IN SIX days, the world population is set to hit seven billion, according to the new State of World Population report released yesterday by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).
Although the number brings challenges, the report suggests the world instead view it as seven billion possibilities.
This year’s 124-page report entitled People and possibilities in a world of seven billion uses individuals in nine countries – China, Egypt, Ethiopia, Finland, India, Mexico, Mozambique, Nigeria and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia – to illustrate demographic challenges.
The report says questions of how large a population the Earth can sustain and how the population grew to such proportions are not the questions for our time; “We should instead be asking, ‘What can I do to make our world better?’ or ‘what can we do to transform our growing cities into forces for sustainability?’ ”
Babatunde Osotimehin, UNFPA executive director, says in the report that planning and investment can turn a seven-billion person population into seven billion possibilities with thriving, sustainable cities, a productive labour force and economic growth.
While women on average are having fewer children now than in the 1960s, the world population continues to rise. Globally, the population is both younger and older than in previous decades.
Speaking at the launch in Dublin yesterday, Jacqueline Mahon of the UNFPA said there were three common population scenarios found when putting together the report.
In countries with high population growth and low incomes, many adolescent girls and women cannot determine their fertility.
In middle-income countries where population growth stabilised, urbanisation and migration are affecting demographics.
In many highly developed countries in Europe, Japan and elsewhere, fertility has fallen below the replacement level, leading to a shortage of labour and productivity and threatening the quality of life for an older population.
“Today’s milestone is a wake-up call,” Ms Mahon said. “It’s a reminder that we must act now.”
The Dublin launch was hosted by the Irish Family Planning Association, the UN fund’s partner in Ireland. It was one of hundreds taking place in cities across the world.
Ms Mahon said when tackling the challenges of a seven-billion person population, educating girls and empowering women was one “winning strategy proven to work”.
Minister of State for Trade and Development Jan O’Sullivan said governments that are serious about alleviating poverty should be serious about providing “the services, supplies and information that women, men and young people need to exercise their reproductive rights”.
In 2010, Irish aid provided €145 million in support to the health and education sectors in programme countries and partnerships, and almost €30 million through UNFPA in support of universal access to reproductive healthcare.
Ms O’Sullivan said critics have contended that attempts to reduce poverty through international aid is pointless considering the growing population, but that she rejected the premise.
Although maintaining previous levels of financial support for UNFPA is difficult in tough economic times, Ms Mahon said: “We know that Ireland has a proud record of supporting those in need and those less fortunate, even when times are hard.”
Kevin Baneham of the Irish Family Planning Association said the budget will come into sharp focus after today’s presidential election, but that Ireland’s aid was crucial to the lives of those in poor countries. “It is important to recognise that Ireland’s contribution to aid and development, especially when it comes to sexual and reproductive health, is a matter of life and death for some of the world’s poorest people,” Mr Baneham said.
Recommendations from the report say that “unleashing the power of women and girls” can accelerate progress on all fronts, while reducing poverty and inequality can slow population growth.
The report recommends promoting the productivity of older people and planning for the next two billion people predicted to move into cities over the next few decades. Both Dr Nata Duvvury, co-director of the global women’s studies programme at NUI Galway, and Ms Mahon said it was important for everyone to realise they, too, are part of the seven billion, and that brings with it responsibilities and opportunities.
“The report makes a strong case for sound planning and investment in people,” Ms Mahon said.
“By empowering people to make choices that are not only good for themselves and their families but also for our global good, we can chart a path to a sustainable and productive future that promotes equality rather than exacerbates inequalities.”
Population report: the main points
* Half of world’s 7 billion population is made up of people 24 years old or younger, with 1.2 billion between the ages of 10 and 19.
* 215 million women in developing countries lack access to voluntary family planning, but would use it if it was available.
* The largest immigrant populations are hosted by the United States, Russia and Germany.
* The three countries with the largest diasporas are China, India and the Philippines.
* Half the world’s population lives in a city, and this will rise to two out of every three people within 35 years.
* There are 893 million people over the age of 60 world wide. That number is predicted to rise to 2.4 billion by the middle of the century.
* Remittances from migrants back to their home country could reach $404 billion by 2013, predicts the World Bank.
* Average life expectancy has jumped from 48 in the 1950s to 60 in the 2000s.
Day in life of a health worker
AMSALU BUKE works to bring healthcare and family planning to outlying Ethiopian communities where access is often limited. At 20 years old, she walks from village to village with a box of medical supplies on her back. At times she is waylaid by women pleading for contraceptives, and also helps anyone who needs something to cure an upset stomach, diarrhoea, or a headache.
Buke, when going to attend a woman giving birth, often hitches a ride on a horse, donkey or car, if she’s lucky enough to find any on the road. She’s now been at her post in the village of Tare for four years. As the area southeast of the Ethiopian capital that Buke serves has no youth centres, she also serves as a youth liaison and health teacher.
Being only 20 years old, young women feel they can approach her with any questions they have on reproductive health, and older women approach her for family planning.
Buke also considers herself an astute observer of the lives of girls in their teens in the region. She says child marriages are on the decline because of “advocacy by local women’s organisations”.
She works out of a three-room clinic made of mud and straw. The main room includes her desk, with a picture of a woman receiving injectable contraception. The next room is a maternity room, where patients can come to give birth.
The building has no running water or electricity, and vaccines are stored in a small, generator- powered refrigerator given to her by Unicef. She keeps track of her patients’ vaccines on a home-made wall chart. An assistant helps keep records and makes village rounds.
Buke, who is one of 37,000 health extension workers, has had only a secondary school education, and a year of primary healthcare training, including midwife training. She earns 570 Ethiopian birr (€24) a month. MICHELLE STEIN