Despite an overall slowing of world population growth, the burgeoning millions in poor countries threaten much of the globe with starvation, environmental catastrophe and political chaos, according to a report released Tuesday.
World population, now estimated at 5.9 billion, is expected to level off at 9.4 billion in 2050 - down from a 1994 projection of 11 billion. But that decline in growth still will not prevent shortages in food, water and energy resources, said the report by the Population Institute, a private Washington group that advocates family planning.
“Whether the tidal wave is 80 feet or 100 feet, the impact will be the same,” said Werner Fornos, president of the institute, which operates in 160 nations. “Any time you have starving people with little hope, you’re going to have serious political problems.”
Failure to stem the growth could result in “environmental degradation, economic stagnation, hunger and malnutrition, political deterioration and high maternal and child mortality,” the institute’s study warned.
“Unless we deal with the problem of rapid population growth, we’re dooming hundreds of millions, if not billions, of people to brutal lives and early deaths,” Fornos added.
According to the United Nations, from 1950 to 1955, the world’s “total fertility rate,” the average number of children born to a woman, was five. By 1975 to 1980, the number had fallen to four. Today, the total fertility rate is estimated at 2.8 and is sinking.
The rate needed to replace a current population without growth or loss is 2.1, which is what the U.S. rate has been for the last five years.
The world’s highest fertility rate, 7.4, is in Gaza while the lowest, 0.9, is in the Czech Republic, the report said.
The falling total fertility rate has led some scholars to argue that the threat of a world population explosion may be over.
Nicholas Eberstadt, a researcher at the Harvard Center for Population and Development Studies, says declining populations by the end of the next century could result in collapsing social security programs as aging individuals overwhelm the dwindling number of young workers.
Fornos called that claim “preposterously premature” but said such declines might be problems in Europe and North America. He said the falling total fertility rate belies the exploding growth rates in poor regions such as Africa and the Middle East.
Fornos said nearly 98 percent of the annual worldwide increase of 132 million people occurs in less-developed countries. “These are the countries least able to support their growing millions and withstand the consequences of runaway growth,” he said.
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