Population Issues- 1999

Demographic Trends by Region

Reproductive Rights, Reproductive Health and Family Planning

Empowering Women

Population and Sustainable Development

Population Trends:
The Numbers and Beyond

Demographic Trends by Region

Migration and Urbanization

Knowledge that Empowers

Breaking the Data Barrier:
A Priority for Research

Challenges for the 21st Century

The New Generations, the Family and Society

Population growth rates vary greatly among regions and even among countries within the same region. One division is that between industrialized countries and developing countries. The more developed regions include Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Europe and North America, which are collectively home to 1.19 billion people. On average, population growth in these regions is almost 0.3 per cent per year, a rate that is projected to dip below zero before 2025, under all but the highest population projections, as fertility and the proportion of people in their childbearing years continue to decline. (Projections beyond ten years into the future, however, unlike estimates of past growth, leave out the possible effects of migration. Actual rates of growth in industrialized countries will probably be higher.) The population of less developed regions is estimated at 4.6 billion and is growing at a rate of 1.6 per cent annually. Over the next 30 years, almost 98 per cent of global population growth is projected to take place in developing countries. 11

Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United States are among the developed countries with the highest rates of population growth, hovering around the 1 per cent mark, but that includes the effect of inward migration. Countries with rates of population growth near zero or declining include Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Portugal, the Russian Federation and Spain. Negative population growth in a number of Eastern European countries reflect poorer health and rising death rates, as well as outward migration. Fertility is lowest in Germany, Greece, Italy and Spain.

Africa’s high rate of population growth also masks variations within the continent. Rates of growth fluctuate from 2.0 and 1.6 per cent in Northern and Southern Africa to 2.5 and 2.7 per cent in Western and Middle Africa, while the average for the continent is about 2.4 per cent. And while higher rates of population growth are to be found in the Comoros, the Gambia, Guinea, Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, Mozambique and Western Sahara, fertility is highest in Niger, Malawi, Uganda and Angola, where women have, on average, about 7 children. Africa’s 1999 population of 767 million people is projected to nearly double by 2035.

Today, women in most African countries want families smaller than those of their mothers and the use of family planning is increasing, together with access to services. However, burdened by more than a decade of declining per capita food production and stagnating per capita incomes, providing and expanding the reach of health care services is a daunting proposition for the governments of sub-Saharan African countries, one made even more difficult by high infection rates for HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases. Assistance from the international community will be crucial for improving health care, including reproductive health and family planning, for education and for women’s empowerment.

After sub-Saharan Africa, the regions with the highest rates of population growth are Western Asia (2.2 per cent), Northern Africa (2.0 per cent), Central America (1.9 per cent) and South-Central Asia (1.8 per cent). Again, there are noteworthy variations among countries. Fertility has declined to less than four children in Algeria, Egypt, Morocco and Tunisia as access to both family planning services and education for girls has improved. Population growth rates of around 2 per cent in these countries contrast with rates of 3.3 per cent or higher in Saudi Arabia and Yemen, where access to family planning services remains more limited and women have, on average, nearly 6 children or more.

Similar contrasts are to be found in South-Central Asia. The population of the region, which includes the Indian sub-continent, Iran and five former Soviet republics, is projected to increase by about 50 per cent over the next 30 years, from less than 1.5 billion to 2.0 billion under the United Nations’ medium variant. While Pakistan’s fertility rates remain obstinately high, family size in Bangladesh is now steadily declining. India presents a mixed picture, with high rates in the north of the country and low ones in the south. A combination of good access to family planning services and high levels of education among women has supported declining fertility rates in southern India and Sri Lanka. Throughout the region, efforts to improve the status of women, including better access to reproductive health care and education, are essential to enhancing their roles in decisions about childbearing.

Rates of population growth in the rest of Asia range from around 1 per cent in China, South Korea and Thailand to more than 2 per cent in Cambodia, Malaysia and the Philippines. Particularly in the Republic of Korea and Thailand, access to good quality, voluntary family planning services and increasingly higher levels of female education are credited with supporting declines in family size. Asia as a whole is home to 60 per cent of the world’s people, and while that proportion will not change significantly over the next 30 years, the medium variant projection shows Asia’s population increasing by more than 37 per cent, reaching over 4.7 billion people in 2025.

In contrast to Asia’s demographic size, Latin American and the Caribbean are home to just over 8 per cent of the world’s population. For the region’s 511 million people, population growth rates have fallen by more than one-third over last three decades and women bear, on average, under 3 children. Life expectancy in Latin American is close to that of the northern industrialized countries and infant mortality is the lowest among the world’s developing regions.

While the financial support of governments for family planning programmes has been key to expanding access to services in Asia, the private sector, including non-governmental organizations (NGOs), has played a much greater role in Latin America. Partly as a result, there are still significant differences with regard to access to services within many Latin American countries, depending on the economic status of those seeking services.

The Impact of AIDS

The Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) estimates that 33.4 million people were HIV-positive as of December 1998 -- about one third of them in the 15-24 age group -- and 2.5 million died of the disease in 1998. It is estimated that 95 per cent of those infected live in developing countries, and two thirds live in sub-Saharan Africa, where 8.0 per cent of adults are HIV-positive. AIDS has a terrible effect on individuals and communities, as it strikes down working people, orphans children, and places huge strains on health care and social systems.

AIDS will have a major impact on several African countries. In Botswana, for instance, life expectancy has fallen from 61 years in the late 1980s to 50 in the late 1990s, and is expected to plunge to 33 by 2010. Because of high fertility rates, most sub-Saharan African countries are still expected to experience population growth, but for the most affected nations the pace will be much slower than it would be without the devastating consequences of AIDS.

The course of this epidemic, both globally and in particular countries, is still yet to be determined. There are some hopeful signs -- infection and mortality rates are falling in a number of countries, though they are continuing to rise in others. The development of the epidemic in South and East Asia, and especially in India and China, is a particular cause of concern. Slowing and stopping the spread of AIDS will require improvements in comprehensive reproductive health care, as well as better public education about the risks and consequences of HIV infection.

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