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World Population Nears 6 Billion

October 11, 1999

UNITED NATIONS (AP) _ The world’s population reaches 6 billion on Tuesday according to U.N. demographers, and more than 1 billion young people just entering their reproductive years will determine how quickly the next milestone is reached.

Even with a continuing decline in fertility rates and family size, the sheer numbers of the largest ``youthquake″ in history guarantee enormous population growth through 2050, U.N. population experts say.

Most of these more than 1 billion young people, aged 15 to 24, live in less developed nations where governments are struggling to provide education, jobs and social services _ and they urgently need reproductive health information and services, the U.N. Population Fund says.

``Whether they get services will determine the future course of population growth,″ said Dr. Nafis Sadik, the fund’s executive director. ``The decisions they make on the size of their family will determine the future levels of fertility, and the eventual numbers of the world’s population.″

And there is another ``youthquake″ coming, with 1.8 billion youngsters under the age of 15.

The world’s population has doubled since 1960, partly due to some very positive developments, including increased life expectancy and lower infant mortality, Sadik said.

It would have been higher if the United Nations, voluntary organizations and governments had not started promoting family planning and contraceptive use, which has increased from just 10 percent of women and men in 1969 to 60 percent today, she said.

``If we hadn’t done anything, there would have been quite a different situation today. The population may have been 7 billion or 8 billion,″ Sadik said.

``There would have been many more unwanted children. Infant mortality would have been higher, and the average family size, which has reduced from six to three children in 30 years, would have been much higher.″

Still, 350 million women don’t have access to reproductive health and family planning services today. And in a world where educated women have fewer children, 960 million people are illiterate, two-thirds of them women, according to U.N. figures.

The plan of action adopted at a 1994 U.N. population conference in Cairo, Egypt, estimates the price of stabilizing world population at $17 billion per year, which the Population Fund says is equivalent to world spending on arms for a week.

At the current pace, humanity is adding 78 million people every year. That’s equal to a city the size of San Francisco every three days.

Nobody knows where the six billionth citizen of planet Earth will be born _ and celebrations and ceremonies are being held in many countries _ but it’s almost certain to be in a developing nation. India has the world’s largest number of births every year.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan planned to officially welcome the six billionth baby at a hospital in the Bosnian capital, Sarajevo, where he is making his first postwar visit as U.N. chief. The first child born there on Tuesday was to be designated the symbolic six billionth baby.

A 29-year-old first-time mother gave birth to a baby boy at two minutes after midnight Tuesday, making him the designated six billionth baby, said Dr. Idris Bukvic, pediatrics chief at Sarajevo’s hospital.

Bukvic said the mother, Fatima Nevic, gave birth to the 8-pound boy after a seven-hour labor. Mother and baby were fine, he said. Mrs. Nevic and her husband, Jasminko, are from the Bosnian town of Visoko.

In Congo, meanwhile, the government is choosing four babies to symbolize the day of six billion, and the U.N. Population Fund is giving each of them cribs. In Bangladesh, a parade was planned.

China planned a ceremony Tuesday in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, a folk performance and special TV shows. China, the world’s most populous country with a population of 1.25 billion, uses a controversial one-child policy to try to keep its population from growing.

At U.N. headquarters in New York, a population clock in the visitor’s lobby was to turn to 6 billion. Sadik said a similar clock would be given to the baby in Sarajevo.

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