Global populations are a matter of huge concern to all of us. July 11 is World Population Day, and the day on which organizations and environmentalists raise awareness of the issues that we should all be aware of.

The first World Population Day was recognized back in 1989, at the prompting of the United Nations Development Program and following on the awareness of population growth figures. This hit the headlines two years earlier, when the Day of Five Billion marked the date when world populations reached this number. If it seemed staggering then, then the figures that we have forty four years on are almost mind-blowing.

The United States Census Bureau estimated that there were seven million of us in April 2012 – a massive increase in a relatively short period of time. Estimates of population growth are even more worrying: 8.3 to 10.9 billion by 2050. These figures need decoding and context, but if you consider that the number of people on earth has actually doubled since the late 1960s, then the need for the enhanced awareness that World Population Day generates becomes clear.

On the positive side, although numbers of people are up, birth rates are actually declining slightly. Escalations in population numbers have decreased significantly in percentage terms, with current growth rates around 1.1% per year – half of what they were in 1963. Nevertheless, we have already reached a point where population numbers are placing demands on the planet. The energy and natural resources needed to sustain us all are finite and shrinking, and there are already fears about feeding the world’s population without further environmental degradation and contributing to climate change.

As well as the challenges that population growth presents to environments worldwide, issues of poverty, development and human rights are key. Women in some parts of the world are still disempowered when it comes to controlling their own bodies and reproduction, with resulting restrictions on living their lives as they wish. Millions have no access to contraception. The ripple effects include reduced opportunities and quality of life for children and young people.

The focus of this year’s World Population Day is adolescent pregnancy. According to the Executive Director of the United Nations Population Fund, ‘complications from pregnancy and child birth are the leading cause of death among girls in this age group, especially in developing countries. Many of those pregnancies are unplanned, and alter the lives of girls and young women forever, removing them from education. This in turn contributes to the perpetuation of poverty and gender equalities, and the quality of life they can provide for their children.

This year the UNFPA and other bodies are calling for governments and communities to focus on these issues on World Population Day, to improve the lives of all and as a way to ensure the future of our planet.

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