By 2100, at least ten billion people will devour the planet.
At a recent film screening in Al Ain, one female student asked: “what’s the point of changing if nobody listens to us?” It is a powerful question and it is a powerful obstacle that becomes mute in the face of this: 10,000,000,000 (billion) people will have to compete with one another and other species for energy, food, space, and water in 2100.
This projection comes from the United Nations World Population Prospects 2010 Revision. Even more explosive, this number represents a median projection based on past fertility behavior. Adjusting the graphs by just half a child, the UN established that there could be as many as 15,800,000,000 people literally devouring the planet by the century’s end.
Countries that presently have low fertility rates will continue to have low rates, while countries with high fertility rates will keep on bursting babies.
In the Middle East, the Islamic Republic of Iran has low fertility rates, Egypt is considered to lie in the intermediate range (it is staggering to imagine Cairo with more people jostling for its already limited space), while Sudan, Iraq, and Yemen are considered to have high fertility rates.
The population of Iraq and Yemen could double by 2100, a frightening thought given that both countries already suffer from dire water shortages.
To placate the naysayers, the United Nations acknowledges that these numbers are based on projections that depend on uncontrollable variables. We may not know exactly when the 10 billionth child will be born, but we do know that he or she will be. And soon.
Research demonstrates that when women are educated, birth rates become more manageable. The recent Arab Spring has opened up a space for Arab women to grow within their own cultural context, a sign that it may be possible to grab hold of runaway population growth so that we can rather meet the UN’s lowest projection.
By stepping up education and family planning campaigns in the high fertility countries, it is possible that we can actually reduce the growth trend such that only 6.2 billion people will compete for resources in the next ninety years. This is less than the 7 billion people that are currently eking out an uncertain living.
If matched with powerful and virulent sustainable agricultural, energy, and water campaigns, we might escape becoming earth’s next ants.
More on the role of women in the Middle East:
image via Adrian Boliston