Faces Population Explosion
By John Vidal
18 August, 2004
world is heading for wildly uneven population swings in the next 45
years, with many rich countries "downsizing" during a period
in which almost all developing nations will grow at breakneck speed,
according to a comprehensive report by leading US demographers released
They predict that
at least an extra 1,000 million will be living in the world's poorest
African countries by 2050. There will be an extra 120 million more Americans,
and India will leapfrog China to become the world's most populous country.
One in six people in western Europe will be over the age of 65 by 2050.
But the populations
of some countries will shrink. Based on a number of factors, including
analysis of birth and death rates, Bulgaria is expected to lose almost
40 per cent of its population.
Britain is expected
to grow faster than any other major European country. Within 20 years,
the authors expect it to have four million more people, at which point
its growth is expected to tail off, adding only a further 1.5 million
in the next 25 years to eventually reach 65 million. By then it will
have overtaken France as Europe's second or third largest country, depending
whether Russia is classed to be in Europe or partly in Asia.
The changes, considered
inevitable given present trends, will transform geo-politics and fundamentally
affect the world's economies, people's lifestyles and global resources,
suggest demographers with the Washington-based Population Reference
Countries such as
Nigeria and Japan, which today have similar sized populations of about
130 million people, could be unrecognisable by 2050, say the authors.
By then, Nigeria is expected to have more than doubled its numbers to
more than 300 million people. But Japan, which has only 14% of its current
population under 15, may have shrunk to roughly 100 million people.
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Among the major industrialised nations, only the US will experience
what the authors call "significant" growth. It is expected
to have reached a population of 420 million by 2050, an increase of
43%. But Europe is expected to have 60 million fewer people than today
and some countries could lose more than a third of their populations.
Eastern Europe is
leading the world's down shifters. Bulgaria is expected to return to
pre-1914 population levels, losing 38% of its people, while Romania
could have 27% fewer and Russia 25 million fewer people. Germany and
Italy are expected to shrink by about 10%.
are based on detailed analysis of infant mortality rates, age structure,
population growth, life expectancy, incomes, and fertility rates. They
also take into account the numbers of women using contraception and
Aids/HIV rates, but do not allow for environmental factors.
Climate change and
ongoing land degradation are widely expected to encourage further widespread
movements of people and pressure for migration away from rural areas
towards cities and richer countries.
The population changes
are causing growing alarm among experts, who believe sustained growth
in developing countries can only be managed with economic help from
rich countries. "World population is going to grow massively in
some of the most vulnerable countries in the world. We have to ask how
rich countries are going to help", said Kirstyen Sherk, of the
Planned Parenthood Federation of America.
The former World
Bank economist Herman Daly believes globalisation and the uncontrolled
migration of cheap labour could put potentially catastrophic pressures
on local communities and national economies. "The sheer number
of people on Earth is now much larger than ever before in history. Some
experts question whether Earth can even carry today's population at
a 'moderately comfortable' standard for the long term, let alone 3 billion
The report, based
on countries' own statistics, confirms trends identified earlier by
the UN, and more recently by the US Population census report. While
the world's few developed countries are expected to grow about 4% to
over 1.2 billion, population in developing countries could surge by
55% to more than 8 billion.
Africa and Asia
will inevitably be transformed. Western Asian nations are expected to
gain about 186 million people by 2050 and sub-Saharan African countries
more than one billion people. By 2050, India will be the largest country
in the world, having long passed China.
How some countries
will cope with the changes is debatable. Bangladesh, one of the poorest,
most crowded and disaster-prone countries, may have doubled numbers
to more than 280 million.
Overall, says the
report, world population is growing by about 70 million people a year,
and will likely reach 9.3 billion by mid-century from 6.3 billion today.
However, a separate
report, to be published soon by the Washington-based Worldwatch Institute,
will argue that fertility rates in poor countries could drop if there
is a world fuel crisis. The thinktank says people usually have as many
children as they think they can afford, and the motivation to have fewer
comes from anticipating hard times ahead.
Increases in food
production per hectare, it will say, have not kept pace with increases
in population, and the planet has virtually no more arable land or fresh
water to spare. As a result, per-capita cropland has shrunk by more
than half since 1960, and per capita production of grains, the basic
food, has been falling worldwide for 20 years.
Losers in a numbers
Five countries are
likely to lose a substantial proportion of their population by 2050.
-38% (7.8 to 4.8 million)
-28% (4.2 to 3 million)
-27% (21.7 to 15.7 million)
-17% (144 to 119 million)
-24% (2.3 to 1.8 million)
A dozen countries
are forecast to more than double in numbers. They are all politically,
socially or environmentally volatile.
Yemen (255%) Palestine
(211%) Afghanistan (187%) and Kuwait (182%) have all been involved in
armed conflicts. Bhutan (113%) and Nepal (105%) are undergoing great
the Solomon islands (112%) Tuvalu (122%) and Vanuatu (124%) are all
expected to be devastated by climate change and rising sea levels.