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Biggest Population Growth Seen in Developing Countries

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An annual report on world population trends says nearly all of the world's population growth is happening in the world's poorest countries. VOA's Art Chimes reports.

According to the Washington-based Population Reference Bureau, the world's poorest countries as a group have higher birth rates and a younger population compared with richer, industrialized countries.

"More and more, population growth is switching into the poorer countries of the world," said Carl Haub, co-author of the group's annual World Population Data Sheet. "And more and more decline in the wealthier countries. So the gap we're having now in population growth is bigger than it's ever been."

For example, Haub compared Italy with the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Today, they are home to roughly the same number of people, but by 2050, Italy is expected to grow from 60 to just 62 million people, while Congo's population is projected to almost triple, from 67 million to 189 million. That's largely because Congo's birth rate is more than five times higher.

"And we noticed that in Italy, there were 568,000 births last year. In Congo, almost three million. That's a bit of a difference."

By 2050, according to this week's release of the population data sheet, world population will top 9.3 billion, up from 6.7 billion today.

Over the next several decades, many of the world's richest countries will actually lose population. Those that don't, like the United States, will gain population more from immigration than from higher birth rates.

Population Reference Bureau official Linda Jacobsen says India's population will grow by half, but China, now the world's most populous country, is growing much more slowly.

"What this means is that, according to the World Population Data Sheet, in 2050, India will be the most populous country in the world, China will be second, and the United States will be third," she said

By mid-century, Africa's population will double, to two billion.

In poor countries, a higher birth rate and poor health go hand in hand. In many parts of the world, childbirth is itself a leading cause of death, but Carl Haub says the chance that a woman will die, at some point in her life, from complications relating to childbirth varies dramatically.

"In the developed countries, about one in 7,300 women are likely to die from a pregnancy-related cause. One in 7,300. In eastern Asia, that's one in 1,200. In North Africa, one in 210. South Asia, one in 61. And finally, sub-Saharan Africa, one in 22."

Better medical care obviously improves the odds of a woman surviving pregnancy and childbirth, but so does reducing the number of pregnancies she has.

Families with lots of kids may find it difficult to provide enough nutritious food for all of them. Richard Sholkin of the Population Reference Bureau points out that the results of poor nutrition in the first years of life can be charted over a lifetime.

"An important share of the world's population doesn't get enough food to eat, or enough of the right kinds of food. In young children this often leads to stunting, which means they're especially short for their age. Stunting is related to cognitive deficits, and it's related to lower productivity as adults," Sholkin said.

The Population Reference Bureau reports that, in developing countries, one person in five is undernourished; and in some countries, more than half the people are not getting enough to eat.

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