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Earth crowded now? Wait 'til 2050

The United Nations reported that the world’s population will increase by 40 percent to 9.1 billion in 2050, with virtually all the growth in the developing world — especially in the 50 poorest countries.
Sudanese Refugees Thriving In Ethiopian Refugee Camp
Pregnant Sudanese refugees wait for prenatal care at a clinic in Bonga, Ethiopia, in this 2003 photo. The women are from the Uduk tribe, 7,000 of whom fled Sudan in 1989 for Bonga. By 2003, their numbers were 17,000, with an average of 100 births a month. The growth was attributed to polygamy, young marriages and an aversion to any kind of birth control.Natalie Behring-chisholm / Getty Images file
/ Source: The Associated Press

The world’s population will increase by 40 percent to 9.1 billion in 2050 but virtually all the growth will be in the developing world, especially in the 50 poorest countries, the U.N. Population Division said.

The division’s revision Thursday of earlier estimates said the population in less developed countries is expected to swell from 5.3 billion today to 7.8 billion in 2050. By contrast, the population of richer developed countries will remain mostly unchanged, at 1.2 billion.

“It is going to be a strain on the world,” Hania Zlotnik, the division’s director, told a news conference. She said the expected growth has “important and serious implications” because it will be concentrated in countries that already have problems providing adequate shelter, health care and education.

Between 2005 and 2050, eight countries — India, Pakistan, Nigeria, Congo, Bangladesh, Uganda, the United States, Ethiopia and China — are likely to contribute half of the world’s population increase, the report said.

The population is projected to at least triple in Afghanistan, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Chad, Congo, the Republic of Congo, East Timor, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Mali, Niger and Uganda, it said.

Future tied to fertility
Median fertility is expected to decline from 2.6 children per woman today to slightly over 2 children per woman in 2050. If fertility were to remain about half a child above that level, world population would reach 10.6 billion by 2050, while fertility half a child below the median would lead to a population of 7.7 billion by mid-century, it said.

“Future population growth is highly dependent on the path that future fertility takes,” the report said.

In 2000-2005, fertility levels remained above 5 children per woman in 35 of the 148 developing countries, including 30 of the poorest nations. The pace of decline in several countries in sub-Saharan Africa and south Asia was slower than anticipated.

Twenty-five years into the HIV/AIDS epidemic, 60 countries are highly affected by the epidemic and the impact of the disease is evident in increased deaths and slower population growth, the report said.

In southern Africa, the region with the highest AIDS prevalence, life expectancy has fallen from 62 years in 1995 to 48 years in 2000-2005, and is projected to decrease further to 43 years over the next decade before a slow recovery starts, it said.

Thoraya Obaid, executive director of the U.N. Population Fund, said the new projections should spur more urgent action to stop the spread of HIV/AIDS and help couples freely determine the size of their families.

“We must take more urgent action to promote access to reproductive health, including family planning, and fight HIV/AIDS to save millions of lives from AIDS and maternal death, as well as to reduce poverty in developing countries,” she said in a statement.

7 billion by 2013 expected
In 2002 the Population Division had estimated global population in 2050 of 8.9 billion.

“The world has added nearly 500 million people since 1999 — just six years,” Zlotnik said. “The good news is that new estimates show that it will take a little longer to add the next half billion, reaching the 7 billion mark probably by 2013.”

The report reconfirmed many trends including an increasingly aging population in many developed countries. But it said immigration would prevent the overall population in richer countries from declining.

The United States is projected to be the major net recipient of international migrants, 1.1 million annually, with its population increasing from 298 million in 2005 to 394 million in 2050, the report said.