Drinking rainwater from banana leaf, Nigeria. (c) I. Uwanaka/UNEP peopleandplanet.net
people and population pressures
Drinking rainwater from banana leaf, Nigeria. (c) I. Uwanaka/UNEP
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population pressures > factfile

The numbers game
The rapid growth of the world population is a relatively recent phenomenon in the history of the world. The population of the world 2,000 years ago was about 300 million. For a very long time, because of high death rates, population did not grow significantly, with periods of growth followed by periods of decline. It took more than 1,600 years for the world population to double to 600 million. ... more

Population policies
A number of countries, especially in Asia, have set targets for reducing the levels of fertility (the average number of children women will have in a lifetime), or for stabilising their population. Some examples from the Asia and Pacific Region, supplied by the UN Population Division, are given below. Comments on these figures are by our own editorial team, ... more

The ageing world
"One in 10 persons is over the age of sixty. By 2050, this proportion will have doubled to one in five." Kofi Annan, former UN Secretary General

Human progress in the last century has led to a gradual ageing of the human population. The world's people have never been this healthy or lived this long - and, with some local and regional setbacks, the process looks set to continue. Lower infant and child mortality, better nutrition, education, housing, health care and access to family planning have led to people living longer in nearly all parts of the world. ... more

Growing cities
The world is steadily becoming more urban, as people move to cities and towns in search of employment, educational opportunities and higher standards of living. Some are driven away from land that, for whatever reason, can no longer support them. The share of the global population living in urban areas has increased from one-third in 1960 to 50 per cent (3.3 billion people) in 2008. ... more

The impact of AIDS
At the end of 2007, the number of people living with HIV was estimated at 33.2 million worldwide, a reduction of 16 per cent compared to the same estimates in 2006. UNAIDS attributes this revision to signifcant reductions in infection rates in six countries: Angola, India, Kenya, Mozambique, Nigeria and Zimbabwe. Over 2.5 million people - including 420,000 children under the age of 15 - were infected with HIV during 2007. UNAIDS attributes the reductions in infection rates to a new study in India which dramatically revised estimates of the number of people infected. In both Kenya and Zimbabwe, there is evidence that declines in infections were due to a reduction in risky behaviour. ... more

Environmental connections
The cumulative impact of ever more people using more resources is seriously degrading the foundations of life - the air, water, croplands, grasslands, forests and fisheries. In country after country, the natural resource base is shrinking while the pressures upon it - fuelled by increasing consumption and population growth - are increasing rapidly. ... more

Educating girls
Education is a key development variable and a demographic one. It affects decisions about family size and child spacing as well as levels of infant and maternal mortality. It applies to women as well as men, because education, above all, enables people to take change into their own hands and to shape their own destiny. But it is particularly important for girls and women. Among the 900 million illiterate people in the developing world, women still outnumber men by two to one. ... more

International action: Cairo and beyond
In 1994, government delegations from 179 countries and thousands of representatives of civil society met at the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) in Cairo, Egypt. Participants came to an unprecedented consensus on a 20-year Programme of Action to stabilise the world's population by investing in people and better meeting their health and development needs. This Programme of Action asserts the interdependence of population and development, and calls for the empowerment of women both as a matter of social justice and as the key to improving the quality of life for all people. ... more

Population, consumption and poverty
The impact on the environment of growing human numbers is complicated by the levels of consumption involved. Many commentators (such as Norman Myers and David Pimentel) believe that the earth's carrying capacity is already being exceeded by the planet's 6.6 billion people and their lifestyles. ... more

How many people have ever lived on Earth?
by Carl Haub

"How Many People Have Ever Lived on Earth?" is the most requested article ever published by Population Today, the magazine of the US-based Population Reference Bureau. First published in February 1995 and was reprinted in the final November/December 2002 issue, and remains the best summary if the facts today. It is reprinted here, with permission. ... more

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