LONDON — The world's population could skyrocket to 10.9 billion people by 2050 unless women gain better access to education and health care, a United Nations report said Wednesday.
Women must receive adequate reproductive health care and have equal status with men and the right to plan the size of their families if the planet is to rein in a population already expected to grow by 50% to 9.3 billion over the next half a century, the U.N. Population Fund said.
At a news briefing in London to launch the report, editor Alex Marshall said wealthy countries were failing to provide enough funding to help meet those goals.
"We are frustrated as to why the resources to implement these targets are not being met," Marshall said Wednesday at the first of a series of media briefings to be held around the world.
He said the United States, Japan and Germany all were failing to pull their weight.
Almost all of the population growth projected by the report--from a current 6.1 billion--will take place in developing countries, intensifying their battle against poverty and straining the environment worldwide, the U.N. said.
Increasing population and consumption will continue to alter the planet on an unprecedented scale, degrading soil, polluting air and water, melting ice caps and destroying natural habitats, the State of the World Population 2001 report said.
"We are looking over a cliff here. We are reaching the limits of some clearly definable resources," said Marshall, referring specifically to water, energy and food.
"The problems are tremendously severe in all these areas. We have a crisis of global proportions."
The world's 49 least-developed countries--already the most severely challenged by soil and water degradation and food shortages--will nearly triple in population, from 668 million to 1.86 billion, the report said. As incomes rise in these countries, consumption will grow, placing yet more strain on Earth's resources, it predicted.
To feed the nearly 8 billion people expected by 2025 and improve their diets, the world will have to double food production without relying on specialized fertilizers and pesticides, which would further disturb the ecological balance.
The U.N. Population Fund, launched in 1969, aims to help developing countries find solutions to population problems.