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How to Stop World Population from Touching 9 Billion in 2050

Updated on February 25, 2014

Current Population Scenario

Global population is projected to pass the 9 billion mark by 2050. It was only 2.5 billion in 1950 and today it is 7.2 billion. Most of this growth will happen in the developing countries – from 5.9 billion today to about 7.9 billion by 2050; the developed nations will stay almost where they are, at around 1.25 billion. The world adds roughly 84 million people each year (140 million births minus 56 million deaths: 2012 figures) at the rate of 1.15 percent. On an average, it means hourly new arrivals of around 10,000 or weekly arrivals of 1.62 million, size of a city.

According to the World Population Trends 2012 Fact Sheet, the poorest developing countries account for most of the increase. They contributed 97% of the 84 million increase; the rest 3% (1.7 million) only came from the developed countries.

At present, the world average fertility is 2.5 children per woman. Once it reaches the replacement level of 2.1, global population would stabilize 30-35 years later – expected near 2100.

The United Nations has identified 48 countries that have especially very low income, high economic vulnerability, and are poor on human development indicators: low life expectancy at birth, very low per capita income, and low educational levels. Of these nations, 33 are in sub-Saharan Africa, like Burundi, Ethiopia, Mozambique, and Zambia; 14 in Asia, which include Bangladesh, Cambodia, Nepal, and Yemen; and one in the Caribbean, Haiti. Their combined annual growth rate is 2.4 percent (compared with the global average of 1.1 percent) that will expand their population beyond 2 billion by 2050.

Region wise, by far the largest percentage increase in population will happen in Africa by 2050; it is expected to at least double from the current 1.1 billion to about 2.3 billion. Africa’s fertility rate of 4.8 children per woman is far higher than the global average of 2.5. Asia, with a current population of 4.3 billion, is likely to experience a much smaller growth than Africa but will still add about 1 billion people by 2050. Much of it will be determined by China and India that account for about 60 percent of the region's population. The Latin America and the Caribbean region will see the smallest proportional growth expected by 2050, from 599 million to 740 million. It is largely due to decline fertilities in the largest countries such as Brazil and Mexico.

Current global average fertility rate is about 2.5 children per woman, down from almost 5 in 1960, but still above the 2.1 needed for population stabilization. Therefore, population growth till 2050 is inevitable due to momentum, even if the fertility rates keep declining as they are or decline more sharply.

Except Afghanistan, all high birthrate countries are in Afrcia
Except Afghanistan, all high birthrate countries are in Afrcia
The Highest Fertility region of the World
The Highest Fertility region of the World | Source

Most Fecund Countries

Top 20 most fecund countries are all in Africa, except Afghanistan. Niger heads the list, where on an average women give birth to 7 children. DR Congo, with a fertility rate of about 5 children per woman, is the slowest growing of the 20. All are also among the world's poorest countries as well. Nigeria, already the most populous nation on the continent with 174 million people, is projected to replace the United States from its current third position in the world by 2050, with 440 million, after China and India. A recent study by the Population Reference Bureau in Washington projected African population to more than double by 2050: from 1.1 billion people today to 2.4 billion. To this, major contributions would come from the most populous, such as Nigeria, Ethiopia, DR Congo, Tanzania and Uganda. Other populous countries in the Sub-Saharan region are Kenya (44 million) with fertility rate 3.8 and Ghana (25 million) having average fertility 4.2.

Outside Africa, Afghanistan (fertility of 5.5) is the most fecund country; Yemen (birthrate 4.27) is another fast growing nation.

Falling fertilities in Other Populous Developing Countries

Outside the developed nations, China is the most important country to have reduced its birthrate to sub-replacement level, 1.5 per woman, comparable to many developed nations. It is inching towards its peak population close to 1.5 billion, after which its population should start its downward journey. Among the other major populous countries outside the developing world, Indonesia is near the replacement fertility level, Brazil is already in the sub-replacement level, Pakistan is at around 3.9, Bangladesh and India are around 2.5 and should reach replacement level within text ten years.

Consequences of High Global Population

It means further environmental stress, loss of biodiversity, global warming, climate change, pressure on natural resources and food supplies. This would invite nature’s population control measures – climatic disasters, famines, diseases, wars. Without urgent population control efforts we are all heading towards the doomsday.

This is the wisdom of the environmentalists. Of course, they don’t talk about the high per capita consumption in the developed countries, for practical reasons!

While the prime responsibility of global warming and environmental degradation lies with the faulty development model currently in fashion that promotes unbridled competition for resource consumption, it is however helpful to think of ways to limit the size of the humanity. There is an ironical paradox here: as long as countries remain in poverty the birthrates remain high, but when they begin to develop the birthrates fall but per capita consumptions increase. There is a huge difference in the per capita consumption between the 20% humanity of the “developed” and the rest 80% in the “developing” countries.

