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UN: India on Track to Be Most Populous Country by 2022

FILE - Muslim schoolgirls pose as they pray for world peace on the occasion of World Population Day at Jodhpur, India, July 11, 2014.

India is set to overtake China and become the world's most populous country in less than a decade, six years sooner than previously forecast, the United Nations said Wednesday.

Fast-growing Nigeria is on course to outstrip the United States by about 2050 to become the country with the third-largest population, the U.N. predicted.

The current global population of 7.3 billion is forecast to reach 9.7 billion in 2050 and 11.2 billion in 2100, slightly above the last set of U.N. projections.

Most growth will happen in developing regions, particularly Africa, according to the report, World Population Prospects.

The demographic forecasts are crucial for designing and implementing the new global development goals being launched later this year to replace the Millennium Development Goals.

John Wilmoth, head of the U.N. population division, said the concentration of growth in the poorest countries would make it harder to eradicate poverty, combat hunger, and expand schooling and health systems.

The world's two largest nations, China and India, have well over 1 billion people each and are likely to switch places by 2022, the report said.

Experts predict Africa will account for more than half the world's population growth in the next 35 years. Ten African countries — Angola, Burundi, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Malawi, Mali, Niger, Somalia, Uganda, Tanzania and Zambia — are projected to increase their populations fivefold or more by 2100.

Future population growth is highly dependent on the path of future fertility, as relatively small changes in fertility can, projected over decades, generate large differences in total population, the report said.

In recent years, fertility has declined in almost all parts of the world, while life expectancy has increased significantly in the poorest countries, rising from 56 to 62 since the beginning of the century.

Declining fertility and rising life expectancy mean the world is getting grayer, and most regions will have an aging population, starting with Europe. One-third of the population there is projected to be over 60 by 2050, the report said.

Globally, the number of people aged 80 or over — currently 125 million — is projected to more than triple by 2050 and to increase more than seven times by 2100.

But populations in many regions are still young. In Africa, children under 15 account for two-fifths of the population.

"The large number of young people [in Africa] who will reach adulthood in the coming years and have children of their own ensures that the region will play a central role in shaping the size and distribution of the world's population over the coming decades," the report said.