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Fuse on the 'population bomb' has been relit

While the developed world deals with a 'birth dearth,' populations are exploding in developing nations. What the first world should do to help.

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Prospects for stabilizing the world's soaring population have taken a blow. This development, if not reversed, will have huge economic, environmental, and political impacts on most people alive today.

Two years ago, the United Nations projected that the number of people on this planet would reach 8.9 billion by 2050. In March, the UN Population Division revised that projection to 9.2 billion.

If UN demographers are right, in 43 years the world's population will increase by 2.5 billion, up from 6.7 billion today. That growth is equivalent to how many people lived on Earth in 1950. The difference in the two UN projections, separated by only two years, is equal to today's population of the United States.

Talk of a "birth dearth" remains true for most industrial countries. The US, with a high rate of immigration, legal and illegal, is an exception.

But the population "explosion" is not over in many developing countries.

"The rate of progress has come down," warns Stanley Bernstein, a senior policy adviser for the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). His boss, Thoraya Ahmed Obaid, executive director of UNFPA, points to a steep decline in world foreign aid for family planning, from $723 million in 1955 to $442 million in 2004 (in constant dollars).

"There are 200 million women in the developing world with an unmet need for effective contraception," she said in an address last month. "The result is increasing numbers of unwanted pregnancies, rising rates of unsafe abortion, and increased risks to the lives of women and children."

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