World Population Trends

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World Population Trends

We never know precisely how many of us are alive at any one time, but the United Nations’ best estimate has suggested that the number of human beings on the face of the earth reached eight billion on November 15, 2022. The report further predicts that the world population will continue to grow, albeit at a slower pace and with regional disparities, in the decades to come as after a peak in the early 1960s, the world’s population growth rate has decelerated dramatically from a high of 2.1 percent between 1962 and 1965 to below 1 percent in 2020. Given the increase in life expectancy as well as the number of people of childbearing age, the UN projects the population to continue growing to about 8.5 billion in 2030, 9.7 billion in 2050, and a peak of about 10.4 billion in the 2080s. But the range of reasonable possibilities in 2100 is considerably wider, between 8.9 and 12.4 billion.
Here are a few takeaways from the report:
There were perhaps 230 million of us on Earth at around the time of Cleopatra’s death, as the ancient Egyptian civilisation came to an end.
The population had more than doubled by the Renaissance in 1500 and doubled again by 1805 when the ancient Egyptian civilisation was being rediscovered with the help of the Rosetta Stone.
These are all pretty rough estimates — we didn’t have comprehensive censuses in the Middle Ages – but the human population has been on a slow burn, until recent centuries, when it has boomed.
The 2 billion mark was reached just before the Great Depression in 1925, and it took just 35 years from there to get to the third billion. Since then, the population has been rising by another billion every 10 to 15 years.
The world is likely to have a couple more billion mouths to feed in just a few decades. The UN’s latest projections, released earlier this year, suggest the world will house about 9.7 billion humans in 2050.
Population growth slowdown
The UN Population Division estimates that the number of humans on Earth has grown to eight billion on November 15, more than three times higher than the 2.5 billion global headcount in 1950.
However, after a peak in the early 1960s, the world’s population growth rate has decelerated dramatically, according to Rachel Snow of the UN Population Fund. Annual growth has fallen from a high of 2.1 percent between 1962 and 1965 to below 1 percent in 2020. That figure could potentially fall to around 0.5 percent by 2050 due to a continued decline in fertility rates, the United Nations projects.
When will we peak?
Given the increase in life expectancy as well as the number of people of childbearing age, the UN projects the population to continue growing to about 8.5 billion in 2030, 9.7 billion in 2050, and a peak of about 10.4 billion in the 2080s.
Other groups have, however, calculated different figures. The US-based Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) estimated in a 2020 study that the global population would max out by 2064, without ever reaching 10 billion, and decline to 8.8 billion by 2100. “We are lower than them (the UN) and I think we have a good reason,” lead author of the IHME study, Stein Emil Vollset, said.
The University of Washington professor says that under their “quite different fertility model,” the human population will only reach somewhere between nine and 10 billion.
Fertility rate drop
In 2021, the average fertility rate was 2.3 children per woman over her lifetime, down from about five in 1950, according to the UN, which projects that number to fall to 2.1 by 2050. “We have reached a stage in the world where the majority of countries and the majority of people in this world are living in a country that is below replacement fertility,” or roughly 2.1 children per woman, says Snow.
Graying globally
A key factor driving global population growth is that average life expectancy continues to increase: 72.8 years in 2019, nine years more than in 1990. And the UN predicts an average life expectancy of 77.2 years by 2050. The result, combined with the decline in fertility, is that the proportion of people over 65 is expected to rise from 10 percent in 2022 to 16 percent in 2050. This global graying will have an impact on labour markets and national pension systems, while requiring much more elderly care.
Snow says that a growing number of countries are reaching out to her organization, asking “how can UNFPA help better understand what we might do to boost our population.”
Unprecedented diversity
Beneath the global averages are some major regional disparities. For example, the UN projects that more than half of the population growth by 2050 will come from just eight countries: Democratic Republic of Congo, Egypt, Ethiopia, India, Nigeria, Pakistan, the Philippines and Tanzania.
The average age in different regions is also meaningful, currently at 41.7 years in Europe versus 17.6 years in Sub-Saharan Africa, according to Snow, who says the gap “has never been as large as it is today.” Those numbers could even out, but unlike in the past when countries’ average ages were mostly young, says Snow, “in the future, we may be closer in age, mostly old.”
Some experts believe these regional demographic differences may play a significant role in geopolitics going forward.
India to surpass China
In another illustration of changing trends, the two most populous countries, China and India, will trade places on the podium as early as 2023, according to the UN.
China’s 1.4 billion population will eventually begin to decline, falling to 1.3 billion by 2050, the UN projects. By the end of the century, the Chinese population could fall to only 800 million.
India’s population, currently just below that of China, is expected to surpass its northern neighbour in 2023, and grow to 1.7 billion by 2050 — though its fertility rate has already fallen below replacement level. The United States will remain the third most populous country in 2050, the UN projects, but it will be tied with Nigeria at 375 million.
Many around the world are voicing concerns over an increasing population, unmet demands, and dwindling resources. The impact of these growing numbers especially in developing countries has meant increasing inequalities in nearly all spheres of life. There is also an alarming situation with regard to the climate crisis and displacements that people face from factors such as conflicts and constraints on employment opportunities. That said, there is still some hope — if there is a realization that all countries need to work together to counter the apparently insurmountable problems, some of the challenges can be taken on. Take inequality, for example. This is not a ‘natural’ problem. In its human-made existence, inequality need not be left unaddressed. And, while population control is advisable in many countries including Pakistan, there is also a need to practically set out plans to feed millions of new mouths every year.
The same applies to the climate crisis that mostly rich countries created but the poor are bearing the brunt of. Instead of waiting for the next crisis to hit, it is time to make amends and do much more to prevent climate change and environmental degradation. The industrialized and rich economies must loosen their purse strings to help developing countries such as Pakistan that are under a severe threat of recurring calamities. A rising population may be a stark issue for our futures but many around the world are also facing present-day conflicts that shift the focus away from planning for a resource-starved future. Most of these conflicts were avoidable and are still reversible if the Western military-industrial complex is reined in. The worst affected by such circumstances are children, the elderly, and women.
In Pakistan, the situation is more complicated. The population growth rate that has fallen below one percent worldwide is still hovering around two percent here in a country that can hardly afford an already teeming population with 230 million people. As the pace of global climate change accelerates, Pakistan will face a water crisis even more acute than it is currently. Already it is believed that close to 90 percent of the population does not have access to clean drinking water. Food scarcity too will become more of an issue as arable land is reduced. A disaster is coming our way if we do not take immediate action. Part of the reason we have not been able to check population growth is because of cultural factors. In theory, there is no bar to the state providing reproductive health services but access to prenatal health services and contraceptives is unequally distributed with the poor having little recourse. Changing this will require state intervention through better access to health services, compulsory quality education and improved distribution of contraception. The alternative is an unsustainable population that will not be able to feed itself or have access to sufficient water. There is still time to change direction but it won’t be possible if we are in the midst of a crisis to which there will be no solution.
The writer is an advocate High Court.

Muhammad Ali Asghar

This is the Admin of this website

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