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With the world confronting a host of major crises relating to climate, energy, severe poverty, food, the global economy and political instability, why should anyone be concerned about population? The simple answer is that virtually all of the major problems that confront the world today relate in some critical way to population growth.
While public concern about rapid population growth has subsided in recent decades, world population is still growing at about 80 million people a year, or about 220,000 people per day. If current trends persist, there will 2.5 billion more people on the planet by mid-century, bringing the total to about 9.2 billion. That projected population growth raises a host of questions about the future of humanity and the planet we inhabit.
Most importantly, will we be able to feed 9.2 billion people? This year, for the first time in history, over 1 billion people go to bed hungry every day. High food prices and the global economic recession have pushed 100 million more people than last year into chronic hunger and poverty. And, looking ahead, we know that climate change, rising energy prices, and growing water scarcity will make it harder, not easier, to grow the crops necessary to feed an expanding population. Mounting soil erosion and the loss of farm land will also add to the challenge of boosting food production.
And it's not just food that's potentially in short supply. Water scarcity is a growing concern. In many parts of the world today, major rivers at various times of the year no longer reach the ocean. In some areas, lakes are going dry and underground water aquifers are being rapidly depleted. And climate change, of course, will make the water situation even more critical. Drier areas will be more prone to drought, wetter areas more prone to flooding, and the summer runoff from snowpack and glaciers will diminish.
As food, water, and other resources are strained by the escalating demands of a growing world population, the number of environmental refugees in the world will rise…and so will the potential for conflict and civil war.
Fortunately, for all of us, there is one simple strategy that will help to address all these problems: provide universal access to voluntary family planning and reproductive health services. There are over 100 million women in the world today who want to space or limit their pregnancies, but who lack knowledge of, or access to, modern methods of contraception. By educating and empowering women, and giving them access to family planning services, we can save lives, strengthen families, fight poverty, preserve the environment, and help achieve a world population that can live in harmony with the planet.