Arab world growth as world population reaches 7 bln
With the world’s population projected to have reached seven billion this month, a report found that additional investments in youth and reinforcing equality between men and women are essential in determining the future.
The State of World Population 2011 report, launched in the Arab World by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) at the Arab League, said these two factors will determine whether the future will be healthy, sustainable and prosperous or one marked by inequalities, environmental decline and economic setbacks.
Of the seven billion population, more than five percent are in the Arab World, amounting to 367.4 million. Over 70 million are youth between the ages of 15 to 24, who represent 19.2 percent and are expected to reach 72 million in 2015.
Young people in the Arab States constitute about one-third of the region’s population, yet they are often excluded from decision-making because of a lack of education, high unemployment and poverty, according to the report. As youth took the streets and political regimes in Tunisia and Egypt collapsed, many governments and organizations had to rethink their engagement with youth.
“Youth are an instrumental power in changing the world,” said Assistant Secretary General of Social Affairs of the Arab League, Sima Bahouth, at the launch ceremony.
“They face tremendous challenges from unemployment, low quality education and poor healthcare…we need to ensure the rights of the youth,” she added.
Bahouth stressed that the upcoming period is in need of equal opportunity, transparency and tolerance.
The report showed that the lowest level of political participation by women in the whole world is in the Arab World, where there is also the lowest in the economy and the highest illiteracy rates.
Egypt’s population is currently 83 million, representing 23 percent of the Arab world, and is projected to reach 88 million in 2015.
In Egypt, decades of official and non-governmental family planning programs were credited by many for a steep decline in fertility. In the 1950s, the number was 6.37 children per woman; falling to about 3 in the 2005–2010 period. The goal a decade ago was to see fertility reach replacement level of 2.1 by about 2017.
An estimated 9.2 percent of married or partnered women of reproductive age in Egypt have an unmet need for family planning, stated the UNFPA report.
“We need to take a firm stand, the revolution’s principles called for justice and growth and a major impediment to this is family planning,” said Deputy Minister of Health for Population Affairs, Abdel Hamid Abaza.
He pointed out that while there is an ongoing national program for family planning, individuals need to have an active role as well as partner organizations and civil society.
Abaza said that illiteracy, poverty and unemployment are major challenges facing the Egyptian population today, meanwhile he affirmed that the society needs to eradicate ill-practices and beliefs related to sexism.
The report provides a snapshot of how China, Egypt, Ethiopia, Finland, India, Mexico, Mozambique, Nigeria, and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia are facing diverse demographic challenges, ranging from ageing populations to high fertility rates, and from urbanization to the emergence of new generations of young people.
From Ismailia, a teenage boy was interviewed in the report about the excitement of his generation and its hope of building political influence after the recent political change.
“We have made this revolution. Our families were used to keeping quiet. We didn’t keep quiet. We went out to get our dream,” he said.
He is part of a group of politically active young people who have plans to spread awareness about youth concerns and priorities.
The UNFPA report explained that Egypt is one of the many countries facing potentially severe water deficits, and demographers want greater attention devoted to this potential crisis.
This report makes the case that with planning and the right investments in people now, to empower them to make choices that are not only good for themselves but for global commons, the world of seven billion and beyond can have thriving, sustainable cities, productive labor forces that can fuel economic growth, youth populations that contribute to the wellbeing of economies and societies, and a generation of older people who are healthy and actively engaged in the social and economic affairs of their communities.
Seven billion festivities
In Mar Girgis on Tuesday night, UNFPA’s regional office launched its 7 Billion Campaign with festivities that attempted to inspire hope against the clear perils of a growing world population. A photography exhibit called “Youth in Arab States: Changing the World for the Better” lined the walls of Darb 1718, showing the stories of seven young men and women from around the region.
“There are probably 7 billion ideas…to find some solutions to our problems,” said Hafedh Chekir, director of the Arab States Regional Office of the UNFPA, which is based in Cairo. “With every challenge comes opportunity,” he declared.
A National Geographic video, projected in the background as UN employees and press milled about, explained that it took the human population only a little more than 200 years to rise from 1 billion in 1800 to 7 billion at the end of this month. Thirty-eight percent of the world population lacks adequate sanitation, according to National Geographic, and 13 percent lacks clean drinking water.
Although the Oct. 31 UN announcement of a seventh billion person is symbolic, the UN is utilizing this milestone around the world to try to promote local initiatives. The regional program is part of a larger campaign by the UN, called “7 Billion Actions.” Describing the campaign, Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon said in September “The seven billionth citizen will be born into a world of contradictions. We have plenty of food yet millions are still starving. We see luxurious lifestyles yet millions are impoverished. We have great opportunities for progress but also great obstacles.”
Responding to this tension, the Youth in Arab States exhibit attempted to frame rapid population growth as an “opportunity” rather than a danger. As a collaboration with Y-PEER, a network of education programs targeting youth, the exhibit included the stories of seven Arab young men and women, throughout the Middle East, working for change in their communities.
A small group clustered around a young Syrian man named Mouayad Hamoudeh, who has started a small dental business, allowing him to hire Syrian employees. “I’m carving out a fulfilling job for myself,” he said, “that one day can expand to hire employees, creating further opportunities for my community.”
Dana Arnaout, in Lebanon, is organizing a clean-up effort at a local landfill. “The dump sit was here long before I was born,” she explains, “but it doesn’t mean it will stay that way as long as I live.”
The rights and roles of women also figure prominently in the exhibits. “I believe that lifting the fog of ignorance and empowering our women and girls will secure a brighter future for Sudan,” says Ramy Yasseen, a Y-PEER trainer working to raise awareness about the risks of early marriage in Sudan.
Although the links between early marriage and population growth were left unmade, the general sense of hope projected by the 7 Billion Actions campaign, with bright, glossy photos and inspiring quotations, links population growth to human rights more generally. “Forcibly controlling populations inevitably leads to issues of human rights,” said Abdallah Zoubi, who works for the population and development at the UNFPA’s regional office.
According to the UN, the population of the world will reach 7 billion by the end of the month, 8 billion around the year 2028, and 9 billion by 2050.
By Safaa Abdoun and Maurice Chammah