For some time now, the UN has estimated that today, October 31, the world’s population is set to reach 7 billion. That’s a big number, but what does this mean for all of us? How much do we really know about how the rest of the world lives? If you’re asking yourself these questions, start here: 7 things you should know…
1. The highest rates of population growth are in less developed countries. Too many people are born in poverty and live out their days with little hope for better lives.
2. Good news! In developing regions, the number of people living on less than $1.25 a day dropped from 46 percent to 27 percent from 1990 to 2005. Even with the economic downturn, the world is on track to meet Millennium Development Goal #1 — to halve extreme human poverty by 2015.
3. Despite economic growth, poverty is a huge problem in South Asia. While Africa’s 26 poorest nations account for 410 million people, eight states in India have 421 million who are just as poor.
4. 884 million people don’t have access to safe drinking water worldwide.
5. More than 350,000 women die each year because of complications of pregnancy or childbirth, 99 percent of them live in developing countries.
6. For the first time, more than half the world’s population lives in cities and towns. One billion people live in typically unsafe and overcrowded urban slums.
7. While the world’s population growth is slowing, the number of people in child-bearing years — 3.7 billion — means that there will be many more of us to care for in the coming decades.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, in July during the launch of a report progress toward the Millennium Development Goals, said, “The poorest of the world are being left behind. We need to reach out and lift them into our lifeboat.”
As it is estimated today, when the world’s population odometer rolls over to 7 billion, we won’t know whether it happens in a hospital delivery room in suburban Chicago or a tin shack in sub-Saharan Africa. While the 7 billion number is real, the observance is largely symbolic.
But when the 7 billionth human raises a cry, she — or more likely he — will stake a claim on the air, water, food and care needed to grow and live for 69 years. Boy or girl number 7 billion also stakes a claim on us as fellow humans to reach out and lift them up.