Archive Article: The State Of The World Population 2001. 4 Nov 01.
January 4, 2009

Human activity has affected every part of the planet, no matter how remote. The planet faces some severe environmental pressures.

The United Nations Population Fund has just published its annual review of the state of the world’s population. This is the world’s most important annual scorecard of how we are doing in terms of population and environmental change.

The world’s population has doubled since 1960 and now stands at about 6.1 billion. Most of the increase each day now comes from the developing countries. Most developed counties (such as Australia) have zero population growth.

The UN Population Fund provides three estimates for the population size in the year 2050. From today’s 6.1 billion it could as high as 10.9 billion or as low as 7.9 billion, with 9.3 as the medium projection. The major factors determining that eventual figure include ensuring women’s right to education and health, including reproductive health, and in ending absolute poverty.

On the latter point, the report points out that consumption expenditures have more than doubled in the developed world since 1970. But half of the world still exists on less than $US2 per day.

Another trend is urbanization. Every day about 160,000 people move from rural areas to cities. Today almost half of the world’s population live in cities – this is the first time in history that the percentage has been that high.

In Africa, for example, only five per cent of the population lived in urban areas in 1900. In 1960 it was about 20 and it is about 38 per cent today. Africa’s current annual urban growth is the highest in the world, at more than four per cent.

Another trend has been the development of “mega-cities”: cities with a population of over 10 million people. There were only five such cities in 1975: Tokyo, New York, Shanghai, Mexico City and Sao Paulo.

In 2015, there will be 23 mega-cities: Tokyo will still be the largest (at over 26 million people), followed by Mumbai (formerly Bombay), Lagos, Dhaka, Sao Paulo, Karachi, Mexico City, New York, Jakarta, Kolkata, Delhi, Metro Manila, Shanghai, Los Angeles, Buenos Aires, Cairo, Istanbul, Beijing, Rio de Janeiro, Osaka, Tianjin, Hyderabad and Bangkok.

I can remember a time when London was the world’s largest city. Now there is not even one European city in that list of the world’s biggest cities.

A good way to reduce population is to reduce poverty. People are not poor because they have children but they have children because they are poor. Children are important in economic terms because they are a source of labour and they will take care of their aging parents in countries that have no old age pensions. However, because so many die at a young age, parents have several in the hope that some will survive into adulthood.

Therefore, more has to be done to enhance economic and social development. Unfortunately Australia – like most other developed countries – has been hindering this process by reducing its level of foreign aid. Australia is now giving – as a percentage of its gross national product – the lowest amount of foreign aid since records began four decades ago. But there has been no reference to foreign aid in the current election campaign.