growing water consumption of the worlds expanding population and economy
  • Climate change is threatening low-lying water resources, precipitation patterns and increasing occurrence of natural disasters, among other things, all of which will be disastrous to our global food production

  • Ensure and maintain a quality and abundant water supply for Earth
  • Preserve and protect ecological functions of fresh water
  • Adapt human activities to the capacity limits of nature

Programs and Activities:

  • Water Management and Assessment: technological, social, economic, environmental and human health must all be integrated into water resource management, with rational use and protection planning that reflects the needs and priorities of the community
  • Water Quality and Sanitation: global effort to identify and analyze all fresh water resources, the effects that human activities have on those resources, and the development and implementation of realistic and comprehensive water quality standards
  • Agriculture and Rural Water Supplies: development of low-cost, environmentally sound agriculture technologies that allow local and community-based agricultural water conservation efforts to succeed, as well as promote an increased efficiency and productivity of agricultural water use
  • Climate Change: after conducting research to better understand the effects of climate change, we must implement national plans of action to counteract the local effects of climate change
All of these processes have lead to a loss in biodiversity and will continue to degrade our fresh water quality and supply, eventually forcing a shift in human behavior, after ecosystems are destroyed and our economic livelihoods are severely threatened.

“An estimated 80 percent of all diseases and over one-third of deaths in developing countries are caused by disease-contaminated water”

(Sitarz, Agenda 21, p. 69)

Agriculture and Rural Development

Despite the plentiful food resources that those of us in the United States know and love, we are currently unable to meet the needs of a large portion of the world’s people.  A challenge that developing countries must face is not only that of meeting the growing populations demand, but doing it in a sustainable way.  Developing environmentally sound agriculture techniques is one of the most important factors in preserving the quality of agricultural lands and must become a focus because the opportunity to cultivate new land is extremely limited.  The essential goal of these countries should be to ensure access to sustainably grown, nutritional food to all of their people, especially because the agriculture industry is the backbone of most developing countries economy.  

  • Available land for agriculture is extremely limited
  • Current agricultural practices are destroying the health of our soils, like the extensive use of pesticides, herbicides and fungicides, and monocropping techniques are depleting the soils nutrients    
  • Present land use is far exceeding the carrying capacity of the land, which greatly increases the rate at which top soil is eroding and results in accelerated desertification
  • Increase food production in a sustainable manner to feed expanding populations
  • Ensure access of nutritional, sustainably grown food to all of the world’s people
  • Creation of new economic conditions, including price control, subsidies, trade and land tenure policies, that support sustainable agriculture and rural development

Programs and Activities:
  • Agricultural Policy and Food Security: implementation of policies pertaining to land tenure, population trends, appropriate farm technologies and an open trading system by the national government, enhancing rural populations access to food
  • Agricultural Land Use Planning and Soil Erosion: programs must be developed for each land and climate zone based on the identification of sustainable land uses and production systems to control inappropriate land use
  • Genetic Resources: indigenous species must be identified and their genetic resources must be protected, especially those of whom are at risk of disappearing
  • Pest Control: techniques for the use of traditional and non-chemical methods of pest control, including integrated pest management, must be collected and made available
  • Food Production: development of new technologies to enhance soil fertility and produce topsoil from local sources
  • Rural Energy Supplies: focus on production and development of environmentally sound low-cost and easily-maintained technology

All of these activities listed are only a fraction of the reforms that need to be made to cause a shift in our agriculture and rural developmental habits.  With the proper policies, we can greatly reduce the growing impact that we have had on our environment and protect what little agriculturally viable land is left from erosion, nutrient depletion, pollution and many other human enhanced issues.

Deserts and Droughts

Desertification: when an area is transformed into a desert. This occurs in arid, semiarid and dry sub-humid areas like South Africa, the Middle East, and China.

  • Effects ~ 1 billion people
  • Destroys range-land for livestock
  • Intensifies decline of soil fertility and soil structure
  • Increased degradation of irrigated croplands worldwide

The decline in productivity of land and livestock production has resulted in widespread poverty, hunger and malnutrition.  Desertification also impacts human health as particulates from dust storms contribute to the affects of asthma, emphysema and other lung-related illness.


  1. Implement preventative measures by education and incentives for irrigation practices that will prevent the affects of desertification
  2. Do more to alleviate areas that are already affected by desertification by using methods to rejuvenate the soil and treat any poverty, health and famine effects. 

