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January 2012, Volume 19, Number 1

Global Population: 7 Billion, Refugees

The world's population reached seven billion on October 31, 2011; the world's population was six billion in 1999. The US Census Bureau estimates there are 367,000 births and 153,000 deaths a day, generating a global population increase of 78 million a year.

The UN had been projecting that the global population would stabilize at about nine billion in 2050. However, new UN projections expect 9.3 billion people in 2050 and over 10 billion in 2100. These projections are sensitive to fertility assumptions. If women have, on average, a half child more than the UN assumed (2.5 children per woman), the world's population would be almost 16 billion in 2100. If women have a half child less than the UN assumption, the world's population would be 6.2 billion in 2100.

The fastest population growth is projected for Africa, which had a billion people in 2011. The UN projects 2.2 billion Africans in 2050 and 3.6 billion in 2100. Half of the world's projected population growth over the next nine decades is projected to be in Africa.

The US fertility rate, which peaked at 3.6 births per woman in 1960, was 2.0 in 2011. Some of the lowest fertility rates, an average 1.3 children per woman, are in southern European nations such as Italy and Spain as well as in Korea and Japan.

In 2011, China had 1.3 billion residents; India 1.2 billion; the US 310 million; Indonesia 240 million; and Brazil 195 million, that is, the five most populous countries had almost half of the world's people. By 2050, the most populous countries are expected to be India, 1.7 billion; China 1.3 billion; Nigeria, 435 million; US, 425 million; and Pakistan, 315 million, and these five countries are expected to have almost half of the world's people.

Most experts believe that world agricultural output is rising fast enough to feed 10 billion people. A third of the world's surface area is farmed, and predictions of mass starvation because of high fertility in the 1960s proved to be wrong because as the green revolution and other changes dramatically increased crop yields.

Refugees. The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees reported almost 10 million refugees in 2010, about the same as in 2009. The number of refugees reported by UNHCR peaked at 17.8 million in 1992 during the break up of Yugoslavia.

The 1951 Geneva Convention defines a refugee as a person outside his or her country of citizenship who does not want to return "owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion." Countries that sign the Geneva Convention pledge not to "refoul" or return those recognized as refugees to places where they could be persecuted. (

UNHCR identifies seven types of persons "of concern," including refugees, persons in refugee-like situations, 600,000 in 2010; asylum seekers, 835,000; and internally displaced persons, 14.7 million. About 60 percent of the world's people and 55 percent of the world's refugees are in Asia, followed by 16 percent of the world's people and a third of the world's refugees in Africa. Europe, with 10 percent of the world's people, had 16 percent of the world's refugees.

Most refugees are from developing countries and move to other developing countries, while most asylum seekers are from developing countries and move to industrial countries. The largest single source of refugees was Afghanistan, with 3.1 million; followed by Iraq, 1.7 million; and Somalia, 770,000. Some 838,000 foreigners traveled to another country and applied for asylum in 2010, including 80,000 in France; 48,000 in Germany; 45,000 in Sweden; 43,000 in the US; and 40,000 in the UK.