(ENS) WASHINGTON --
world’s population will pass the six billion mark,
according to United Nations calculations. Though
population growth appears to be slowing, the UN says there
is still an urgent need for family planning measures and
funds to provide food and shelter for those already born.
Population experts calculate that the number of people on Earth will exceed six billion sometime this year -- if it has not already. The International Programs Center of the U.S. Census Bureau, for instance, calculated that the mark was passed in July. Still, many population advocacy groups will highlight the passage of this benchmark with the "Day of Six Billion" on October 12, 1999.
"To help put today’s population in perspective, it took all of human history for the world’s population to reach one billion in 1804, and until 1960 to reach three billion," said Richard Engelman, PAI’s vice president for research. "This has doubled to six billion people in just 40 years."
Last month, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) released its "State of World Population 1999" report, revealing a sharp cut in UN forecasts for world population over the next 50 years. UNFPA now predicts that Earth’s population will approach 8.9 billion by 2050 -- 500 million fewer people than the organization foresaw at 1994 International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo.
UNFPA attributes the slowing trend to progress in promoting gender equality, reproductive health and reproductive rights. But the agency says increased funding, particularly by donor countries, is urgently needed to sustain that progress.
"At the end of every year there are still 78 million more people than the year before -- and this growth will continue," notes Dr. Nafis Sadik, executive director of UNFPA. "With over 100 million births a year there is no danger of a birth dearth."
are having fewer children than ever before, and
population growth has slowed from 2.4 to 1.3 per cent in
30 years. But large families in the recent past mean that
there are many more women of childbearing age. Half the
world’s population is under 25 and there are over a
billion young people between 15 and 24 -- the parents of
the next generation.
The bulk of this growth is in poor countries and among poor families. The fastest growing regions are sub-Saharan Africa and parts of South Asia and Western Asia. Population growth has slowed or stopped in Europe, North America and Japan. The U.S. is the only industrial country where large population increases are still projected, largely as the result of immigration.
"Six billion is a remarkable figure, but numbers tell only a small part of the story," said Amy Coen, president of Population Action International (PAI), a Washington DC based population advocacy group. "Caring about population means caring about individual quality of life -- access to healthcare and education, a safe place to live, enough money to provide for one’s family, and a healthful environment."
Of the 4.8 billion people in developing countries, nearly three fifths lack basic sanitation. Almost a third have no access to clean water. A quarter do not have adequate housing and a fifth have no access to modern health services. In less developed regions, a fifth of children do not attend school to grade 5.
"In the midst of greater wealth than the world has ever seen, a billion people still live without the elements of human dignity -- clean water, enough food, secure housing, basic education and health care," Sadik said.
There is also increasing pressure on the planet due to wasteful and unbalanced consumption patterns and growing numbers of people, raising demand for food and water. A study by the Sri Lanka based International Irrigation Management Institute predicted earlier this year that one fourth of the world’s people will face chronic or recurring shortages of fresh water by the year 2050. Crop lands continue to shrink, and global per capita grain output has been stagnant for more than a decade.
The effects of global warming remains to be seen. Possible changes, such as sea level rise, increased storms and floods, could affect billions of people.
the level and variety of committed resources and
better managing their use is an urgent priority, according
to the UNFPA report. "The decisions taken in the next
decade will determine how fast the world adds the next
billion people and the billion after that, whether the new
billions will be born to lives of poverty and deprivation,
whether equality will be established between men and
women, and what effect population growth will have on
natural resources and the environment," the report says.
For women of childbearing age in developing countries, reproduction is the greatest single health threat: nearly 600,000 die each year as a result of being pregnant, 70,000 from unsafe and illegal abortion. Millions more suffer infection or injury. And yet many millions still lack the means or information to choose the size and spacing of their families, Sadik said.
"The means to reduce maternal mortality and provide reproductive health care are well known and very affordable," she stated, citing the Program of Action that 179 countries agreed to at the 1994 Cairo population conference. The program called for universal access to reproductive health services including family planning, along with stepped up efforts to reduce gender inequality, eliminate violence against women and close the gender gap in education.
Many developing countries still lack the resources to implement the program fully, the report notes. At Cairo, governments agreed that $17 billion would be needed annually for reproductive health services by the year 2000. The developing countries were to provide two thirds of that amount themselves, international donors the remaining third. Today, while developing countries spend about two thirds of their Cairo target, donor countries provide only $2 billion a year, one third of the required $5.7 billion.
"We have the means to provide a decent life for everyone on the planet, to build sustainability and eliminate poverty. Or we can let things slide, with what consequences we do not fully know," Sadik said. "For a small amount of money, relatively speaking, we have the means not merely to save lives, but to transform them. And if we can do it we should do it."
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