Reproductive Health Access Up,
Fertility and Population Growth Down

Box 1

Fertility rates are declining in much of the world, but the global population is still growing by 81 million persons per year. Fertility fell between 1980-1985 and 1990-1995 in a number of countries of south-central Asia and sub-Saharan Africa: in Bangladesh from 6.2 children per woman to 3.4; in India from 4.5 to 3.4; in Pakistan from 6.5 to 5.5; in Turkey from 4.1 to 2.7; in Myanmar from 4.9 to 3.6; in Syria from 7.4 to 4.7; in Kenya from 7.5 to 5.4; and in Côte d'Ivoire from 7.4 to 5.7. Fertility in all of Africa is now estimated to have been 5.7 in 1990-1995.

Part of this decline in fertility can be attributed to success in meeting the need for reproductive health care including family planning. Nevertheless, fertility rates remain high in a number of countries, indicating considerable unmet need. The desire to limit fertility, and with it the demand for information, support, and access to quality family planning services, can be expected to increase. Considerable efforts will be required to meet the reproductive health needs of the many women who wish to limit or space their pregnancies but lack responsive services.

Another factor in the reduction of the expected growth rate in the less developed regions is higher-than-expected mortality in countries affected by wars—such as Rwanda, Liberia, Burundi and Iraq—or by the spread of AIDS. Death rates in eastern Africa are 25 per cent higher than they would be in the absence of AIDS. Denial of the right to protection has the effect of raising death rates in countries hard hit by the HIV/AIDS pandemic.

The world's population in mid-1997 is 5.85 billion. Growth slowed to 81 million persons per year during 1990-1995, compared to 87 million per year in the peak growth years of 1985-1990. Annual growth averaged 1.8 per cent in less-developed regions, where 80 per cent of the world's people live, and 0.4 per cent elsewhere.

The global annual growth rate of 1.48 per cent for 1990-1995 is significantly lower than the 1.57 per cent projected by the United Nations in 1994. This reflects a faster-than-anticipated decline in fertility, to a current average of 2.96 children per woman. But even where fertility is declining, population growth will continue as the large numbers of people born in previous decades reach their childbearing years.

Long-range population projections are lower: the world in 2050 is expected to have between 7.7 billion and 11.1 billion people, with the most likely projection considered to be 9.4 billion—nearly half a billion less than the 1994 estimate. Where the actual 2050 population will fall within this vast 3.4 billion range will depend largely on the actions or inactions of the world's nations in the next few years.

Source: United Nations. (Forthcoming.) World Population Prospects: The 1996 Revision. New York: Population Division, Department for Economic and Social Information and Policy Analysis, United Nations.