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Global Population On The Move

The world population reached 6.6 billion this year, up from 6 billion in 1999. By 2025, researchers expect nearly 8 billion people will be living on the planet. Ninety-nine percent of those new inhabitants will be in developing countries.

Three million migrants are moving from poor countries to wealthier ones each year, and increasingly, their destination is a neighboring country. Those statistics come from an annual demographic snapshot of global population numbers and trends, produced by the Population Reference Bureau.

Rachel Nugent, an economist with the research group, points to the population shifts that are occurring now from Bangladesh to Indian or from India, Egypt and Yemen to the Persian Gulf.

She says people are moving within the developing world for the same reasons they migrate to wealthier nations. "People from very poor countries [are] going to less poor countries and fleeing wars and conflict." She adds that they are also responding to population pressures because, she says, "Some countries are very densely populated, and they often have high population growth. Those people need to go somewhere, and they often are going looking for jobs."

Nugent says migration from Guatemala to Mexico is one such example. "And many Guatemalans go to Mexico, probably 25,000 a year that stay and 100,000 a year that go back and forth. And that is a pretty high proportion of the Guatemalan population."

The United Nations projects that by 2050, the population of Europe, now at 750 million, will fall by 75 million; and Japan, home to 128 million people, will lose 16 million. Population Reference Bureau senior demographer and survey author Carl Haub says a shrinking population is a threat to economic health.

"The number of young people in many European countries is half the size of their parents' generation," he says. "So what you see today are the corporations, the health care system saying, 'Listen! We can't find workers. We haven't had enough workers and now we can't find workers.' So they will have to have to come from some place and that's going to have to come from outside the country."

The World Population Data Sheet also notes that although the prevalence of HIV/AIDS is lower than previously estimated, it remains catastrophically high in some sub-Saharan African countries. There is also disappointing news about efforts to increase access to sanitation and safe drinking water, as called for by the United Nations.

Rachel Nugent says that issue is one of two new environmental indicators in this year's survey. "We can see that in rural areas in the developing world and in some parts of Africa and Asia we don't have high rates of access to sanitation. That needs to be addressed." Nugent says another indicator measures protected areas within a country. "This means land, protected land for wildlife, for plant biodiversity, and for the indigenous and other populations that live nearby."

Report author Carl Haub says the easy-to-read "World Population Data Sheet" is designed to raise awareness among the public and public officials. "The numbers are there, and it's always a question of whether politicians will pay any attention to them,'" he says. "I think that some of the problems with making the projections [is that] they are too far in the future. And, a politician probably doesn't want to look past the next election. That is something that they [the politicians] will have to get over."