The UN called it a ‘remarkable milestone’ when the world population raced past the 800-crore mark. Probably not as remarkable as the astounding feats that await planet Earth: it is projected to surpass 900 crore by 2037 and 1,000 crore by 2058, according to UN estimates. Amid the crises mounted by depleting food, drinking water, fuel and other resources, nobody wants to celebrate these records. These milestones are a stark reminder of the struggles ahead for the new generation on the planet. Every newborn adds to the crowded planet, straining already-stretched resources and efforts to trim down poverty and inequality.
An immediate worry for us is that India is set to overtake China as the world’s most heavily populated country by 2030. When the global population goes past the 850-crore figure by 2030, one in every three people will live in India or China. India’s population will rise comfortably above the 151-crore mark
by 2030 while China hopes to cut the size marginally to 141.6 crore, creating a bigger gap. Thanks to better education and increased use of contraceptives, India’s total fertility rate, which denotes children per woman, has fallen to 2 during 2019–2021, from 3.4 in 1992–93. Let’s hope the slowdown will gain momentum going forward.
While an all-around improvement in public health has lowered the risk of death and increased life expectancy, the growing disparity between the haves and the have-nots has created quite a hurdle for humanity. On the flip side, the climate crisis, pollution, poverty and pandemics have made life difficult for people, especially the underprivileged. The UN secretary-general’s statement that unless we bridge the yawning chasm, we are setting ourselves up for a world filled with mistrust, crisis and conflict should act as an eye-opener. For instance, the demographic window of opportunity for India, with one of the youngest populations in the world, needs careful political calibration.
There is always a risk of the demographic dividend becoming a political catastrophe when unemployment and income disparity unfailingly stifle their dreams. One needs to be vigilant about religious groups and sects exhorting their followers to breed and proliferate like stars in the sky or grains of sand along the seashore. We should individually and collectively shoulder the responsibility to protect the planet and its people from falling prey to inequity.