Earth welcomes its 8 billionth baby. Is that good or bad news… or a bit of both?

by | Nov 15, 2022 | Top Stories

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The population of Earth will hit 8 billion on Nov. 15, according to predictions by the United Nations Population Fund. And next year, India is expected to surpass China as the most populous country. In this photo, taken on Oct. 13, newborn babies rest inside a newborn care unit at a hospital in Amritsar.

Narinder Nanu/AFP via Getty Images

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Narinder Nanu/AFP via Getty Images

MUMBAI, India – Today, somewhere in the world, the first cries of a newborn baby will signify a milestone for humanity: The arrival of world’s 8 billionth resident. The United Nations is celebrating today (Nov. 15) as the “Day of 8 Billion” – the date the world’s population is projected to reach 8 billion people. There’s no way to know exactly which baby puts the population over this mark. But she or he will likely be born in the Global South. The U.N. says much of the population growth expected between now and 2050 is coming from just eight countries – and half of them are in sub-Saharan Africa. Other countries in this group of eight are in Asia. India, with nearly 1.4 billion people, is forecast next year to overtake China as the world’s most populous country, according to the U.N. But its population growth is actually slowing, due to declining birthrates linked to massive migration to urban areas. The U.N. says today’s milestone is a celebration of human longevity due to improvements in public health and medicine. But it also comes with warnings about economic inequality and sustainability: Demographers say countries with the highest fertility tend to have the lowest income per capita. And slower population growth could help mitigate environmental damage.

NPR spoke about the Day of 8 Billion with Andrea Wojnar, India representative for the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), who is based in New Delhi. This interview has been edited for length and clarity. What’s the significance of the 8 billion mark? What’s the purpose of this U.N. campaign? The story behind the world’s eight billion population today is really a story of triumph. The number of human beings is more than ever, due to increasing life expectancy but also declining infant and maternal mortality.

So for us, that’s a mark of progress in medicine and health systems. It shows improvement in education and overall development. This is a landmark in human survival. We think in today’s world, despite the challenges, a higher share of people than ever before are educated and are living healthier lives than in any previous point in history. Behind all these numbers, we see the potential of human beings as resources and solutions – and not as a cause for alarm. Where is the global population growing most quickly? The global population is growing most here in India. In overall numbers, India is set to [next year] become the country with the highest population. [A UNFPA dashboard shows India’s population currently at 1.406 billion, compared to China’s at 1.448 billion.]
The speed of growth, though, is slowing down in India and in most of the rest of the world – with the exception of a few countries in sub-Saharan Africa. This is the most important thing for a country: That it’s able to keep pace with the growth of the population – meaning that it’s able to provide health care, education and create conditions for jobs to exist. So that’s why we [the UNFPA] are very happy here in India. They’ve been very successful with family planning and providing information and access for women. What are the main drivers of these demographic changes? The main drivers of population growth assume that conditions exist for people to live and survive – meaning there are no humanitarian catastrophes, war or conflict that would impact their ability to survive. Lack of access to family planning means that women will continue to give birth. Lack of access to maternal health care means women will continue to give birth with the …

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