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World Population Day 2012
Category: Population | By Lori, 10-Jul-2012 | Viewed 3238  Comments 0
Photo provided by UNFPA
In 2011 United Nations made it official:  world population crossed the 7 billion mark on Oct. 31, 2011, just 12 years after the 6 billion mark was attained. But there was no ribbon-cutting or popping of champagne corks to commemorate the occasion. In a world suffering from climate change, water scarcity and the rising price of food and energy, population growth is a challenge, not an unequivocal triumph.

World Population Day is an annual event, observed on July 11, which seeks to raise awareness of global population issues. The event was established by the Governing Council of the United Nations Development Programme in 1989. It was inspired by the public interest in Five Billion Day on July 11, 1987, approximately the date on which the world's population reached five billion people. The world population on the 20th anniversary of Five Billion Day, July 11, 2007, was estimated to have been 6,727,551,263.

"World Population Day last year marked the anticipated birth of the Earth's seven billionth inhabitant. This is an opportunity to celebrate our common humanity and our diversity. It is also a reminder of our shared responsibility to care for each other and our planet."
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon
Message for World Population Day
11 July 2011

The unprecedented decrease in mortality that began to accelerate in the more developed parts of the world in the nineteenth century and expanded to the entire world in the twentieth century is one of the major achievements of humanity. By one estimate, life expectancy at birth increased from 30 to 67 years between 1800 and 2005, leading to a rapid growth of the population: from 1 billion in 1810 to 7 billion in 2011.

Population quadrupled in the 20th century, and despite the escalating demands that humanity was placing on the planet, the human enterprise prospered. Food production quadrupled, mortality rates dropped dramatically, human longevity doubled and living standards soared. Best of all, as the century came to a close, the costs of oil, minerals and basic food commodities fell to near historical lows. Malthusian fears were virtually extinguished.

Today, as the world surpasses the 7-billion mark, confidence in the human enterprise is not so high. After decades of progress in reducing hunger and severe poverty, a global recession and two global food crises have slowed and, in some cases, reversed recent gains. Even more worrisome is an almost decade-long trend of higher and higher commodity prices for energy, minerals and basic foodstuffs.

A report  released last week on the U.N. Millennium Development Goals indicated laudable progress in areas like education, access to safe drinking water, and infant and child mortality. But the U.N. warned that "we still have a long way to go in empowering women and girls, promoting sustainable development, and protecting the most vulnerable from the devastating effects of multiple crises, be they conflicts, natural disasters, or volatility in prices for food and energy." It is estimated that food prices could double or more by 2030.

Every day another 200,000 people  are added to the world's dinner table, and unless fertility rates drop faster than expected, that trend will continue for some time to come. And many of those additional mouths to feed are being born in countries that are already heavily dependent on external food aid for survival. 

Unless we successfully address the 21st-century challenges posed by population growth, food insecurity and water scarcity, many of the gains that we have made in improving the human condition could be reversed. In addition to assisting developing nations with food production and water conservation, we urgently need to keep girls in school, empower women and make sure that family planning services and information are more widely available. Then we can celebrate, not just observe, World Population Day.

For more information on The Rotarian Action Group for Population & Development, visit our website at www.rifpd.org or www.maternal-health.org.
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