Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Seven Billionth Baby and its Implications



Devendra Kothari

Prof. Population Program Management

Baby Nargis Yadav, born on October 31, 2011 at the Mall Community Health Centre on the outskirts of the capital city of Uttar Pradesh – Lucknow, was officially declared, in India at least, to be the seven billionth citizen of the world. The status accorded to her is of course symbolic. For, coinciding with Nargis's arrival on earth, many more births were recorded in diverse parts of the World[1] including India. Should we celebrate or fret about the seven billion mark? This post discusses the implications of the milestone and suggests the way forward.

With seven billion people and still growing, the world is getting dangerously overcrowded. At the time of the Lord Buddha, the global population was under 100 million; when Christ was born it was 170 million; when Isaac Newton (1643-1727) discovered the ‘Law of Gravitation’ it was 550 million. The world population reached one billion in 1800.  It took newly 130 years to add the second billion. However, “the world added the sixth billion and the seventh billion in a record 12 years for each,” says Carl Haub, PRB's senior demographer. "The eighth billion may also take about 12 years, but only if birth rates in all developing countries follow projections that assume a smooth decline to two children or fewer."
                   
It appears that the World is in the midst of its most rapid population growth in the history. Today, the world is adding the largest numbers to its population than in any time in history. Despite the fact that the annual population growth rate has declined from 2.1% in the late sixties to 1.2% per year in 2011, world population is currently growing by about 85-90 million annually.  According to the UN's World Population Prospects (2010), future population of the world will mainly be fuelled by some large African and Asian countries.

Most of the countries of the world have already achieved or are in the process of achieving replacement level fertility of 2.1 children per woman required to achieve stable population. For example, in some large countries such as Germany (1.4), Italy (1.4), Japan (1.4), China (1.5), Russia (1.6), Thailand (1.6), and Brazil (1.9), total fertility rates have fallen far below two children.  In some other large developing countries such as Indonesia (2.3), Mexico (2.3), Indonesia (2.3) and Bangladesh (2.4), total fertility is fast approaching to the replacement level. On the other hand, in some large countries of Africa and Asia total fertility rates of more than 2.5 children per woman continue to be the norm. For example, lots of efforts have to be made to achieve replacement level fertility in countries like India (2.6), Egypt (2.9), Philippines (3.2), Pakistan (3.6), Nigeria (5.7), Ethiopia (5.3), Congo (6.1), Niger (7.0), etc.

The emerging population scenario in India is of interest to anyone interested in India’s development, as well as concerned with the global demographic situation. With around 1.2 billion people, India is currently the second most populous nation in the world. The UN Population Division projects that it will surpass China as the most populous within 15 to 20 years. India's population is projected to peak at 1.7 billion in 2060. China at its peak in 2025 will have 1.4 billion people. In fact, when China peaks, India will have already surpassed it in population. Other countries which will contribute significantly in the near future are: Nigeria, Pakistan, Ethiopia, Philippines, etc.   The estimated population of the ten most populous counties in 2010 and 2050 are given in Table 1.

Table 1 Ten most populous countries of the world in 2010 and 2050

Ten most populous countries in2010

Ten most populous countries in 2050

Rank

Countries

Population

 (in million)

Rank

Countries

Population 

 (in million)

I

China

1,346

I

India

1,692

II

India

1,241

II

China

1,313

III

United States

312

III

Nigeria

423

IV

Indonesia

238

IV

United States

423

V

Brazil

197

V

Pakistan

314

VI

Pakistan

177

VI

Indonesia

309

VII

Nigeria

162

VII

Bangladesh

226

VIII

Bangladesh

151

VIII

Brazil

223

IX

Russia

143

IX

Ethiopia

174

X

Japan

128

X

Philippines

150

Source:  United Nations Population Division.

 

Are people in poor countries against small family norm? While world’s population continues to grow by around 85-90 million annually, more than 200 million women, mainly from the poor countries lack access to basic contraception. Often, these women must travel far from their communities to reach a health facility, only to return home “empty handed” due to shortages and stock-outs as well as non availability of staff. When women seeking family planning services are turned away, they are unable to protect themselves from unintended/unwanted pregnancies and sexually-transmitted infections, including HIV/AIDS[2].

Relatively high population growth mainly due to unwanted fertility makes it more difficult to lift large numbers of people out of poverty (see my earlier Blog entitled: What the poverty debate in India misses?). Nearly half the world (48 percent) lives in poverty on less than the equivalent of US$2 per day, including 80 percent of people in the Democratic Republic of Congo, 76 percent in India, 65 percent in Uganda, and 61 percent in Pakistan, as per the World Development Indicators (2011), World Bank.


Now question arises as how to forge ahead? The most important and positive steps are still largely unrecognized by policymakers as well as by the bilateral and philanthropic organizations. “More than two in five pregnancies worldwide are unintended by the women who experience them, and half or more of these pregnancies result in births that spur continued population growth”, noted by Robert Engelman, who authored the highly acclaimed book: More: Population, Nature, and What Women Want.  This means population growth would slow and then end through something women want and need: the capacity to decide for themselves when to become pregnant. If all women had this capacity, survey data affirm, average global childbearing would immediately fall below the replacement fertility value of slightly more than two children per woman. And population would immediately move onto a path leading to a peak followed by a gradual decline, possibly well before 2050[3].

The women centred approach is also advocated by politicians like Richard Ottaway MP, Chairman of the House of Commons Select Committee on Foreign Affairs. He noted[4]: “most of women in developing would want fewer children than they are having now, but the international community has allowed attention to drift away from the family planning. Letting women have the means to manage their childbearing will help to make the world a more stable place. Hence a decisive action is needed now” and it is the need of the hour.  Key to this new approach is empowering women and providing them with more choices through expanded access to education and health services and promoting skill development and employment[5].

What we do in the next few years will determine our future.  Here bilateral agencies like UNFPA and philanthropic organizations like Rotary international cannot afford business as usual.

The next post discusses: what should be next in Rotary International service agenda after Polio Eradication?





[1]A baby girl named Danoca May Camacho was chosen by the United Nations to be one of several children around the world who will symbolically represent the global population milestone. She was delivered just before midnight on Sunday amid an explosion of press camera flashes in a packed government-run hospital in the Philippines at Manila's Jose Fabella Memorial Hospital. In Bangladesh, authorities named another baby girl the world's seven billionth child. Weighing 2.75 kilos and named Oishee, she arrived a minute after midnight at a hospital in the capital Dhaka. In Cambodia, the honor fell to a baby girl who has yet to be named.



[2] “Empty Handed: Responding to the Demand for Contraceptives”, a documentary by Population Action International, Washington DC    tells the story of women’s lack of access to reproductive health supplies in sub-Saharan Africa, and its impact on their lives.

[3] See article: Seven Billion Problem: What Women Want   by Robert Engelman, Tomes of India, October 31, 2011. Also see: Kothari, Devendra. 2010.  “Empowering Women in India through better Reproductive Healthcare”, FPA Working Paper No 5, Jaipur: Forum for Population Action.
[4] See letter to the Editor: The Economist (June 4th-10th, 2011) by Richard Ottaway, p.18.
[5] For details, see: Kothari Devendra, “Empowering Women in India through Better Reproductive Healthcare”, FPA Working Paper No 5, Jaipur: Forum for Population Action, 2010.

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