Only a year and a half ago, the world crossed a historic threshold: Global population breached the 7-billion mark. The United Nations named Danica May, born at the Jose Fabella hospital in Manila, as the symbolic seventh-billion baby; there was no lack of other “claimants” around the world, but it was the United Nations which chose to name the baby born to parents Camille and Florante as Human No. 7,000,000,000. Some critics described the selection as ideologically driven (proof that developing economies like those of the Philippines needed to check its population growth), while the competition to name rival symbols—in
England, in India, in the United States, in Russia, as the Daily Mail reported at the time—proved that population was a complicated issue; growth had its champions too.
Last week, the United Nations updated its world population projections. Using its medium-variant model, it projected that global population would hit 8.1 billion by 2025. That is only 12 years from now—just a little over two presidential elections away, or right about the time the first cohort of students completed the entire K to 12 course.
The director of the UN’s Population Division, part of the organization’s Department of Economic and Social Affairs, said the new numbers were a challenge, but not necessarily a cause for alarm. “The world has had a great experience of dealing with rapid population growth. World population doubled between 1960 and 2000, roughly. World food supply more than doubled over that time period,” John Wilmoth said at a news conference.
But growth at this rate raises crucial, indeed life-or-death, questions. How many Filipinos will there be in 2025? By the UN’s (medium-variant) estimate, 119.2 million. Will food supply—as well as access to clean water, sanitation, utilities, health care and so on—keep pace? The Philippine economy has been growing nonstop since 2001, and at substantial rates in recent quarters; there is reason to answer the basic-necessities question with optimism.
But we should also note that, in contrast, the Philippines’ mid-20th century twin, Thailand, would see its population grow to only 67.9 million by 2025. In sheer per capita terms, that means that the average Thai will become even better off than his Filipino counterpart.
To be sure, there is already evidence of some slowing down in population growth. It took the human race less than 13 years to grow from a population of 6 billion in 1999 to 7 billion in 2011; it will take us a little over 14 years to grow from 7 to 8 billion. And some of those countries already enduring the so-called demographic winter face severe testing. Japan, for instance, will see its population shrink by over 4 million from 127.3 million in 2010 to 123.2 million in 2025. (And indeed, the Philippines will overtake Japan in size of population between 2025 and 2030.)
But the source of much of the growth in population in the 21st century, at least according to the UN projections, is precisely those countries that have less current capacity to provide for their residents. The UN, for instance, estimates that from 8.1 billion in 2025, global population will grow to 9.6 billion in 2050—but of that 2050 estimate, fully 8.2 billion will hail from developing countries. In other words, there will be more people from developing countries in 2050 than the entire world population only 25 years previously.
Largely Catholic populations like ours might shrug and think: The Biblical injunction has always been to go forth and multiply. Surely the Lord of History will provide for his own. But this kind of thinking appropriates only part of the Bible narrative; believers are also tasked to look after each other, especially the least, the most vulnerable.
Global population growth rates may have slowed down, but there is no escaping the reality that every year, there will be more and more mouths to feed. The UN projects Philippine population to grow by about a million every year; in the 90 years between 2010 and 2100, Philippine population is estimated to double from 93 million to 187 million. It is no idle exercise to ask: At what point will the so-called demographic sweet spot we will enjoy in the coming years turn sour?