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Many more mouths to feed.

Many more mouths to feed

Last year the world's population not hit 5 billion but went on to top 5.1 billion, according to the Washington, D.C.-based Population Reference Bureau. The trends that led to this increase, recently charted by the bureau's Carl Haub and Mary Kent, indicate that global population is in fact growing faster than had been projected.

Haub notes that the most respected population-growth estimates are a series of three five-year projections (high, medium and low) published by the United Nations (UN). Conservative population analysts tend to assume the medium-growth curve is the most reasonable projection. However, Haub says, the UN's medium-growth projection for 1985 to 1990 would have world population growing 1.6 percent per year. In reality, he points out, "it's still up above 1.7 percent." While that may not sound like much, Haub says it translates to a difference of more than 5 million more mouths to feed each year.

A recent increase in China's birth rate contributes to this trend. While China's total fertility rate (average number of children per woman) had dipped as low as 2.1, an upturn has occurred since 1986, fed in part, the bureau contends, by improved economic conditions and an easing of China's stringent population-control program. China's fertility rate is now estimated at 2.4 to 2.5. This increase, if continued, could contribute an extra 36 million children to its population by the year 2000. Haub says China has responded by asking its population-control agencies to sign up every potential candidate to a one-child promise. However, he adds, considerable skepticism exists as to whether officials can enforce the new policy.

India, with the world's second-largest population, also skews the UN projections. The medium-growth curve for India projected its total fertility rate at 3.7. In fact, Haub says, the rate is 4.3. Moreover, UN projections show India's fertility rate falling over the next five-year period to just 3.3--an unreasonable expectation, Haub suggests, considering the current rate.

Finally, the new Haub and Kent analysis indicates that more than one-third of the people in less developed countries are under age 15 -- compared with 20 percent in more developed nations. In less developed countries outside China, 40 percent of the residents are under 15; in some parts of Africa, nearly half are under 15.

This age factor points to how slowly population growth is likely to level off. Even as nations achieve a total fertility rate of 2 -- the "no-growth" or "replacement only" rate -- the population will still increase for a generation or so, until all existing young women have their two children. Considering the abundance of young people in many nations, their populations likely will grow substantially for many years.
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Title Annotation:world's population tops 5.1 billion
Publication:Science News
Date:May 14, 1988
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