Therefore, as far as the health of planet is concerned the bigger threat comes from the ever increasing consumption as countries develop. Hence, it is equally urgent and more sensible to work on finding an alternate model of development that focuses on people rather than consumption (this responsibility rests with the "developed" world) and simultaneously taking effective measures to check the global population growth which lies squarely in the courtyard of the developing nations.

We are over 7 Billion today.
We are over 7 Billion today. | Source
World Population Growth
World Population Growth | Source

Why has the Global Population grown so Fast?

Historically, the population growth was quite slow until the Industrial Revolution of 300 years ago and the dawn of fossil fuel energy technology. But by 1900 it reached 1.7 billion and then multiplied to 6 billion within a century. This period was marked by the advent of all round technological advances and drastic improvements in medical science to fight diseases. Thus, during the 20th century death rates declined and survival rates of children increased significantly. On the other hand, the awareness about limiting family size also spread with rather easy availability of family planning tools. It started reducing the fertility rates across the developing world, particularly in the last two decades of the 20th century. These trends are still continuing in the 21st century. As a result, the average global fertility rates is about 2.5 today, down from about 5.0 half a century ago.

The current global population growth is largely due to population momentum – a result of having too many people in the reproductive age, despite shrinking family size. The average age in the poor nations is much smaller than in developed countries which are aging. If the global fertility rate falls to about 2 by 2050 - 60 (expected looking at the current declining trend) the global population should peak in the range, 11 – 13 billion, by around 2100. [A population growing at the annual rate of 1 percent doubles in 70 years; the current growth rate is about 1.15 percent.]

Demographic Transition

As societies develop, medical services and sanitation improve which lead to lower overall death rates (which increases life-span of people) and high survival rates of new born babies. Alongside, people also become more aware of contraceptives and birth control methods that start preventing pregnancies and reduce birth rates. Thus, the societies move from a high birth – high death population scenario to low birth – low death population regime. This is called demographic transition (DT).

The developed nations achieved DT decades ago and other nations are at different stages of their demographic transitions as they developed. The poorest nations (mostly the African countries) will be the last to achieve this transition as they start developing. Their current higher population growth is both due to increasing survival rate and also because of higher fertility rates (about 5 children per woman, twice the world average) - the importance of smaller families and availability of family planning tools has yet to pick up.

After the DT, what happens to the population growth depends upon the fertility rate. If it is around 2 children per woman, the population becomes stable and if lower, the population declines. It is common knowledge that with development and expansion of freedom, women automatically chose to have fewer children. That’s is also the message from the ICPD mentioned below.

The interrelationships between population, resources, environment and development should be fully recognized, properly managed and brought into harmonious, dynamic balance. – ICPD, 1994, Cairo

Why should the World Listen to Amartya Sen

The International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) 1994

The 1994 International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) held in Cairo was a milestone in the history of population and development, as well as in the history of women's rights. At the conference, 179 countries agreed that population is not just about counting people, but about making sure that every person counts! They committed to a 20-year comprehensive Program of Action to deliver a more equal, more just and more sustainable development. It linked the reproductive health and human rights of women to the global struggle to reduce poverty and achieve sustainable development.

It brought to the fore a new paradigm of population and development and made a clear practical connection between human rights, population dynamics and economic development. It highlighted the connections of gender inequality with poverty, poor health, poor educational attainment and unsustainable economic development.

The ICPD broke new ground with regard to all areas of reproductive health and rights. The Program of Action moved away from the usual narrow focus on family planning and fertility in favor of a comprehensive focus on reproductive and sexual health. It turned reproductive rights into basic human rights and stressed the need to integrate family planning into the wider context of quality of reproductive health services.

Since their original commitment made in 1994, governments have been re-affirming their commitment to the ICPD Program of Action every five years.

6 Steps for Effective Population Control

Although no one can precisely predict the future course of population growth because many factors and a variety of countries are involved, but there are things that are fully doable. The following strategies come from the experience of various societies around the world and do not involve imposing restrictions on the reproductive behavior of people. They are suitable for all societies that respect people’s rights. If implemented vigorously, global population can be easily prevented to touches the 9 billion mark in 2050 and the ultimate global peak population, which is expected by the end of the 21st century, can be lowered.

"Developed" Nations Fight Wars, Not Poverty. Why?
"Developed" Nations Fight Wars, Not Poverty. Why? | Source

1. Development is the best contraceptive

It is a well recognized fact that as development takes place, fertility rates drop. The poorest developing countries also have the largest fertility rates. Therefore, a global push for their development and removal of poverty is in order.

