Monitor (US), May 21, 2007
on the 'population bomb' has been relit
the developed world deals with a 'birth dearth,' populations are
exploding in developing nations. What the first world should do
By David R.
for stabilizing the world's soaring population have taken a blow.
This development, if not reversed, will have huge economic, environmental,
and political impacts on most people alive today.
ago, the United Nations projected that the number of people on
this planet would reach 8.9 billion by 2050. In March, the UN
Population Division revised that projection to 9.2 billion.
If UN demographers
are right, in 43 years the world's population will increase by
2.5 billion, up from 6.7 billion today. That growth is equivalent
to how many people lived on Earth in 1950. The difference in the
two UN projections, separated by only two years, is equal to today's
population of the United States.
Talk of a
"birth dearth" remains true for most industrial countries.
The US, with a high rate of immigration, legal and illegal, is
But the population
"explosion" is not over in many developing countries.
rate of progress has come down," warns Stanley Bernstein,
a senior policy adviser for the United Nations Population Fund
(UNFPA). His boss, Thoraya Ahmed Obaid, executive director of
UNFPA, points to a steep decline in world foreign aid for family
planning, from $723 million in 1955 to $442 million in 2004 (in
are 200 million women in the developing world with an unmet need
for effective contraception," she said in an address last
month. "The result is increasing numbers of unwanted pregnancies,
rising rates of unsafe abortion, and increased risks to the lives
of women and children."
The UN projects
the population of developing countries will rise from 5.4 billion
today to 7.9 billion in 2050. In that time, the number of people
in the developed world will remain largely unchanged, at 1.2 billion.
Populations of Europe, Japan, and Russia will actually decline.
such projections decades into the future are imprecise. Hania
Zlotnik, director of the UN Population Division, after citing
her 2050 population projection in a phone interview, added, "give
or take 200 million."
The UN projection
assumes that women age 15 to 19 in 2005 will have 2.5 children
during their lives. That's the average for the world. For Africa,
the average is assumed to be 4.1; for Asia, 2.4; for Europe, 1.6;
for Latin America, 2.1; and for North America, 2. It takes 2.1
children per mother for a population to stabilize over time.
fertility rate of 2.75 children for all women in the developing
world continues, the world's population will reach 12 billion
by 2050. The UN, however, projects the fertility rate will fall
to 2.05 by 2045-50.
unlikely the world's population will double again ever,"
Ms. Zlotnik says. (Between 1950 and 2000, it did double.)
rise in the world's population has long been of concern to many.
Vicky Markham, director of the Center for Environment and Population,
in New Canaan, Conn., points out how all those extra people will
need more space, food, water, and other natural resources. Fulfilling
those needs could worsen global warming and harm other species
on Earth. "It's pretty formidable," she says. And also
As if that
weren't enough, a new study sees a political threat from rapid
population growth. There is a correlation between countries with
very young populations and those experiencing civic conflict,
says Elizabeth Leahy, author of a report for Population Action
International (PAI), a Washington advocacy group. This is relevant
to the conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan, Darfur (Sudan), and Gaza,
and 1999, 80 percent of all civil conflicts that caused at least
25 deaths occurred in countries in which 60 percent or more of
the population was under age 30, her study finds.
a very complex issue," Ms. Leahy says. "There are multiple
factors at play."
her thesis is that governments and businesses in countries with
young populations have a difficult time providing so many youths
with education and "meaningful employment." The result
can feed unrest and conflict.
Women in Iraq,
where 69 percent of the population is under 30, have an average
of 4.2 children. Afghan women have seven children. There, some
73 percent of the people are under 30. In Sudan, where women have
an average of four children, 68 percent of the population is under
with high birthrates include Pakistan, Nigeria, Somalia, Ethiopia,
Kenya, Chad, Niger, and Yemen.
the Leahy study is "a bit of an exaggeration." She notes
that the world's most destructive and deadly wars have occurred
in rich nations with older populations. But the PAI study points
out that the eight new civil conflicts between 2000 and 2004 have
risen in nations with very young populations.
according to Leahy, include improving access in poor nations to
family planning and reproductive health services plus more equitable
access to education and economic opportunities for women.
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