Current World Population
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Population by the Numbers

25 years ago, the United Nations Development Programme declared July 11th to be World Population Day. Much has changed in the past quarter century. Significant progress has been made, but many challenges remain. More women than ever are able to decide freely how many children to have and when, but many women in the world still lack access to modern methods of contraceptives, and gender inequality in the developing world prevents many girls and women from exercising their reproductive freedom. As a result, global fertility rates have fallen, but not as fast as once expected. Without access to reproductive services, maternal and infant mortality remain unacceptably high, and the challenges posed by a growing world population continue to mount.

As part of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the UN set 2015 as the target year for achieving universal access to reproductive health, but that target will not be met. The international community needs to recommit itself to empowering women and girls and ensuring that they have access to reproductive health services. It's the pathway to healthy families and a healthy world.

Here's why:

Population is still growing...


Population growth is one of the defining challenges of the 21st Century, impacting efforts to reduce hunger, severe poverty, water scarcity, and environmental degradation. If fertility rates continue to fall as expected, the United Nations projects that world population will likely reach 10.9 billion by the end of the century, but if fertility rates were to remain constant, world population could soar to 27 billion.


Fertility rates are falling...


Globally, if women on average have 2.1 children in their lifetimes, what demographers describe as the "replacement rate," world population will eventually stabilize. Twenty-five years ago, women globally had an average of 3.3 children. Today, women have 2.5 children on average, but in many parts of Europe and East Asia, fertility rates have actually fallen substantially below the replacement rate. In the least developed regions of the world fertility rates are closer to 4.5 children per woman, and women in many developing countries have more children than they desire.


The percentage of women of reproductive age who reported using contraceptives is increasing...


Despite the global increase in the use of contraceptives, there are still an estimated 222 million women in the developing world who want to avoid a pregnancy, but who are not using a modern method of contraception. Only 34% of women in the developing world use some method of contraception, compared to 72% in the developed world. If the UN's goal of providing universal access to family planning and other reproductive health services is to be realized, the United States and other donor nations will need to increase funding and support for family planning services and information in the developing world.


The number of unintended pregnancies remains high...


Access to contraceptives and comprehensive sexual education helps women to have children by choice, not by chance. The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) estimates that if all women who wanted to avoid pregnancy had access to family planning services, unintended pregnancies would fall by 71% from 75 million to 22 million per year. Reducing the number of unintended pregnancies also decreases rates of abortion.


Maternal mortality remains high...


Meeting the unmet need for family planning and maternal and newborn healthcare would reduce maternal deaths by about two-thirds, from 287,000 to 105,000 a year. Women with access to family planning services can choose to space their births. Women who get pregnant less than five months after giving birth have a risk of maternal mortality that is 2.5 times higher than those who wait 18-23 months. Right now pregnancy and childbirth-related complications are the world's number one killer of girls ages 15-19.


Infant mortality remains high...


47 million babies were delivered without a skilled birth attendant in 2011; most of those were in developing countries. If all births were spaced two years apart, infant deaths would decline 13%. If births were spaced three years apart, they would decline by 25%. Families that can choose the spacing and number of their children are better able to give each child the resources they need to be healthy and stay in school longer.


Far too many people still live in poverty...


The Millennium Development Goal of halving extreme poverty in the world by 2015 has almost been reached, with the $1.25 poverty rate falling to half its 1990 value in 2010. The number of people living on less than $2 a day has seen far less improvement, dropping from 2.59 billion in 1981 to 2.47 billion in 2008. The large number of people living just above the extreme poverty line is an indication of the precarious nature of the gains that have been made to date, and the need for continued foreign assistance.


Far too many still go to bed hungry...


The number of hungry people in the world has fallen by only 17 percent since 1990, far less than what was once hoped. Also, the face of hunger is changing. Hunger used to be a localized crisis caused by crop failures, but in today's globalized marketplace crop failures in one region can increase prices around the world. For urban populations who cannot grow their own food, price spikes can result in hunger and malnutrition. Urbanization has pushed many of the world's poor out of subsistence farming and into towns and cities.


Eliminating hunger and poverty will be a major challenge for Africa...


Rapid population growth has complicated efforts to reduce poverty and eliminate hunger in Africa. Between 1990 and 2004 the proportion of people living on less than $1 a day in the world decreased from 31.6% to 19.2%, but in Africa the percentage fell from 46.8% to just 41.1%. Sub-Saharan Africa, in particular, is still struggling to eliminate hunger and poverty, and the region's projected population growth could hamper progress.


The projected growth in world population and consumption is not sustainable...


Each year that we use more resources than nature can renew we apply more pressure to the planet; the atmosphere becomes more saturated with greenhouse gasses, forests and rivers shrink, water levels fall, and fisheries collapse. Global Footprint Network estimates that by 2030 we will need two Earths to meet our demand for renewable resources, and if everyone in the world lived like the average American, we would need at least five planets to support us. With only one planet available, these trends cannot continue forever.


Water scarcity in many areas is reaching crisis proportions...


In 2001, 1 billion people lived in water scarce regions, but that number is expected to more than triple to 3.5 billion by 2025. The World Resources Institute (WRI) estimates that 36 countries are currently experiencing “very high” water stress, meaning that they consume more than 80% of their renewable water resources every year. Fourteen of those countries will increase their populations by 80 percent or more by 2050. No one knows how these water-stressed countries will handle their projected water deficit.


Humanity is running out of land suitable for food production...


Because of population growth and changing diets (i.e. increased consumption of meat), researchers at the University of Minnesota project that the world's farmers will need to boost crop production by 100-110% by 2050, but the actual increase in crop production is likely to be in the range of 38-67%. That's because climate change and a shortage of arable land will limit future crop production. Most of the remaining untapped arable land in the world is in Latin America and Sub-Saharan Africa, but up to 70% of it will be of limited benefit because the soil and/or the terrain are poor.


We are leaving less and less for plants and animals...


The last mass extinction event was 65 million years ago and marked the end of the dinosaurs. Scientists believe we may be entering a new period of mass extinction, unprecedented in human history. A recent study published in Science magazine estimates that plant and animal species are now being extinguished at a rate that is 1000 times the natural rate. Humanity is largely responsible for this alarming increase, with scientists identifying global warming and habitat reduction as leading causes of plant and animal extinctions.


By any measure, the cost of providing contraceptive options to girls and women is a small price to pay for healthy families and a healthy world...


We can afford to meet the world's demand for contraception. We can't afford not to. The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) estimates that it would cost just $3.5 billion to provide contraceptive services to 222 million women in the developing world. $3.5 billion is just 0.1% of the US federal budget for 2013. And it is money well spent. Every dollar spent on reproductive health care and family planning services saves six dollars in taxpayer's money otherwise spent on health, housing, and other forms of foreign assistance. It is a cost-effective, sustainable development strategy that lifts women and children out of poverty, improves education, and reduces infant and maternal mortality.