(HN, UPDATED OCTOBER 27, 2011) - The world population is projected to reach seven billion at the end of October.
However impressive, the milestone is being greeted with concern as vast inequalities remain - especially in poor, developing countries - and wealthy countries have been lagging behind on meeting commitments such as funding of family planning services in Africa and elsewhere.
The milestone reveals that almost half of the world population is 25 years old and younger and that some countries have 60 percent of people that are 18 and under.
The UN says the planet's response will determine whether the global population enjoys a healthy, sustainable and prosperous future or one that is marked by inequalities, environmental decline and economic setbacks.
The findings were published in The State of World Population 2011 report, published today 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.
The 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 Osotimehin at the report’s launch in London. The report is also being launched in more than 100 other cities worldwide.
UNFPA says that too many people don't have the means to control their fertility.
"We must ensure that reproductive health services and family planning are better funded and that they become available to everyone who wants them," said Alanna Armitage, director of the UNFPA office in Geneva.
Of the world’s 7 billion, 1.8 billion are young people between the ages of 10 and 24, Osotimehin, a former minister of health in Nigeria, 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,” 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.”
Osotimehin echoed his colleague's remarks about a lack of access to family planning - a recourse some governments in the developed world have trouble funding.
He said: "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.”
Sandeep Prasad, executive director of Action Canada for Population and Development, said Canada and other developed nations have unmet commitments..
"There are 250 million women who want family planning globally and they're not getting it," he said. "This unmet need for contraception will grow by 40 per cent by 2050 with the largest generation of young people ever entering their reproductive years."
While people under 25 years old make up close to half of the world's population, life expectancy is climbing. The global average life expectancy has climbed to 68 by the end of the last decade. Infant mortality, meanwhile, has plunged from about 133 death