A world of 8 billion in the time of Covid

The United Nations established World Population Day in 1989 to raise awareness about the problems caused by overpopulation. The event is observed annually on July 11. The UN used the occasion on Monday to release a new report—World Population Prospects 2022 —which projects that human population will reach the 8-billion mark on November 15, 2022. The report also said that India is on course to surpass China as the world’s most populous country in 2023.

Based on the UN projections, the world’s population could grow to around 8.5 billion in 2030, 9.7 billion in 2050 and 10.4 billion in 2080. It is forecast to remain at that level until 2100.

The Philippines is seen playing a major role in the forthcoming global population explosion in the next three decades. The report says more than half the projected increase in population up to 2050 will be concentrated in just eight countries: The Philippines, Congo, Egypt, Ethiopia, India, Nigeria, Pakistan, and Tanzania.

The report cited an interesting development in fertility rates: that global population is growing at its slowest rate since 1950, having fallen to less than one percent in 2020. It said that fertility has markedly fallen in recent decades for many countries, and that today, two-thirds of the global population lives in a country or area where lifetime fertility is below 2.1 births per woman, roughly the level required for zero growth in the long run for a country with low mortality.

“In 61 countries or areas, the population is expected to decrease by at least one percent over the next three decades, as a result of sustained low levels of fertility and, in some cases, elevated rates of emigration,” the UN said.

The report cited the pandemic’s effect on population change: global life expectancy at birth fell to 71 years in 2021 (down from 72.9 in 2019) and, in some countries, successive waves of the pandemic may have produced short-term reductions in numbers of pregnancies and births.

“Further actions by governments aimed at reducing fertility would have little impact on the pace of population growth between now and mid-century, because of the youthful age structure of today’s global population,” said John Wilmoth, Director of the Population Division of the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs. “Nevertheless, the cumulative effect of lower fertility, if maintained over several decades, could be a more substantial deceleration of global population growth in the second half of the century.”

Globally, the world counts slightly more men (50.3 percent) than women (49.7 percent) in 2022, the report said. This figure is projected to slowly invert over the course of the century. By 2050, it is expected that the number of women will equal the number of men.

The world should expect to see far more grey hairs by 2050, the UN said. By then, it is expected that the number of persons aged 65 years or over worldwide will be more than twice the number of children under the age of five, and about the same as the number under age 12. Further reductions in mortality are projected to result in an average global longevity of around 77.2 years in 2050. Yet in 2021, life expectancy for the least developed countries lagged seven years behind the global average.

Life expectancy at age 65 reflects the average number of additional years of life a 65-year-old person would live, according to the prevailing mortality conditions. Before the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, in 2019, people who had already survived to age 65 could expect to live on average an additional 17.5 years worldwide, 6.2 years longer than a person of the same age in the early 1950s. In 2019, women aged 65 years could expect to live an additional 18.8 years and 65-year-old men an additional 15.9 years.

The report recommended that countries with ageing populations should take steps to adapt public programs to the growing numbers of older persons, establishing universal health care and long-term care systems, and improving the sustainability of social security and pension systems.

Research has shown that the reason people live to an advanced age is better medical care, which is why the UN is urging governments to strengthen their universal health-care systems.

Paging Congress and other concerned government agencies. Let’s strengthen the systems of social protection for the growing number of older persons in the Philippines.