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Growing World Population Levels Concern UN

February 3, 2011

The world population is poised to reach 7 billion later this year and this figure potentially could double to 14 billion by 2100, a recent UN report claims.

The least developed countries will be the most affected as they are already the first to feel the effects of famine and overloaded infrastructure, BBC News reports.

To have a reasonable chance of stabilizing world population, fertility must drop to below “replacement level”. It must then be maintained at that level for an extended period. This replacement level is the fertility level at which a population replaces itself from one generation to the next, according to the UN report.

The UN Population Division has produced six projections of potential future population change based on different changes to fertility level and other factors, BBC News reports.

In the medium scenario, world population peaks at 9.4 billion in 2070 and then starts to decline. However for this to happen, fertility needs to decline significantly in most developing countries. In recent years, there has been widespread acceptance of the medium scenario as almost a certainty.

Hania Zlotnik, the Director of the UN Population Division, tells BBC News there is “no guarantee that this scenario will become a reality because high-fertility countries may not reduce their fertility fast enough and countries with intermediate fertility levels may see them stagnate above replacement level. Even countries with intermediate fertility need to reduce it to replacement level or below if they wish to avert continuous population increases to unsustainable levels.” Dramatic changes in the size of the world population come from even relatively small deviations from replacement-level fertility.

The high scenario, where fertility remains mostly between 2.2 and 2.3 children per woman, would lead to a world population of nearly 30 billion in 2300. The report says that “even with significant fertility reductions, Africa’s population will likely increase by 150% by 2100 and many of its countries will see their populations increase four-fold or more.”

The “World Demographic Trends” report has been released by the UN Population Division today ahead of the UN Commission on Population and Development. It warns that although the reduction of fertility may be inevitable, considerable effort over the next few decades is required to make it a reality.

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