World Population Headed for 9.2 Billion by 2050

NEW YORK, New York, December 3, 2002 (ENS) - Global population is projected to increase from 6.28 billion today to 9.2 billion by 2050, according to "The State of World Population 2002" a report by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) released today. The least developed countries have the highest fertility and population growth, and their populations are expected to triple in the next 50 years, from 600 million to 1.8 billion, the UN agency predicts.

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Mother and child in Ecuador (Photo by G. Bizzarri courtesy UN FAO)
UNFPA’s State of World Population report has been published annually since 1978. This year's edition entitled "People, Poverty and Possibilities: Making Development Work for the Poor," demonstrates that smaller families, slower population growth and higher productivity occur in developing countries that invested in education and health, including family planning.

On the other hand, inadequate efforts to provide reproductive health services and combat gender inequality result in continued high fertility among the poor, perpetuating poverty and inequality within households and nations.

Pointing to a “population effect” on economic growth, the report cites new data showing that since 1970, developing countries with lower fertility and slower population growth have registered faster economic growth.

Family planning programs and population assistance were responsible for almost one third of the global decline in fertility from 1972 to 1994, the UNFPA report states. "These social investments attack poverty directly and empower individuals, especially women. They enable choice."

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Overcrowding and poverty in Johannesburg, South Africa (Photo courtesy UNEP CEROI)
Half the world’s population, or more than three billion people, live on less than $2 a day, and one billion people live on less than $1 a day.

Poverty, however, is more than a lack of income, the UNFPA says. It is characterized by insecurity, inequality, poor health, including poor reproductive health, and illiteracy. Its effects are worsened by the very wide gap in most societies between the richest and the poorest.

The report calls on countries to take advantage of the unique economic opportunity represented by falling birth rates. A “demographic window” opens when a rapid decline in fertility increases the proportion of working age people relative to younger and older dependants, the UNFPA says.

This gives developing countries that make appropriate investments a one-time chance to increase productivity and savings and lay the basis for future progress. The window closes as the population ages and older dependants start increasing, the agency says.

Through this report, the UNFPA calls on international donors to increase their funding of reproductive health programs to cover a shortfall.

Spending on basic reproductive health and population programs in 2000 was $10.9 billion, $6.1 billion short of the $17 billion the international community agreed was needed to achieve universal access to reproductive health care by 2015.

Contributions by donor countries were less than half the required $5.7 billion level.

Addressing population concerns, the UNFPA states, is critical to meeting the UN’s Millennium Development Goals of halving global poverty and hunger by 2015, reducing maternal and child mortality, curbing HIV/AIDS, advancing gender equality, and promoting environmentally sustainable development.

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A young man carries fuelwood in Eritrea (Photo courtesy UN FAO)
The UNFPA report maintains that to meet these goals in developing countries, urgent action that targets poor people is needed to combat inadequate reproductive health, unwanted fertility, illiteracy and discrimination against women.

There is a clear connection between population growth and every environmental challenge facing our planet, most environmental organizations recognize. As populations grow, pressure on freshwater resources increases, forested land is converted to fields to feed more people, and wildlife habitat shrinks. More people use more natural resources and the produce more wastes.

The number of people on Earth, where they live, and how they live all affect the condition of the environment, according to Jonathan Nash and Roger-Mark De Souza in their July 2002 paper for the Population Reference Bureau, a Washington, DC based nonprofit organization that also issues an annual report on population.

"Human demographic dynamics, such as the size, growth, distribution, age composition, and migration of populations, are among the many factors that can lead to environmental change," Nash and De Souza write. "Consumption patterns, development choices, wealth and land distribution, government policies, and technology can mediate or exacerbate the effects of demographics on the environment."

Still, the United States is unwilling to support family planning services overseas if abortions are offered. On July 22, President George W. Bush officially announced that he will withhold $34 million in funds for the UNFPA.

Bush’s decision was based on claims that the UNFPA supports forced abortions in China. Bush held to this decision despite a report from the administration’s own fact finding team that found no evidence that the UN organization “has knowingly supported or participated in the management of a program of coercive abortion or involuntary sterilization in China.”

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Indonesian mother feeds her child (Photo courtesy FAO)
The result is a 13 percent cut in funding for the UNFPA’s international family planning programs. The $34 million will be distributed to the U.S. Agency for International Development, the world's single largest donor for population research which the Bush administration says is working to expand the range of available contraceptive choices.

The Bush administration threatened in late October to back out of a United Nations population policy ratified by 179 nations at the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development if the terms “reproductive rights” and “reproductive health services” were not removed from the language of the agreement, because they imply a right to abortion.

The American delegation to the Asian and Pacific Population Conference delivered this threat to the surprised attendees at a population conference in Bangkok.

On November 7, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher clarified the U.S. position. "The United States remains committed to providing assistance to help achieve the three principal goals adopted in the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development concerning reproductive health, maternal mortality, and education," he said.

"Our support for the International Conference on Population and Development’s goals, however, in no way implies U.S. promotion of abortion. We will continue to take this position at future international meetings on population issues, including the upcoming Fifth Asia and Pacific Conference on Population in December," Boucher said.

The conference, Population and Poverty in Asia and the Pacific, will be held in Bangkok, Thailand from December 11 to 17.