The poorest regions of the world will be worst hit as the global population surges past seven billion, the United Nations is warning.
The United Nations Population Fund predicts the milestone will be hit on October 31 and has warned that extreme poverty, food insecurity, inequality, high death rates and high birth rates are linked in a vicious cycle in poor nations.
But in his report executive director Dr Babatunde Osotimehin suggests the right decisions taken now could improve life for all.
And it notes that the record population size can be viewed in many ways as a success for humanity because it means people are living longer and more children are surviving worldwide
“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,” he wrote.
Speaking at a briefing at London’s Royal Society, he said the milestone was “a challenge, an opportunity and a call to action”.
“The issue of population is a critical one for our humanity and for the Earth. But let us be clear. It is not a matter of space. The population question is one of equity, opportunity and social justice.”
Steven Sinding, director of the office of population at the United States Agency for International Development said: “The pace of growth poses enormous challenges for many of the poorest countries, which lack the resources not only to keep up with demand for infrastructure, basic health and education services and job opportunities for the rising number of young people, but also to adapt to climate change.”
The report, entitled The State of World Population 2011, focussed on China, Egypt, Ethiopia, Finland, India, Mexico, Mozambique, Nigeria and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.
According to the study, the UK’s population has hit 62.4 million with 80 per cent in urban areas.
But official figures in the UK showed the population is on course to reach 70 million within 16 years, fuelled by the number of migrants coming to the country.
The Office for National Statistics (ONS) said the UK was set to reach the milestone by mid-2027.
Within 25 years, the UK population will swell to 73.2 million, with more than two-thirds of this increase a result of immigration.
Of the 10.9 million increase, 5.1 million (47 per cent) is due to projected net migration, 2.3 million (21 per cent) from migrant women giving birth, and 3.5 million (32 per cent) due to the number of births outpacing deaths.
Officials said the UK’s population will rise by 438,000 a year until 2035 – the equivalent of adding a city the size of Bristol every year.
The UK will outstrip Germany and France to become the biggest country in the EU by 2043, with the UK’s population estimated to reach 74.4 million that year, more than Germany’s 73.7 million.
Statisticians said this could be partially explained by lower fertility rates in Germany. Only three countries – Luxembourg, Cyprus and the Republic of Ireland – are projected to grow faster.
The UN report set out seven “opportunities” on population. These were:
Reducing poverty and inequality can slow population growth;
Unleashing the power of women and girls can accelerate progress on all fronts;
Energetic and open to new technologies, young people can transform global politics and culture;
Ensuring that every child is wanted and every childbirth is safe can lead to smaller and stronger families;
Each of us depends on a healthy planet, so we must all help protect the environment;
Promoting the health and productivity of the world’s older people can mitigate the challenges;
The next two billion people will live in cities, so we must plan for them now