Arab News (Jeddah), July 12, 2019

Sinem Cengiz

Thursday was World Population Day. It has been celebrated on July 11 every year since 1989, when it was established by the Governing Council of the United Nations Development Program.

The day was adopted by the international community to focus attention on and raise awareness of the significance and urgency of issues related to the rapidly increasing population, which has become a great concern to many countries.

The day was first suggested in 1978, when the world’s population reached 5 billion on or around July 11, by Dr. K.C. Zachariah, who was at the time a senior demographer at World Bank. It aims to encourage people to consider issues such as the importance of family planning, gender equality, poverty, maternal health and human rights.

This year, the theme of World Population Day was “Reproductive health, women’s empowerment and gender equality are the pathway to sustainable development,” a principle that was recognized by 179 governments 25 years ago at the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo.

The global population grows by about 100 million every 14 months. It reached 7,700,000,000 this year and is expected to reach 8.6 billion by 2030, and 9.8 billion by 2050. This rapid increase has led to greater scrutiny of world population policy, and on World Population Day, the UN, world governments and other organizations encourage people to check the latest world population total and consider its effects.

A rising population leads to increased use of resources and raises serious questions about the ability of the planet to sustain humanity. A number of countries are attempting to cope with this shared problem through international cooperation and with their own national measures. China, for example, has operated a strict one-child policy for a number of years, while India has a two-child policy.

While birth rates in Africa are the highest in the world, the number of babies being born has fallen in many European countries. By the year 2050, 20 percent of the world’s population is expected to live on the African continent. Meanwhile, the population of Europe is aging faster than in any other part of the world. In response to this, some countries in Europe have offered financial incentives for couples to have larger families.

And so we see a general picture forming regarding trends in world population: Aging and declining populations in developed countries, and young and growing populations in developing countries.

According to Turkish Statistical Institute (TurkStat) projections, Turkey’s population will increase by approximately 17 million within 20 years to reach 100 million. There are 12.97 million people between the ages of 15 and 24 in the country, accounting for 15.8 percent of the 82 million population. The national unemployment rate fell slightly to 14.1 percent in the February-April period, down from 14.7 percent between December and February, which was its highest level in nearly a decade, according to TurkStat.
Until 1963, Turkey did not have a population-planning policy because casualties during the two world wars had led to an urgent need for an increased male population. However, to build a military force and to increase the supply of labor for the agriculture industry, Turkey began to actively pursue population-increase policies: Maternity homes were established, families with six or more children were rewarded with money, tax exemptions were introduced for larger families, immigrants were given low-interest loans, birth-control drugs and abortion were banned. These population and family planning policies were eventually abandoned in the 2000s.
The demographic story of the world in the past 50 years has been rapid population growth, which has placed a heavy burden on economies. This remains the greatest threat to global stability. As far back as 1972, former US President Richard Nixon said: “One of the most serious challenges to human destiny in the last third of this century will be the growth of the population.”
Population is one of the most important factors in maintaining a country. However, it can also be one of the greatest threats to a nation if not controlled by a sustainable policy. And such a policy must take into account key areas such as women’s empowerment, gender equality and the improvement of quality education.

The empowerment of women in particular is a critical aspect of achieving growth of an economy, because it means fewer people are unemployed or living in poverty and the overall well-being of the population increases. Female empowerment not only enhances the role of women as drivers of economic growth, it is also a matter of advancing their human rights.

Overpopulation is a problem that is not going to disappear any time soon, and it will continue to have serious implications worldwide. However, it is the responsibility of us all, and in particular our governments, to do as much as possible to reduce the harmful effects of this problem.

Sinem Cengiz is a Turkish political analyst who specializes in Turkey’s relations with the Middle East. Twitter: @SinemCngz