World population hits 8 billion, with Asia and sub-Saharan Africa seeing rapid growth

15 November 2022, 09:03

Population growth is largely driven by just a few countries
Population growth is largely driven by just a few countries. Picture: Getty

By Kit Heren

The global population hit 8 billion on Tuesday, with countries in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa driving much of the growth.

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The milestone, to be announced at Cop27 and in New York today, comes thanks largely to longer global life expectancies and growth in some countries in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, according to the United Nations, which is tracking the increase.

Just eight countries - the Democratic Republic of Congo, Egypt, Ethiopia, India, Nigeria, Pakistan, the Philippines and Tanzania - will account for more than half the world's population growth by 2050, the UN said.

Egypt is among the countries with the highest population growth
Egypt is among the countries with the highest population growth. Picture: Getty

Despite the high population growth in those countries, overall global fertility rates have been in decline since 1950.

In 1950, the average woman had five children. In 2021 that was 2.3, and in 2050 the figure will stand at 2.1.

The UN highlighted the challenges of the recent fast population increase.

Liu Zhenmin, the agency's under-secretary-general for economic and social affairs, said: “Rapid population growth makes eradicating poverty, combatting hunger and malnutrition, and increasing the coverage of health and education systems more difficult."

Manila, the capital of the Philippines
Manila, the capital of the Philippines. Picture: Getty

John Wilmoth, director of the population unit of the UN department of economic and social affairs, said the milestone was "a reflection of our success as a species, to be able to proliferate the way we have.

"At the same time it raises questions about our impact on the world," he added.

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The milestone comes only 11 years after the world's population hit seven billion.

People in Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia, where population growth is booming
People in Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia, where population growth is booming. Picture: Getty

But the UN said that the "unprecedented" population growth was slowing, and there would not be nine billion people until 2037.

The world's population is expected to peak at 10.8 billion at some point in the 2080s, and stay at that level until 2100.

Global life expectancy at birth reached 72.8 years in 2019, an improvement of almost 9 years since 1990 - although it dropped to 71 in 2021 because of Covid-19. The UN expects life expectancy to reach 77 by 2050.

Population growth has less of an impact on people than the recent change in the scale of human activities, although that is amplified by the increased number of people.

Shanghai in China, where population growth is slowing
Shanghai in China, where population growth is slowing. Picture: Getty

Mr Wilmoth said: “There has been an increase in the size of the impact that each person is having on the environment. That per capita impact has changed more than the number of people.”

Population growth in China, the biggest country in the world with 1.4 billion people, is slowing. India is set to overtake China next year, according to UN estimates.

The US, Indonesia and Pakistan make up the rest of the top five, with 338 million, 276 million and 236 million respectively.

With 67.5 million people, the UK is the 21st biggest country in the world and the third-biggest in Europe after Russian and Germany. Population is set to grow to 67.7 million by next year.

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