Zack Gross
Zack Gross

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World Population Will Top Seven Billion in 2011

Brandon Sun “Small World” Column, Sunday,  December 26 / 10

Zack Gross

As we anticipate the arrival of the New Year, amidst the resolutions and predictions, one thing is certain, says the US-based Population Reference Bureau – the number of Earthly inhabitants will exceed seven billion. 

The continued net growth of population around the world, with some areas slowly declining and other areas rapidly increasing, will continue to be an issue for both rich and poor countries. 

Not only are numbers an issue, but so also are the configuration of ages per nation, that is how many young and how many elderly.

In 2010, an average day saw 267 people being born and 108 dying.  Population growth is a challenge particularly for the environment and for human health. 

For example, 40% of people in developing countries have no access to adequate sanitation facilities.  In rural areas, that figure rises to 60%.  Depletion of forests and arable land is caused by population pressure, in the context of how we use our available resources. 

Urbanization is another factor in the population equation.  Poverty and lack of opportunity in rural areas drive people into cities in search of jobs. 

For the first time in history, more people live in cities than in rural areas worldwide, but new urban dwellers most often end up in slums, with little income, no education and few prospects.

Over the past sixty years, average birth rates in developing countries have slowed from six children per woman to 2.5.  In some developing countries, the rate is down to two. 

The population of the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand continues to grow with a relatively high birth rate and immigration, while Europe, Japan and South Korea have shrinking populations with only immigration having any impact. 

Africa’s population will double to over two billion by 2050 and Asia, already a huge contributor to the world’s high numbers, will add more than another billion people.

Of the 6.8 billion people on Earth as of this past summer, 4.2 billion were living in Asia.  Of these, China had 1.3 billion and India had 1.2.  Nigeria is currently in the top ten worldwide with a population of 158 million, but by 2050 Ethiopia and the Democratic Republic of Congo will join that group. 

If population increases continue at the current rate, earth will be home to 9.4 billion people by 2050.
Compare that to 2010 years ago, in the year “One,” when estimates are that the world held 200 million people.  In the year 1000, our world hosted 275 million. 

World population reached its first billion about 1800, two billion in 1927, three billion in 1960, four billion in 1975, and now we have added another three billion in the ensuing 36 years!  This has happened despite the warning of many research groups, the efforts of many countries to introduce controls on population increases, and the general bettering of the social and economic situation in many parts of the globe.

Another challenge of current population trends is how to pay for the care of the elderly portion of any country where low birth rates lead to a demographic skewed to the senior side of the ledger. 

Western countries, which face this dilemma, have a tradition of providing some form of health and elder care, as part of a social security safety net, while most people on the planet have had access to much less due to meager resources. 

We have seen health care budgets reach one-third to one-half of the total budget in some provinces, yet the system still finds it difficult to cope with demand.

Another issue, related to peace and stability in poorer countries, is how many people live below the poverty line as populations grow.  In the world today, about thirty countries have 50% (or one in two) of their people living below their poverty line and another twenty countries have between 40% and 50% below that line. 

Statistics show that Canada has about 10% below the poverty line, with the US and United Kingdom slightly above that figure. 

Most countries in the “top” ranks of this list are African, Middle Eastern or Western Asian.  Amount of population may not always determine level of poverty, but certainly as our population grows, the systems we employ globally and nationally are consigning more and more people to poverty.

Unsustainable population growth is not science fiction. 

To have enough land, food, jobs, housing, environmental resilience and other building block to turn growth trends around and serve the population that exists, we need changes as deep as the kinds of initiatives scientists talk about in relations to climate change. 

This is an issue to watch as another year’s calendar rolls over.

Zack Gross works for the 
Manitoba Council for International Co-operation (MCIC), a coalition of more than 40 international development organizations.

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