Text and photos: Carlos E. Gómez
On July 11, 1987, the entire world celebrated the birth of a special baby: the 5 billionth inhabitant of our planet. This event was considered so significant that two years later, July 11 was designated World Population Day.
Why celebrate World Population Day? Panama’s Dr. Natalia Kanem, executive director of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), provides an answer. She explains that this celebration is a space and time for reflection, to engage in activities that bring attention to the issue and raise awareness, while educating the public about the significance of current demographic trends such as population growth, fertility, and aging.
Given that the population increases by 269 babies every minute, i.e. 83 million people a year, the idea is to understand population distribution around the world; our relationship with the environment and available natural resources; the progress we have made and what we have learned; and what problems need to be solved.
Over the last thirty years, the human population has risen to 7.591 billion, an increase of slightly more than 50%. Assuming that the number of births per woman continues to decrease, population projections tell us that the world will have 8.6 billion inhabitants in 2030. Everyone, without exception, should enjoy all the rights and opportunities inherent to the human condition.
Another bit of information to remember is that the world has never had as many young people as it does now. The annual report from the United Nations Population Fund indicates that there are 1.8 billion young people between the ages of 10 and 24 (nearly 25% of the world’s population) and that 26% are under ten; in other words, 51% of the world’s population is under the age of 24.
If youth predominates, governments should focus their greatest efforts on responding to the challenge of providing quality education, medical care, nutritious food, protection against crime and violence, gender equality, and better job opportunities. Nonetheless, according to the International Labor Organization (ILO), in January 2015 more than 73.4 million young people were unemployed and more than 500 million were surviving on less than two dollars a day. Furthermore, according to the World Health Organization, complications during pregnancy and childbirth account for the second highest number of deaths among young women, with the most vulnerable being between 15 and 19 years of age.
This year, World Population Day coincides with the 50th anniversary of family planning as an essential tool that allows people to exercise the right to decide whether or not they want children, and if they do, how many, and when. Nonetheless, studies by the UNFPA estimate that some 225 million women who do not wish to become pregnant do not use safe, modern, and effective contraceptive methods. The reasons for this range from a lack of access to information or services to an absence of support from their partners or communities. According to the study, the majority of these women live in 69 of the world’s poorest countries. Experts note that, in many places, there are even attempts to limit family planning education and restrict the availability of contraceptive methods.
In an interview with Panorama of the Americas, Esteban Caballero, UNFPA regional director for Latin America and the Caribbean, states that expanding access to family planning would save thousands of lives every year: preventing unwanted pregnancies reduces the number of abortions and lowers the rate of maternal mortality and disabilities linked to complications of pregnancy and childbirth. “The focus on the right to family planning ensures that each person will make completely independent family planning decisions and select a contraceptive method without pressure, with an eye to the overall circumstances, and in full understanding of the choice.
Since we live in a world of youth, the 15th of this month also marks the celebration of World Youth Skills Day, created and adopted by the UN General Assembly in 2014 to recognize young people’s special circumstances and the difficulties they face. Encouraging young people to obtain an education and acquire skills improves their ability to make informed decisions on their lives and work, thus empowering these youths to be better prepared for a changing job market. The future of youth is now.