UNITED NATIONS, New York — The current world population of 7.2 billion is projected to increase by 1 billion over the next 12 years and reach 9.6 billion by 2050, according to a United Nations report launched today, which points out that growth will be mainly in developing countries, with more than half in Africa.
The report, World Population Prospects: the 2012 Revision, notes that the population of developed regions will remain largely unchanged at around 1.3 billion from now until 2050. In contrast, the 49 least developed countries are projected to double in size from around 900 million people in 2013 to 1.8 billion in 2050.
"The projections indicate rapid population growth in the least developed regions. However, these trends are not inevitable and can be guided by policies that enhance individual choices, such as expanding access to reproductive health services," said UNFPA Executive Director, Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin. "This underlines what UNFPA has been stressing all along: We should invest more in expanding voluntary family planning to all those who need it. For 222 million women, largely in the developing countries, having children by choice and not by chance is still a dream. That is why we welcome the report's call for expanding access to family planning, especially in the least developed regions. This is not just a human rights issue; it's also smart economics."
Compared to previous assessments of world population trends, the new projected total population is higher, mainly due to new information obtained on fertility levels of certain countries. For example, in 15 high-fertility countries of sub-Saharan Africa, the estimated average number of children per woman has been adjusted upwards by more than 5 per cent.
Changes in fertility rates over the next few decades could have major consequence for population size, structure and distribution in the long run, according to the report.
"In some cases, the actual level of fertility appears to have risen in recent years; in other cases, the previous estimate was too low," said the Director of the Population Division in the UN's Department of Economic and Social Affairs, John Wilmoth, during a press conference in New York.
"The report shows that the numbers of children and young people in the less developed regions are at an all-time high," said Dr. Osotimehin. "Adequate investments in their health, education and job opportunities, and ensuring that girls, in particular, are not left behind, will help them fulfill their potential and boost their nations' economies."
Overall, life expectancy is projected to increase in developed and developing countries in future years. At the global level, it is projected to reach 76 years in the period 2045-2050 and 82 years in 2095-2100. By the end of the century, people in developed countries could live on average around 89 years, compared to about 81 years in developing regions.
"We welcome the report's finding that people are living longer," added Dr. Osotimehin. "But governments must provide older people with social and economic protection, and ensure that every person enjoys the right to age with dignity and security. This is a challenge for all countries and is particularly critical for developing countries, the majority of which are poised to enter a period of rapid population ageing."
The report's figures are based on a comprehensive review of available demographic data from 233 countries and areas around the world, including the 2010 round of population censuses.