With the world population projected to reach 7 billion in five days’ time,
actions taken now will decide whether the future will be healthy, sustainable
and prosperous or marked by inequalities, environmental decline and economic
setbacks, according to a United Nations report issued today.

The world must seize the opportunity to invest in the health and education of
its youth to reap the full benefits of future economic development or else face
a continuation of the sorry state of disparities in which hundreds of millions
of people in developing nations lack the most basic ingredients for a decent
life, UN Population Fund (UNFPA) Executive Director Babatunde Osotimehin said
in the foreword of the study.

“With planning and the right investments in people now, to empower them to make
choices that are not only good for themselves, but also for our global commons,
our world of 7 billion can have thriving sustainable cities, productive labour
forces that fuel economies, and youth populations that contribute to the
well-being of their societies,” he wrote.

The UNFPA report – The State of World Population
2011 – notes that the record population size can be viewed in many ways as a
success for humanity because it means people are living longer and more children
are surviving worldwide. But not everyone has benefited from this achievement or
the higher quality of life that this implies.

Great disparities exist among and within countries and in rights and
opportunities between men and women, girls and boys, as evidenced by the fact
that that 215 million women of child-bearing age in developing countries lack
access to voluntary family planning, while millions of adolescent girls and boys
there have little access to sex education and information on how to prevent
pregnancies or protect themselves from HIV.

“Our work is far from done,” Mr. Osotimehin said, noting that charting a path
now to development that promotes equality rather than exacerbating or
reinforcing inequalities is more important than ever. “We must tear down
economic, legal and social barriers, to put women and men and boys and girls on
an equal footing in all spheres of life.”

Of the world’s 7 billion, 1.8 billion are young people between the ages of 10
and 24, he noted. “Young people hold the key to the future, with the potential
to transform the global political landscape and to propel economies through
their creativity and capacities for innovation.

“But the opportunity to realize youth’s great potential must be seized now. We
should be investing in the health and education of our youth. This would yield
enormous returns in economic growth and development for generations to come.”

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