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WORLDVIEW: Human family: 7 billion by 2011

EDITOR’S NOTE: “WorldView Conversation,” the blog related to this column, is available at http://worldviewconversation.blogspot.com/. An audio version of this column is available at http://media1.imbresources.org/files/90/9073/9073-49226.mp3

RICHMOND, Va. (BP)–The latest world population numbers and forecasts tell us what we already know: The human family lives more and more in the global South and East.

The rest of us are becoming country cousins, scattered through the isolated hinterlands of the North and the West.

That’s an absurd exaggeration, of course — but not as absurd as you might think.

Most of humanity is in Asia and Africa. If “God so loved the world,” as Scripture says, it stands to reason that He would focus passionate attention on the places where most of “the world” lives. So should we.

The global population will reach 7 billion in 2011, only 12 years after topping 6 billion in 1999, according to the Population Reference Bureau (PRB). The Washington, D.C.-based agency released its annual World Population Data Sheet in August with accompanying analysis of global demographics by region, age, income, gender and other categories.

“Even with declining fertility rates in many countries, world population is still growing at a rapid rate,” says Bill Butz, the bureau’s president. “The increase from 6 billion to 7 billion is likely to take 12 years, as did the increase from 5 billion to 6 billion. Both events are unprecedented in world history.”

Africa’s population just topped 1 billion and will double by 2050. Asia, now at 4.1 billion, will increase to 5.3 billion by mid-century. The population of Latin America and the Caribbean, 580 million, will climb to 724 million by then.

With 307 million people, the United States is the third-largest country in the world — far behind China and India with more than 1 billion each, but ahead of Indonesia and Brazil. U.S. population is projected to reach 439 million by the year 2050.

But Eastern and Western Europe are shrinking as growth rates decline and even reverse — the potential death knell of nations in the long term. Europe’s current population of 738 million is projected to fall to 702 million by 2050.

Future growth will come almost entirely (97 percent) in the developing world, according to projections, with the fastest growth in the poorest countries.

Here’s a stark example: Canada and Uganda have nearly the same populations today — 34 million and 31 million, respectively. Uganda, however, likely will more than double Canada’s population by 2050.

“The great bulk of today’s 1.2 billion youth — nearly 90 percent — are in developing countries,” says Carl Haub, PRB senior demographer and co-author of the data sheet.

About one in every five people on earth, then, is between the ages of 15 and 24. Eight in 10 live in Africa and Asia. Sub-Saharan Africa has the world’s youngest population and will for many years to come.

True, the overall world population is aging: Global median age is projected to increase from 28.9 to 38.4 by 2050. But for now, youth rules — demographically speaking.

The implications of these numbers for Christians are many. I’ll emphasize just one: responding to the ongoing youth explosion in the developing world.

“During the next few decades, these young people will most likely continue the current trend of moving from rural areas to cities in search of education and training opportunities, gainful employment and adequate health care,” Haub predicts.

Major investments in their health, education and job training will pay major dividends, says the PRB report — stating the obvious. The lack of such investment, on the other hand, will result in massive frustration, suffering, criminality and violence.

The same is true in the spiritual realm. The church universal must — must — do whatever it takes to assist, evangelize and make disciples among the young people of the global South and East in this generation. They deserve the very best we have to give.

Anything less would be a tragic abdication of obedience to God’s mission in our day.
Erich Bridges is global correspondent for the International Mission Board.

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  • Erich Bridges