New York, Oct 27: World population could double by the end of the century, the United Nations has warned, as the world population passes the milestone of seven billion for the first time at the end of the month.
The seven billionth person in the world is expected to arrive sometime after midnight on October 31, according to the UN Population Fund (UNFPA).
It is impossible to identify the newborn who will break the barrier but hospitals around the world are encouraged to celebrate a “symbolic child” including St Thomas' Hospital in London, reports The Daily Telegraph, London.
The UNFPA, that is in charge of monitoring the world population, said the seven billion mark was passed earlier than expected because people are living longer, more babies are surviving and more children are being born in the developing world.
Although the world population is not growing as fast as it was in the mid 1960s, because developed countries like Britain have a lower birth rate, the number of people in 58 countries, including India, continues to grow.
Previously the UN had kept to the conservative estimate that the population will grow to more than 10 billion by 2100.
However if birth rates in developing countries continue to grow, the total could reach 10.6 billion by 2050 and 15 billion by 2100.
“Much of this increase is expected to come from the high fertility countries, which comprise 39 in Africa, nine in Asia, six in Oceania and four in Latin America,” reported the UN.
Environmentalists, including high profile figures like Sir David Attenborough, argue that the situation is simply not sustainable as food and water runs out.
Population Matters, a UK lobby group campaigning to reduce population growth, plans to put adverts on London Underground urging people to have “two or fewer” children.
But launching the latest State of the Population report, Dr Babatunde Osotimehin, chief executive of the UNFPA, said consumption rather than numbers is the real issue.
He pointed out that seven billion people “in a group photo” would only take up as much space as the city of Los Angeles in California.
“The population question is not about the amount of space people take up,” he explained. “It is about equity, social justice, distribution and consumption.”
Asia will remain the most populous area in the world, with 4.2 billion people today, rising to 5.2 billion in 2052 before falling. However Africa is gaining ground passing from one billion today to 3.6 billion in 2100.
The populations of all other major areas including the Americas, Europe and Oceania amount to 1.7 billion in 2011 and are projected to rise to nearly 2 billion in 2060 before falling. Europe is projected to peak at around 2025 at 0.74 billion and decline thereafter.
Dr Osotimehin admitted the rate of population growth is a concern in countries, mostly in sub-Saharan Africa, where population growth outstrips economic development.
He pointed out there are 215 million women worldwide who want family planning but who cannot get it. He said it would cost just $2 billion (£1.25 billion) to help those women take control of their own reproduction.
Investment in family planning has fallen in recent years and he said the seven billion mark is a ‘wake up call' for both Governments and donors to invest in access to education and contraception.
“We must ensure that every pregnancy is wanted and that every child is born with care and dignity.”
Dr Osotimehin pointed out that there are more young people in the world than ever before with 1.8 billion 10-24-year-olds, mostly living in the developing world.
He said this was a great opportunity to ensure a better world by educating these people and providing opportunities.
He also said that 70 per cent of people will live in cities by 2050, meaning there must be more investment in urban planning.
In the developed world there is a massive ageing population who must be given opportunities for work and cared for in old age.
“Today's milestone is a reminder that we must act now,” he said.
Simon Ross, chief executive of Population Matters, agreed more should be done to limit population growth in both the developed and developing world.
He called for funding for family planning and is also calling on people in the developed world to have “two or fewer” children.
“The United Nations 7 billion day is a date no one should ignore. Everyone agrees that we need to find ways to create a sustainable world for future generations.
Slowing population growth can play a valuable role in this.
“Population Matters and other population concern organisations are calling for improved overseas aid for women's education and family planning services to enable women to have more choice in career options and family formation. Where people have choices, such as the UK, we are asking them to have ‘two or fewer' children as part of a sustainable lifestyle.”
However Vanessa Baird, the author of the No Nonsense Guide to Population, said that consumption by people in the rich world is the major threat to the planet.
She pointed out that even if the population growth was slowed it would make little difference to rates of consumption.
She said population growth is being used as an excuse to get away from addressing the much more difficult issue of reducing energy use and consumption. She pointed out that much of the world's food is wasted and there is plenty to feed people if it was distributed fairly.
“When people say too many people they mean too many other people,” she said. “The danger is that calls for population control goes into the territory again of racism, anti-immigration, eugenics.
“People think if you give the argument a greenish hue it makes it OK. But if you scrape away at the service you find these anxieties about immigration about religion, class, politics. It is about losing power and privilege.
“If you look at controlling the pop as the solution you are ignoring the real problem. It is to do with consumption, power, energy. It is how we are using the planet rather than how many people are on it.”