UN welcomes 7 billionth soul by urging population and resource planning

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A nurse feeds a newborn baby at the Central Obstetrics Hospital in Hanoi. The United Nation projects the world's population will reach 7 billion on October 31. Photo - Kham/Reuters

The United Nations on 31 October marked the birth of symbolic seven billionth baby, though the demographics were unclear whether the baby would be born in India or Philippines. Currently, India’s population is 1.21 billion and is poised to overtake China by 2030. The challenge is going to be a comprehensive family planning policy. While experts have cautioned against China’s forced one-child per family policy.

Whether this milestone is a reason worth celebrating or commiseration will depend on how we are able to sustain our population and make it productive. The UN estimates that the worlds population will reach 8 billion by 2025 and 10 billion by 2083. But the numbers could vary widely, depending on factors like life expectancy, access to birth control and infant mortality rates.

Top UN officials called on world leaders to take action to meet the challenges of a growing population and ensure adequate food and clean water supplies. Today, we welcome baby 7 billion. In doing so we must recognise our moral and pragmatic obligation to do the right thing for him, or for her, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said at a press event at UN Headquarters in New York to mark the occasion.

This latest landmark has brought a resurgence of the usual hand-wringing about global overpopulation – and the stress on supplies of food, clean water, energy, social justice, the prospect of wars and pandemics, and the dangers of climate change. People need access to reliable contraception and family planning advice. While the number of people on Earth has doubled in the past half century, the rate at which it is growing has slowed. It would not be wrong to say that the major problem is consumption than the population itself.

The issues for humanity to tackle – agricultural capacity, resource scarcity and the “greenhouse effect” have only become more pressing. This would be the main topics of discussion at the G -20 meeting to be held later this week. The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) is predicting that by 2025, 1.8 billion people will be living in countries or regions with absolute water scarcity.

Technically speaking, of course, population campaigners are right: environmental degradation can be helped by reducing the number of people and what they use. Population policies are best left to those focusing on poverty and women’s rights. Environmentalists reckon talk of too many people is a dangerous distraction for campaigners and consumers, with many of whom find it as a convenient excuse to ignore the more pressing need for changes to what and how we spend our growing riches.

The problem is not the intrinsic capacity of the Earth to support 7 billion. It could eventually support perhaps many more as we harness technology to tap the potential of unexplored resources wisely and doing things right not just in expanding our agriculture.

(Sources Guardian, Hindustan times)

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