Seven big problems for 7 billion people: Experts weigh in on predicaments caused by a burgeoning world population

November 4, 2011 • Daily Email Recap – October 26, 2011

By James Eng

Sometime on Monday, Oct. 31, the world’s population is projected to hit 7 billion. Is that numerical milestone a cause for celebration or concern?

A little bit of both, according to the United Nations Population Fund. The organization, an international development agency that promotes the right of every person to enjoy a life of health and equal opportunity, on Wednesday released a report detailing the achievements and setbacks faced by an ever-crowded world.

How we respond now will determine whether we have a healthy, sustainable and prosperous future or one that is marked by inequalities, environmental decline and economic setbacks, according to “The State of World Population 2011report.

The report notes that the record population can be viewed as a success because it means people are living longer — average life expectancy has increased from about 48 years in the early 1950s to about 68 in the first decade of the 21st century — and more children are surviving worldwide. But not everyone has benefited from a higher quality of life.

In some of the poorest countries women are having more babies, stymieing development and perpetuating poverty; in some of the wealthier countries low fertility rates and a shortage of workers are raising concerns about the sustainability of economic growth and social programs.

“This report makes the case that with planning and the right investments in people now — to empower them to make choices that are not only good for themselves but for our global commons — our world of 7 billion can have thriving, sustainable cities, productive labor forces that can fuel economic growth, youth populations that contribute to the well-being of economies and societies, and a generation of older people who are healthy and actively engaged in the social and economic affairs of their communities,” writes Babatunde Osotimehin, executive director of the UNFPA.

The 7 billion milestone “is a challenge, an opportunity and a call to action,” Osotimehin said.

In response to the report, asked seven notable figures to identify some major problems — and potential remedies — confronting a world with 7 billion inhabitants. Here’s what they had to say:

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