India is on its way to becoming the world’s most populous country, overtaking China with almost three million more people in the middle of this year, data released by the United Nations show.
The demographic data released on Wednesday by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) estimates India’s population at 1.4286 billion against 1.4257 billion for China.
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The United States is a distant third, with an estimated population of 340 million, the data by the UNFPA’s State of World Population Report, 2023 showed.
The report says eight countries will account for half the projected growth in global population by 2050: the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Egypt, Ethiopia, India, Nigeria, Pakistan, the Philippines and Tanzania.
The data reflects information available as of February 2023, the report said.
Population experts using previous data from the UN have projected India would go past China this month. But the latest report from the global body did not specify a date for when the change would take place.
UN population officials have said it was not possible to specify a date due to “uncertainty” about the data coming out of India and China, especially since India’s last census was conducted in 2011 and the next one due in 2021 has been delayed due to the pandemic.
Although India and China will account for more than one-third of the estimated global population of 8.045 billion, the population growth in both Asian giants has been slowing, at a much faster pace in China than in India.
Last year, China’s population fell for the first time in six decades, a historic turn that is expected to mark the start of a long period of decline in its citizen numbers with profound implications for its economy and the world.
India’s annual population growth has averaged 1.2 percent since 2011, compared with 1.7 percent in the 10 years previously, according to government data.
“The Indian survey findings suggest that population anxieties have seeped into large portions of the general public,” Andrea Wojnar, representative for UNFPA India, said in a statement.
“Yet, population numbers should not trigger anxiety or create alarm. Instead, they should be seen as a symbol of progress, development, and aspirations if individual rights and choices are being upheld,” she said.
Focus on reproductive rights: UN
The UN said rather than fixating on the effect of the world’s soaring population, the world should look at women’s reproductive rights to shore up “demographic resilience”.
The UNFPA acknowledged there was widespread anxiety over the size of the world’s population, which is expected to peak at about 10.4 billion during the 2080s.
But the UNFPA said the focus should be on giving women more power to control when and how they have children.
“The question is: ‘Can everyone exercise their fundamental human right to choose the number and spacing of their children?’. Sadly, the answer is a resounding no,” said UNFPA chief Natalia Kanem.
She said “44 percent, almost half of women, are unable to exercise bodily autonomy. Unable to make choices about contraception, healthcare and whether or with whom to have sex. And globally, nearly half of all pregnancies are unintended.”
Kanem said countries with the highest fertility rates contribute the least to global warming and suffer the most from its effect.
In its report, the UNFPA found the most commonly-held view is that the world’s population is too big.
But it said that two-thirds of people were living in countries with low fertility and that passing the eight billion mark “should be a reason to celebrate”.
“It is a milestone representing historic advances for humanity in medicine, science, health, agriculture and education,” said the report.
“It is time to put aside fear, to turn away from population targets and towards demographic resilience – an ability to adapt to fluctuations in population growth and fertility rate.”
The countries with the highest fertility rates were all in Africa: Niger (6.7), Chad (6.1), DRC (6.1), Somalia (6.1), Mali (5.8) and the Central African Republic (5.8).
The territories with the lowest birth rates were Hong Kong (0.8), South Korea (0.9), Singapore (1.0), Macau and San Marino (1.1) and Aruba and China (1.2).
UNFPA chief Kanem told a news conference, “The world population is rapidly reordering itself.”
While the population is now the largest ever seen, “the global average fertility rate is the lowest in living memory”, she said.
“This is the first time in human history where not every country is getting bigger.”