Encyclopedia of World Problems - Archived Information

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World problems project: summary


The purpose of this project, one of the major dimensions of  the Encyclopedia, is to identify the complete range of world problems perceived by international constituencies, whether as a focus for their programme activities, their research, their protest, their recommendations, or as part of their belief system. An entry has been established on each. This provides a context within which the network of specific relationships perceived between these problems may also be identified.


This section contains 7 sub-sections as follows (figures for 4th edition, 1994-95):

  • Descriptive sections
    • Basic universal problems (170)
    • Cross-sectoral problems (575)
    • Detailed problems (2,162)
    • Emanations of other problems (3,857)
    • Exceptional problems (3,072)
  • Cross-referenced sections
    • Very specific problems (2,153)
    • Problems under consideration (214)

The section contains entries on a total of 12,203 world problems grouping 24,092 problem names. The entries are linked by 113,330 cross-references. As indicated, it is divided into 5 sub-sections containing descriptive entries. Two further sections correspond to entries which are indexed and cross-referenced, but are not printed. Entries may be located through the index in the printed version. Notes on the significance and methodology are given in a commentary.


The entries are based on information obtained from international organizations, a wide variety of reference books, or reported in the international media. The procedures for identifying world problems are described in a commentary. These were designed to detect both well-publicized problems as well as little- known problems, whether recognized by official bodies or not. The procedures include methods of handling hierarchies of sub-problems which extend down to a level of specificity that it would be inappropriate to attempt to handle at this stage.

The procedures used in preparing this section are discussed in detail in the commentary.


Detailed comments are provided. As a whole, this section endeavours to present all the phenomena in society that are perceived negatively by groups transcending national frontiers. These are the phenomena which engender fear and irrational responses as well as those constituting a challenge to creative remedial action. Groups are very strongly motivated by the problems which infringe their values and arouse their indignation. As such problems are a major stimulus driving the development of society. The perceptions documented raise useful questions concerning the nature of problems, and what is meant by the "existence" of a problem, especially when other groups consider that perception irrelevant, misleading or misinformed. There is great difficulty in obtaining and editing material on problems, rather than on incidents, remedial programme action, theories, or other frameworks through which perception of problems is filtered. So to that extent, it could be argued that this section assembles information on which people collectively have great difficulty in focusing, namely information whose significance, whether deliberately or inadvertently, is collectively repressed, displaced onto some less threatening problems, or projected in the form of blame onto some other social group.


A keyword index to entries is provided.

Entries in this section are also cross-referenced from the section on Human Values and Wisdom on the basis of the negative value words in the principal or alternative names of the problems. It is such value operators which render the problem "problematic".


The contents of this section may be considered as complementing the other sections in ways such as the following:

  • Human development: By the manner in which human development is frustrated and impeded by world problems, and through the world problems engendered by the unbalanced pursuit of particular forms of human development (or by the conflict between different forms of human development).
  • Integrative knowledge: By the importance of integrative knowledge for comprehending the nature of the global problematique; by the manner in which that problematique calls for new kinds of integrative knowledge.
  • Metaphors and patterns: By the problems of communication in a global society and by the need to communicate the nature of world problems.
  • Transformative approaches: By the importance of such approaches in offering some new leverage in responding to the global problematique.
  • Human values: By the direct correspondence between disvalues and problems, and by they manner in which problems only become perceptible in the light of the values upon which they infringe.


The emphasis was placed on providing descriptions of less well-known problems, particularly when the extensive material available on the better-known problems contained neither succinct descriptions of them nor descriptive material which could easily be reduced to succinct descriptions. The problem descriptions here represent a compilation of views from published documents (usually from international organizations) and are in no way intended as an accusation or a criticism of any particular group or country by the editors or publishers of this volume. By including or excluding particular world problems, the editors are in no way implying either approval or disapproval of the problem as conceived or as described. The same problems tend to be viewed differently by different groups in society. For one group a problem is of the utmost importance and urgency, for another the same problem is insignificant, does not exist, or is completely misconceived on the basis of available facts. Inclusion of a problem in this section is therefore not considered by the editors to mean that the problem "exists", but only that a functionally significant group of people in a number of countries believe, or claim to believe, that the problem exists on the basis of the facts available to them.