"The decline in productivity and loss of crop and livestock production... has resulted in widespread poverty, hunger, and malnutrition.  Desertification plays a key role in the famine which continues to afflict sub-Saharan Africa, the Sahel and Somalia."  

(Sitarz, Agenda 21, p. 101)

Programs and Activities:

  • Soil Conservation and Reforestation:  By increasing vegetation cover on all lands periodically affected by drought, we can promote and stabilize water cycles in dry land areas, which will help maintain land quality and increase productivity.  This can be accomplished with forest conservation, preservation, and reforestation.
  • Education:  It is imperative to develop comprehensive anti-desertification incentivized programs which can be implemented into national programs.  Environmental education for local groups of all ages is also crucial, to prevent future calamitous affects. 

Mountain Ecosystems

Mountain ecosystems include tropical, subtropical, and temperate climate areas, and represent an important source of biological diversity, water and mineral resources.  Forestry, agriculture and recreation in mountain areas also provide key economic activities.  Mountain ecosystems also feed lower-level watersheds, and these watersheds are heavily relied upon for agriculture and human habitation.

  • Effects ~3.5 billion people


  • Mountain areas are susceptible to accelerated soil erosion, landslides and rapid loss of habitat and genetic diversity. 
  • Mountain areas are much more sensitive than most areas to climate change, which results in lower snow fall and greatly affects water yield for the following seasons.
  • Decline in these areas due to poor land management practices and cultivation of marginal lands.
  • Mountain regions are home to some of the most endangered animals and plant life. 

There are many areas in the world that depend on the mountain resources for their survival.  Most areas, such as the San Francisco Bay Area, rely on mountains for their fresh water supply from snowmelt (Hetch Hetchy). 

“Approximately 10 percent of the Earth’s population lives in mountain areas with higher slopes, while some 40 percent occupy the adjacent medium and lower-watershed regions which draw on mountain resources, particularly water.” 

(Sitarz, Agenda 21 p. 109) 

Programs and Activities:

  • Promote alternative income generating activities – sustainable tourism, fisheries, and environmentally sound mining.
  • Promote environmentally sound watershed development.
  • Comprehensive approach to conserving mountain resources and species.
  • Promotion of alternative livelihood opportunities for sustainable mountain development, improving living standards of rural populations in mountain areas.
  • Local awareness for disaster prevention and relief.
  • Develop mechanisms to preserve threatened areas and establish national parks.

Biological Diversity

“Humanity has systematically destroyed animal habitats, over-harvested lands, inappropriately introduced foreign plants and animals throughout the world and polluted every region on Earth.”

(Sitarz, Agenda 21 p. 114)

Despite continuous efforts since the wave of environmentalism that swept through the United States and other countries in the 1970’s, loss of biodiversity has continued to occur.  The decline is largely caused by human activities, through loss of habitat, over-harvesting, invasive and foreign species introductions, human sprawl/resource consumption, and pollution.  The full consequences of loss of biodiversity are unknown, but it could represent a dramatic shift for a less habitable planet. 

  • Effects: All life on earth


  • Because of human activity, fragmentation, destruction, and degradation of Earth’s natural systems has occurred. 
  • Settlements and populations near biologically-rich areas that have suffered degradation are losing their livelihoods.
  • Humanity is suffering uncountable losses in natural medicines, fibers, foods, and building material that could be conserved and utilized in a more sustainable matter.

Even though we have explored much of the Earth, there is much, according to the scientific community at large, that we have not yet seen or documented.  We do not know how many organisms, those that we have never seen or recorded, have become extinct already through our unsustainable practices.  Because we are dependent upon this planet and its contents for all our successes, we need to take care to conserve and preserve the planet for future generations, and to ensure the survival of the human race.

“Although only about 1.4 million species have been described, it has been estimated that there are at least 5 million and perhaps as many as 100 million species on Earth.”

(Sitarz, Agenda 21 p. 114)

Programs and Activities:

  • Urgent action to conserve and maintain genes, species, and ecosystems with a commitment to sustainable management and use of biological resources.
  • “Arrangements must be developed to ensure that the countries providing genetic resources are able to equitable share in the benefits derived from the commercial use of those resources.”
  • The entire capacity—reproductive and biological—of land and water species should be studied in detail, including native, cultured and cultivated species.
  • Protected lands should be reinforced—new lands should be granted protection under national or local government, and there should be a stronger effort to conserve/preserve those lands for recovery.
  • Governments and other agencies (non-profit) should distribute information, educating citizens about the importance of genetic diversity and what can be done to protect it.