It is ironic that world leaders like the US and the UK appear ever ready for military strike anywhere in the world, but fail to match the enthusiasm when it comes to fighting global poverty? In fact, fighting poverty also makes perfect business sense in the long run – expansion of global markets. Another positive effect will be the reduced immigration pressure into the EU and other rich nations. As the wave of development spreads into poor nations, youths will no longer be attracted towards crime and terror activities. Thus, fighting poverty is also an indirect war on terror!!

Looking at the fact that the cost of the military “war on terror” is going to be several trillion dollars, money does not appear to the problem. Not only the global population will be checked as the poor countries develop, the world economy would be more effectively globalized, benefiting all.

Development has meaning only when it is inclusive and concentrates on people; it is not limited to economic growth alone.

2. Provide universal access to the full range of contraceptives

In 1999, demographers, John Bongaarts and Bulatao, predicted that in the 21 century, momentum is going to be the most important factor in the population growth of the developing nations (except the sub-Saharan Africa) than all other factors combined. Bongaart (2007) also estimated that until 2050 about 58 percent growth in the developing countries would come from population momentum. There are also reports to indicate that over a third births come from unintended pregnancies.

These observations suggest increasing the availability of the full range of contraceptive options in the developing nations. This single step alone would significantly reduce the momentum pressure and prevent unintended pregnancies and avoid a lot of abortions that often put women lives at risk when done under inadequate facilities.

Global experience shows that if all women could control their pregnancies the fertility rate would immediately fall below the replacement level (2.1 children). If toot-pastes, toilet soaps and cell phones can reach every corner of the world, so can the contraceptives.

3. Guarantee education up to secondary school to all Children, particularly girls

Education has a lifelong impact on people. When girls are educated they can also gain access to information about their reproductive health, contraceptives and pregnancies. Educated women are in a better position to plan pregnancies and limit number of children. Education also has empowering effect and they can explore aspects of life other than bearing children and caring for the family. It is a globally accepted fact that higher the education level of women, the lower is their fertility rate.

Over 7 million girls below 18 give birth in Developing Countries
Over 7 million girls below 18 give birth in Developing Countries | Source
Men-Women have natural equality
Men-Women have natural equality | Source

A woman’s ability to access reproductive health and rights is the cornerstone of her empowerment. It is also the key to sustainable development. – ICPD 1994, Cairo

4. Prevent teen pregnancies

Early pregnancies before girls attain adulthood are a common feature of most under-developed societies. It is not only a major cause of high birthrates but also has long term health consequences – for both mother and children. Countries like India and Nepal have traditions of child marriage and girls are often already mothers by the age of 15 or even earlier. It has several ill effects. First, it disrupts or prevents girls’ education; second, their bodies are not yet fully mature for childbirth, which creates health issues for girl mothers and their children and third, poverty ensures perpetuation of under-nutrition and malnutrition which gets reflected in high maternal and child mortality.

5. Promote gender equality

Male dominance has an undesirable effect on women and girls in the poor societies. Even with limited resources men and boys always have preference in everything. Thus, girls and women lag behind in education, food intake and healthcare – most basic necessities of life. In highly patriarchal societies, men impose everything on women and, more often than not, treat them as mere objects of sexual gratification, unconcerned about the consequences. As a result, pregnancies are imposed on them, which end up in either child births or abortions in rather unhealthy conditions.

Gender equality ensures their active participation in decision making including pregnancies and childbirths. With freedom and empowerment women become pregnant only when they decide to do so.

6. Governments must refrain from coercive family control policies

States should merely facilitate dissemination of information on reproductive health issues, pros and cons of various contraceptives, importance of medical care during pregnancy and after birth, nutritional and hygiene issues of the mothers and young babies, and so on. All decisions should be made by the couples or women, but they should be free and informed decisions; not under temptation or fear of some state policy. Force and coercion are known to distort child sex ratio through abortion of female fetuses.


Population is no longer a problem of human numbers and the solutions are no more family planning devices alone. Post ICPD, it must be seen in a wholesome manner, in terms of reproductive rights, women empowerment and social mobility, gender equality, girls’ education and sustainable economic development. In nutshell, population is a development issue related to women and girls. Unsafe sex is at the core of high fertility rates in poor countries due to lack or insufficient availability of contraceptives to common people, particularly women This again points to urgency of economic and social development (including women and girls) in the poorer societies.

Economic development and women empowerment are two most effective contraceptives that can prevent the world population from touching the 9 billion mark which many demographers believe is inevitable. Is the world ready to do it?

Global Population Growth


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