Population-Development-Environment (PDE) Interactions

POP is working on comprehensive models that capture the possible dangers to human health and well-being resulting from future PDE interactions.
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POP is continuing the tradition of specific comprehensive PDE case studies that began with a study on Mauritius in 1994. The key methodological issues of this series of studies were discussed in a special issue of the journal Population and Development Review (Lutz et al. 2002). Although each study had (and any future study is likely to have) different structures and research questions, they all have key features in common. In particular, they use the methods of systems analysis to try to capture the complex PDE interactions over time.

As illustrated by work of the National Academy of Sciences Committee on Population and Environment, most current work in the field of population and environment is at a very descriptive level or only focuses on very specific and partial population-environment relationships. However, possible dangers to human health and well-being resulting from future PDE interactions can most effectively be anticipated through comprehensive models that try to capture these interactions in the best possible form.

IIASA, as an institute with a long-term commitment to systems analysis, seems to be the right place for keeping the tradition of real world applications of such comprehensive systems models, thus filling an important niche in the scientific community.

The Asian tsunami disaster of 26 December 2004
This reminded the world in a dramatic way of the vulnerability of population-environment interactions in coastal areas. Coastal development in Asia (as in many other parts of the world) over the past decades has been largely uncontrolled and guided by short-term economic incentives. This has led to massive migration movements to the coasts, often associated with social disruption and a significant destruction of ecosystems (some of which, such as coral reefs and mangrove forests, have proven to have important protective functions). These factors, combined with the rapidly increasing mobility (of both locals and international visitors), have also made these populations more vulnerable to infectious diseases (AIDS, SARS, malaria, and others), which may, in turn, have serious consequences for longer-term economic development. In the future these coastal populations are also expected to be particularly vulnerable to the effects of global climate change. IIASA and Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok have signed an agreement to carry out a joint research program on population-environment interactions in coastal areas. This is based on the already existing close collaboration between POP and Chulalongkorn’s College of Population Studies (CPS) in the context of the Asian MetaCentre for Population and Sustainable Development Analysis. International funding for this program was as part of the reconstruction efforts for the most heavily affected regions to help plan sustainable coastal development in these regions.

Against this background the following PDE case studies are in progress:

The Phang Nga, Phuket and Krabi regions
These are the three provinces in Thailand most severely affected by the tsunami. Tourism plays an important economic role in this region and has been a reason for both environmental destruction and preservation (e.g., the establishment of national parks to attract tourists). This study, with  particular focus on sustainable tourism, was carried out in collaboration with Chulalongkorn University and local partners.

The Nicobar Islands
This group of islands belonging to India is situated in the Andaman Sea and was very severely hit by the December 26 tsunami. Unlike the coast of Thailand, these islands have been largely untouched by tourism and modern development in general. A large proportion of the population consists of ethnic tribes living traditional lives; access to the islands is restricted by the Indian government. An interesting historical link to Laxenburg castle is that the Nicobar Islands were an Austrian colony for a few years in the 18th century. Empress Maria Theresa established an “Austrian East India Company” for this purpose, although this turned out to be very short-lived. The leading international expert on the Nicobar Islands, Indian scholar Simron Singh, lives in Vienna and will most likely play a key role in this PDE study.

Aceh province in Indonesia
Aceh had by far the largest number of tsunami victims. At this stage it is still difficult to assess the exact number of victims, but it is already clear that this disaster has significantly affected the size and structure of the population of Aceh. Based on pre-tsunami census data and surveys likely to be taken soon, the Program will try to assess quantitatively the population dynamics, human capital prospects and sustainable development options for Aceh. A close collaboration for this work has already been established with Indonesian colleagues under the umbrella of the Asian MetaCentre.

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Last edited: 06 November 2012


Wolfgang Lutz

Program Director

World Population

T +43(0) 2236 807 294

International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA)
Schlossplatz 1, A-2361 Laxenburg, Austria
Phone: (+43 2236) 807 0 Fax:(+43 2236) 71 313