U.N. Population Division Lowers World Population Projections for 2050 by 400 Million; Drop Due to Deaths From AIDS, Low Birthrates
The United Nations Population Division on Wednesday lowered its estimated world population projections for 2050 by 400 million, largely due to the effects of the HIV/AIDS pandemic and "lower than expected" birthrates, the AP/Philadelphia Inquirer reports. The "World Population Prospects: The 2002 Revision" report attributes about half of the decrease to a rising number of deaths due to AIDS-related complications and the other half to the fact that three out of four countries in less-developed regions will have fertility rates below replacement levels by 2050 (Lederer, AP/Philadelphia Inquirer, 2/27). The world population is still expected to increase by 2.6 billion over the next 47 years, from 6.3 billion today to 8.9 billion in 2050 (United Nations release, 2/26). Eight countries -- India, Pakistan, Nigeria, the United States, China, Bangladesh, Ethiopia, and the Democratic Republic of Congo -- will account for 50% of the world's population increase, the Financial Times reports (Wolf, Financial Times, 2/27). "However, the realization of these projections is contingent on ensuring that couples have access to family planning and that efforts to arrest the current spread of the HIV/AIDS epidemic are successful in reducing growth momentum," the report states (Xinhua News, 2/26).
The "key to the change" was a "surprise" drop in birth rates of the most populous developing countries, Reuters/New York Times reports. Joseph Chamie, director of the U.N. Population Division, said that the most important factor in declining fertility rates is that "men and women want smaller families, and now they have the means to do so" (Reuters/New York Times, 2/27). The report says that fertility levels in most developing countries will fall below 2.1 children per woman, the "level needed to ensure long term replacement of the population" (United Nations release, 2/26). Already, fertility rates in developing countries have fallen from six children per woman in 1950 to three children today. The populations of 33 countries -- including Japan, Italy, Bulgaria, Russia and Ukraine -- are expected to be smaller in 2050 than they are today (Financial Times, 2/27). According to the report, if fertility in all countries were to remain at current levels, the world population would "more than double" to 12.8 billion by 2050 (AP/Philadelphia Inquirer, 2/27).
HIV/AIDS will have a "serious and prolonged effect" on the populations of the most-affected countries, where the number of HIV/AIDS cases will still be "substantial" in 2050, although models predict a decline in HIV prevalence levels after 2010 (United Nations release, 2/26). The number of AIDS-related deaths in the 53 worst-affected nations is estimated to reach 278 million by 2050 (Agence France-Presse, 2/26). Seven of the most affected countries -- Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe -- are located in Southern Africa, where HIV prevalence is greater than 20%, the Wall Street Journal reports. According to the estimates, the population of these countries in 12 years will be 19% lower than it would have been without AIDS. Chamie said that in some countries, including India, China, Russia and Nigeria, "even a small difference [in HIV prevalence] has a big effect on the number of excess deaths," compared with previous estimates. He said, "It's a catastrophe. We have to bring down mortality in these countries" (Naik, Wall Street Journal, 2/27). Chamie added, "The long-term impact of the epidemic remains dire. HIV/AIDS is a disease of mass destruction and we do not see a vaccine coming soon" (BBC News, 2/26).
PRI's "The World" yesterday included an interview with Chamie about the report (Kahn, "The World," PRI, 2/26). The full segment is available in RealPlayer online.