Global Population Hits 6 Billion
|Secondary school class in Mauritania.
The unprecedented number of young people alive todayover a billion between ages 15
and 24guarantees that population will continue to grow for decades even as families
are getting smaller. Meeting their needs for education and health care, including
reproductive health, will be key to improving peoples well-being and stabilizing
In October 1999, world population will reach 6 billion, an increase of a billion people
in just 12 years. How fast the next billion people are added, the effect on natural
resources and the environment, and the quality of life will depend on policy and funding
decisions taken in the next 5 to 10 years, according to The State of World Population
1999 report, published by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).
Global population has quadrupled this century, growing faster than at any time in
previous history. At the beginning of the 20th century, the worlds population was
approximately 1.5 billion. In 1927 it reached 2 billion; in 1960, 3 billion; in 1974, 4
billion; in 1987, 5 billion; and on 12 October 1999 it will hit 6 billion. Nearly half of
all people on earth will be under 25.
Today people live longer and healthier lives than ever before. Modern medicine and
better living conditions have dramatically lowered the global death rate, especially for
infants and children. Since 1950, average life expectancy has risen from 46 to 66 years. A
growing majority of women and men have the information and means to make choices about the
number and spacing of their children. However, there are still a billion peopleone
person in sixliving in poverty.
Although the rate of population growth is slowing, due to falling birth rates, the
absolute annual increase is still near its historic high of 86 million a decade ago
because there are so many women and men of childbearing age. Over 95 per cent of growth is
in developing countries. The fastest growing regions are sub-Saharan Africa where
the average woman has 5.5 childrenand parts of South Asia and Western Asia.
Meanwhile, population growth has slowed or stopped in Europe, North America and Japan. The
United States is the only industrial country where large population increases are still
projected, largely due to immigration.
The United Nations projects that world population will grow from the current 6 billion
to between 7.3 and 10.7 billion by 2050, with 8.9 billion considered the most
likelymeaning world population may grow almost as much in the next 50 years as in
the past 50. In this scenario, the current yearly increase of 78 mil-lion people would
gradually drop to 64 million annually in 2020-2025, and then fall sharply to 33 million
people a year in 2045-2050.
Due to improved education and health care and increased access to family planning in
Asia, Africa and Latin America, women are having fewer children, and families are smaller
than ever before. In developing countries overall, birth rates have dropped by half since
1969, when the United Nations began its Population Fund, from almost six children per
woman to under three today. As a result, population growth has begun to slow.
However, the highest rates of growth are taking place in the poorest countries, those
least prepared to provide basic services and jobs for growing numbers of young people. The
people and countries most affected are concentrated in Africa and South Asia, but there
are some in every developing region. In 62 countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America,
over 40 per cent of the population is under age 15. Africa, the worlds most rapidly
growing region, is also the youngest, with a median age of only 18. Worldwide, over a
billion people are between ages 15 and 24, the parents of the next generation.
At the same time, 61 countries are seeing fertility rates at or below the
"replacement level" of about 2.1 births per woman, and their populations could
decline over the long term. However, the report says there is no sign of a global
"birth dearth" since births will continue at over 100 million a year for the
next 50 years. Deaths will also rise over this period as populations become older, which
is already happening in industrial countries and is just beginning in less-developed
regions. Globally, there are more older people than ever before.
The report warns that "this slow demographic change calls for policy
choices." Around the world, but particularly in the more-developed regions, countries
with ageing populations will face challenges providing support and medical care for the
elderly. With fewer young people, they will look to active older people and immigrants to
supply some needed services and contribute to the economy. Countries with higher birth
rates will have an opportunity to increase productivity and economic development if enough
jobs are created for working-age people who are having fewer children.
At the same time, HIV/AIDS is taking a heavier toll than had been anticipated by
demographic experts, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, where it is the leading cause of
death. In many countries, it has erased decades of progress in reducing child mortality
and increasing life expectancy. In 29 African countries, the average life expectancy is
now seven years less than it would have been without AIDS. However, the population is not
expected to decline in any of these countries because of continuing high birth rates.
Unbalanced consumption patterns and growing population increase pressure on land and
water resources, especially in urban areas. At the end of this century, the wealthiest
fifth of the worlds people consume more than 66 times the materials and resources of
the poorest fifth. Already, rising population has reduced world grain area per person by
50 per cent since 1950, and world per capita grain output has been stagnant for more than
a decade. Water stress and scarcity is another big concern. According to a recent study,
one fourth of the worlds people are likely to live in countries facing chronic or
recurring shortages of fresh water by the year 2050.
Continued population growth and unbalanced consumption will also affect other
environmental trends such as collapsing fisheries, shrinking forests, rising temperatures
and the extinction of plants and animals. "One of the real choices we will face in
the 21st century is how many species and ecosystems we are willing to eliminate in order
to make more space for more human activities," the report warns.
Continuing urbanization and international migration also pose policy challenges. Today
almost half of all people live in cities, compared to one third in 1960. Worldwide, cities
are growing by 60 million persons each year. And by 2030, it is predicted that over 60 per
cent of people, 5 billion, will live in urban areas, many of them megacities with 10
million people or more. Today there are 17 megacitiescompared to just two in
1960and it is projected that by 2015 there will be 26, 22 of them in less-developed
regions, 18 in Asia alone.
A 20-year Programme of Action endorsed by the worlds governments in 1994 at the
International Conference on Population and Development is under-funded, according to the
report, and more resources are needed to provide reproductive health services. Unless
governments commit further action and funding, the report warns, the cumulative effects of
continuing poverty, gender discrimination, new threats such as HIV/AIDS, environmental
change and shrinking international resources for development could "wipe out the
benefits of lower fertility over the past generation, with global consequences."
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Other News Features:
Youth: At Risk and in Need of
Information and Services
Lack of Choice Jeopardizes Womens Health and Lives
Cairo Population Plan Needs More Funding to Sustain Progress
BACK TO THE STATE OF WORLD POPULATION
For more information:
United Nations Population Fund
Information and External Relations Division
220 E. 42nd Street, New York, NY 10017, U.S.A.
Tel. 212-297-5020; fax: 212-557-6416
E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Web site: www.unfpa.org