Magazine article USA TODAY

More Populous Future Due to Surprises

Magazine article USA TODAY

More Populous Future Due to Surprises

Article excerpt

World population reached 7,200,000,000 in mid 2013, according to United Nations demographers, with present and projected future growth propelled in part by unexpectedly high fertility in a number of developing countries. Based on current trends in global birth, death, and migration rates, the UN Populations Division projects a variety of future scenarios, with the three principal ones suggesting that world population will be somewhere between 6,800,000,000 and 16,600,000,000 at the end of this century.

The UN demographers determined that 82,100,000 people were added to the world's population in 2012--the highest annual increment since 1994, dispelling a widespread expectation that population growth would end "on its own" sometime in the second half of the 21st century. Rather, the new medium-fertility or best-guess scenario suggests the most likely outcome is that the world could gain more than 10,000,000 people in the year 2100 and close the century at 10,900,000,000. The new projections suggest a global population of 9,600,000,000 by 2050--about 700,000,000 people more than the UN Population Division had projected for 2050 just 10 years ago.

"Although the biggest surprise in the report came from the projections of faster future population growth than had been expected, these numbers actually have their roots in a surprise about the present," says Robert Engelman, president of Worldwatch Institute, Washington, D.C., in its "Vital Signs" report. "Women in many developing countries are having more children today than UN demographers previously thought."

Indeed, the UN authors reported that they had raised by a full five percent their estimates of current fertility in 15 sub-Saharan African countries--including Nigeria, Niger, Ethiopia, and the Congo--where family size already is among the highest in the world.

Although the reasons behind the higher-than-expected fertility in many countries are not fully understood, they correlate well with recent government reluctance to give priority to--and fund family planning services in--some of the world's poorest countries. Spending on family planning services in developing countries by governments, wealthier donor governments, and intergovernmental agencies has stagnated in recent years at around $4,000,000,000 annually. …

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