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Vol. 7 No. 1

Southpac News

UNFPA Country Support Team for the South Pacific

June 1999

Y6B: World Population Hits 6 Billion !

World Population Day brochure(264928 bytes)

World Population Day is on 11 July, as in previous years since 1987. This year, however, World Population Day has special significance because it starts the count-down to the grand kick-off ‘Day of 6 Billion’ which will be observed on 12 October 1999.

For over a year now, the world has been warned about the dire consequences of the Y2K computer bug in the dawn of the new millennium. It is time to pay some attention to a much more significant milestone in the history of humanity: this is Y6B, or the year of 6 Billion!

6 Billion and Still Growing
Come 12 October this year, the world’s population will hit 6 billion! Over 1 billion will be young people between 15 and 24 years of age, just entering their reproductive years. It took all of human history for world population to reach 1 billion in 1804, but only about 150 years to reach 3 billion in 1960! It took just 12 years to leap from 5 billion (in 1987) to 6 billion. There are twice as many people today as there were in 1960, in less than 40 years, and the world's population is still growing - at the rate of 77 million more people every year.

Declining fertility has created the false impression that there is a coming birth dearth in the world. On the contrary, the world's population will continue to grow for at least the next 50 years. The choices that today's generation of young people aged 15-24 years make about the size and spacing of their families will determine whether Planet Earth will have 8, 9 or 11 billion people in the year 2050. This is all based on various UN population-growth "scenarios". Population projections, however, have become more complex than ever. A slight change in fertility or mortality could make a huge difference to the population figures over the next century.

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A "youthquake" in Paradise?

Reaching 6 billion marks success in achieving longer and healthier lives for humankind. But 6 billion population is clearly also a challenge to sustained development and sustainable quality of life:

  • Of the world's 6 billion people, more than 1 billion are teenagers, the largest "youthquake" ever, guaranteeing an enormous population momentum.
  • 95% of the teenagers live in developing countries which are unable to meet current needs for social and infrastructure services, employment, education and repro-ductive health care.
  • By 2025, there will be more than 1 billion people 60 years and older.
  • One billion people in the world live on less than one dollar a day.
  • 2.6 billion people lack basic sanitation; 1.5 billion have no access to clean water; 1.1 billion lack adequate housing; and nearly 900 million have no access to modern health services of any kind.

Why Should the Pacific Islands Care About Y6B?
The statistics coming out of the Y6B can be quite awe-inspiring, but why should Pacific Island Countries (PICs) and their governments care? Surely, with less than 7 million population in the fifteen countries (Cook Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Niue, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tokelau, Tonga, Tuvalu, and Vanuatu) associated with the United Nations Population Fund in the South Pacific, Y6B carries no virus that will affect the quality of life of the island states?

On the contrary. Y6B is not about reaching a number; it is about people and sustaining the quality of life. Y6B is about the implications of population growth, size and distribution in relation to the available resources. Demographic dynamics in the Pacific Island Countries have important implications for these countries’ capacity to realize sustained economic growth and sustainable development:

  • The rate of population growth is slowing but remains high, by world standards, in the Pacific sub-region. While the average rate for the Asia Region, for example, is 1.4 per cent per annum, population continues to grow at a rate in excess of 2 per cent each year in the PICs. What this means, in practice, is that each year the Pacific population grows by more than 150,000, that is, approximately equal to the combined populations of Tonga and Marshall Islands. Papua New Guinea will have to cater for an additional 90,000 people or more each year. Marshall Islands and Solomon island would double their populations in about 17 and 20 years respectively.
  • There are more adolescents and youth than ever before in the Pacific Island Countries, a consequence of the high fertility that existed in the past. This group accounts for about 20 per cent of the total population, as compared to the world proportion of 17 per cent. Increasing access of this group to reproductive health information and services, education and jobs is essential for accelerated social and economic development.
  • School-age populations are expected to grow substantially in the 21st Century in several of the island countries. At present, 40 per cent of all Pacific children fail to complete a basic primary education and only one in five graduates from secondary school. Efforts to improve access to education need to be redoubled in the face of anticipated increases in the numbers of children and youth.
  • At the same time, Pacific populations, like the rest of the world, are ageing. The group of people aged 60 years and above is likely to reach about 7 per cent by the year 2015. This will force a re-evaluation of familial, community, individual and public sector roles in providing for the elderly population.
  • The resource implications of various demographic scenarios are quite staggering for many of the Pacific island countries. For example, were Papua New Guinea to attain universal primary school enrolment by 2010, a 50 per cent rate for the 13-16 year olds and only 20 per cent for the 17-18 year olds, the education budget would need to expand by at least 40 per cent over the 1995-2010 period. In the Solomon islands this would be 82 per cent and in Vanuatu 95 per cent.
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South Pacifi Paradise? Refuse builds up on an atoll shore

As the United Nations Secretary-General said, at the Opening Ceremony of the General Assembly Special Session on the follow-up to the International Conference on Population and Development in New York, on 30 June: "…we have all learned that every society’s hopes of social and economic development are intimately linked to its demography".

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