Are we 7 billion too many?

KD Suarez

Balogun market in the Central Business District of Lagos, Nigeria UNFPA/Akintunde Akinleye

Balogun market in the Central Business District of Lagos, Nigeria UNFPA/Akintunde Akinleye

MANILA, Philippines – A media frenzy welcomed Danica May Camacho after she was born at the Jose Fabella Memorial Hospital in Manila minutes before the strike of midnight Monday, October 31.
 
She was also welcomed by no less than Health Secretary Enrique Ona, Population Commission chief Tomas Osias, and representatives from the United Nations.
 
The second daughter of partners Camille Dalura, a housewife, and Florante Camacho, a driver, what distinguishes Baby Danica is the fact that she is one of dozens of babies around the world symbolically chosen to represent the 7 billionth person to exist on Earth.
 
This person is estimated by the United Nations to have been born on October 31, 2011.
 
Achievement or setback?
 
For some quarters, the birth of the 7 billionth human on Earth raises alarm bells. “Are we too many?” is a question that is often asked.
 
The United Nations, however, says rather than ask this question, people should instead ask, “how do we make things work?”
 
The UN says the number of people on Earth isn’t the issue. The discussion, the UN said, should center more on how people can live sustainably, and how resources and services can reach everyone, not just the privileged few.
 
The 7 billionth person will be enter a world full of “achievements, setbacks, and paradoxes,” according to the “State of World Population 2011” report, released by the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) last week.
 
“Our record population size can be viewed in many ways as a success for humanity. But not everyone has benefited from this achievement or the higher quality of life that this implies,” the report stated. 
 
Paradoxes, rich-poor gap
 
Humans have done great strides in living longer and slowing down growth, the UN report said. Average life expectancy has leapt from less than 50 years back in the 50s to 68 in the past decade.
 
Infant mortality and fertility rates have also steadily gone down, due to improvements in health, education, economy, and societal changes in the past decades.
 
The burgeoning population has also been accompanied by significant advances in science and technology. Human ingenuity and industry has never been more evident than in the past century, with advances in telecommunications, transportation, medicine, and numerous other fields making the planet a global village.
 
But the UNFPA report said that despite these achievements, there are still numerous problems people face everyday.
 
In many countries, the gap between the rich and the poor has increased, leaving millions of people behind in terms of economic development. Inequalities between men and women still exist.
 
Our population explosion is also taking its toll on the planet and our societies. Environmental degradation, depletion of natural resources, famine, climate change, and even economic hardship and crumbling institutions.
 
“Charting a path now to development that promotes equality, rather than exacerbates or reinforces inequalities, is more important than ever,” the UNFPA report said.
 
Challenges, opportunities
 
With the birth of the 7 billionth person on the planet, the UN said charting a sustainable and equitable future for mankind is more important than ever.
 
“Seven billion people face, almost on a daily basis – with varying degrees of severity – the consequences of environmental challenges, increasing poverty, inequity, wars and economic instability… But with each of these challenges comes an opportunity – 7 billion opportunities in fact,” said UN General Assembly President Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser, during a press event at the UN Headquarters in New York marking the milestone on Monday.
 
“Seven billion will clearly be a serious challenge. But depending on how we address this, in a comprehensive manner it can be both an opportunity and challenge,” UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon told TIME magazine in a recent interview.
 
“This is clearly a clarion call to action. For all of us — not only government, United Nations, local communities, civil community leaders, NGOs, faith leaders — we have to have a combined solidarity to address this issue,” he said.
 
Sex education, empowerment, sustainable development
 
Ban said one way to respond to the problems 7 billion people will face is to “address and realize” the Millennium Development Goals. “Climate change, food-security issues, energy shortages, water scarcities, disease, health issues and gender empowerment: all these are interconnected. We have to address these issues in an integrated way,” he told TIME.
 
The UN report also makes a case for planning and investing in people in order to empower them, especially women, elderly, and the youth. These include the right investments and programs by governments and the private sector in education, health, equal employment opportunities, and support for the elderly and families.
 
The State of World Population report also highlights the importance of sex education, family planning, and changing societal views on gender.
 
The report also touches on migration, the spreading of economic opportunities to the countryside and in poorer countries, as well as using our planet’s resources sustainably.
 
“With planning and the right investments in people―particularly young women and men―today, we can have thriving sustainable cities and communities, productive labour forces that fuel social and economic growth, youth populations that contribute to the well-being of their societies, and communities where the elderly are productive, healthy economically secure and have dignity,” UNFPA Executive Director Babatunde Osotimehin said in a statement.
 
The UN hopes governments and people would take heed and put more effort and investment in helping people who need it the most, so that the potential of 7 billion people, including Baby Danica, would harnessed for the benefit of all.
 
The UNFPA report also highlights the following:
▪ World population will reach 9.3 billion by 2050, and more than 10 billion by the end of the century, with the increase mainly coming from 58 countries in Africa, Asia, Oceania, and Latin America.
▪ Africa is forecast to triple its population in this century, from 1 billion this year to 3.6 by the 2100, aided by a 2.3% annual population growth rate.
▪ Asia will reach 5.2 billion people by 2052, after which it will have a slow population decline.
▪ The Americas, Europe, and Oceania will reach a combined population of nearly 2 billion by 2060 but will experience a very slow decline. – Rappler.com


You can access the entire State of World Population report and data at www.unfpa.org/swp.

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