In five days, world population is projected to reach 7 billion. How we respond now will determine whether we have a healthy, sustainable and prosperous future or one that is marked by inequalities, environmental decline and economic setbacks, according to The State of World Population 2011 report, published Oct. 26 by UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund.
"With planning and the right investments in people now -- to empower them to make choices that are not only good for themselves, but also for our global commons -- our world of 7 billion can have thriving sustainable cities, productive labour forces that fuel economies, and youth populations that contribute to the well-being of their societies," says UNFPA Executive Director Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin in the foreword of the report, entitled People and Possibilities in a World of 7 Billion.
Our record population size can be viewed in many ways as a success for humanity because it means that people are living longer and more of our children are surviving worldwide, the report shows. But not everyone has benefited from this achievement or the higher quality of life that this implies. Great disparities exist among and within countries. Disparities in rights and opportunities also exist between men and women, girls and boys. Charting a path now to development that promotes equality, rather than exacerbates or reinforces inequalities, is more important than ever.
The 7 billion milestone "is a challenge, an opportunity and a call to action," said Dr. Osotimehin at the report's launch in London. The report is also being launched in more than 100 other cities worldwide.
Of the world's 7 billion, 1.8 billion are young people between the ages of 10 and 24, Dr. Osotimehin noted. "Young people hold the key to the future, with the potential to transform the global political landscape and to propel economies through their creativity and capacities for innovation. But the opportunity to realize youth's great potential must be seized now," Dr. Osotimehin said. "We should be investing in the health and education of our youth. This would yield enormous returns in economic growth and development for generations to come."
"Today's milestone is a reminder that we must act now," said Dr. Osotimehin, adding that the Programme of Action of the 1994 Cairo International Conference on Population and Development and its call to enable individuals have the power to make their own reproductive decisions remain the best guides for the future.
"With the 2014 anniversary of the ICPD rapidly approaching, the data indeed show that the road to equitable economic and social development runs straight through the centre of our mandate at UNFPA," Dr. Osotimehin said. "But our work is far from done. Consider that there are 215 million women of childbearing age in developing countries who lack access to voluntary family planning. There are millions of adolescent girls and boys in the developing world who have too little access to sexuality education and information about how to prevent pregnancies or protect themselves from HIV. In pockets of the world where women's status is low, infant and child survival are also low. And we must tear down economic, legal and social barriers, to put women and men and boys and girls on an equal footing in all spheres of life."
The State of World Population 2011 (http://www.unfpa.org/swp/) is mainly a report from the field, where demographers, policymakers, governments, civil society and individuals are grappling with population trends ranging from aging to rapidly rising numbers of young people, from high population growth rates to shrinking populations, and from high rates of urbanization to rising international migration. The countries featured in this report are China, Egypt, Ethiopia, Finland, India, Mexico, Mozambique, Nigeria and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.
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