As worldâ€™s population hits 7 billion, plenty of challenges are born Sheâ€™s a 40-year-old mother of eight, with a ninth child due soon. The family homestead in a Burundi village is too small to provide enough food, and three of the children have quit school for lack of money to pay required fees. â€œI regret to have made all those children,â€ says Godelive Ndageramiwe. â€œIf I were to start over, I would only make two or three.â€ At Ahmed Kasadhaâ€™s prosperous farm in eastern Uganda, itâ€™s a different story. â€œMy father had 25 children â€” I have only 14 so far, and expect to produce more in the future,â€ says Kasadha, who has two wives. He considers a large family a sign of success and a guarantee of support in his old age. By the time Ndageramiweâ€™s ninth child arrives, and any further members of the Kasadha clan, the worldâ€™s population will have passed a momentous milestone. As of Oct. 31, according to the U.N. Population Fund, there will be 7 billion people sharing Earthâ€™s land and resources. In Western Europe, Japan and Russia, it will be an ironic milestone amid worries about low birthrates and aging populations. In China and India, the two most populous nations, itâ€™s an occasion to reassess policies that have already slowed once-rapid growth. But in Burundi, Uganda and the rest of sub-Saharan Africa, the demographic news is mostly sobering as the region staggers under the double burden of the worldâ€™s highest birthrates and deepest poverty. The regional population of nearly 900 million could reach 2 billion in 40 years at current rates, accounting for about half of the projected global population growth over that span. â€œMost of that growth will be in Africaâ€™s cities, and in those cities it will almost all be in slums where living conditions are horrible,â€ said John Bongaarts of the Population Council, a New York-based research organization. Is catastrophe inevitable? Not necessarily. But experts say most of Africa â€” and other high-growth developing nations such as Afghanistan and Pakistan â€” will be hard-pressed to furnish enough food, water and jobs for their people, especially without major new family-planning initiatives. â€œExtreme poverty and large families tend to reinforce each other,â€ says Lester Brown, the environmental analyst who heads the Earth Policy Institute in Washington. â€œThe challenge is to intervene in that cycle and accelerate the shift to smaller families.â€ Without such intervention, Brown says, food and water shortages could fuel political destabilization in developing regions. â€œThereâ€™s quite a bit of land that could produce food if we had the water to go with it,â€ he said. â€œItâ€™s water thatâ€™s becoming the real constraint.â€ The International Water Management Institute shares these concerns, predicting that by 2025 about 1.8 billion people will live in places suffering from severe water scarcity. According to demographers, the worldâ€™s population didnâ€™t reach 1 billion until 1804, and it took 123 years to hit the 2 billion mark in 1927. Then the pace accelerated â€” 3 billion in 1959, 4 billion in 1974, 5 billion in 1987, 6 billion in 1998. Looking ahead, the U.N. projects that the world population will reach 8 billion by 2025, 10 billion by 2083. But the numbers could be much higher or lower, depending on such factors as access to birth control, infant mortality rates and average life expectancy â€” which has risen from 48 years in 1950 to 69 years today. â€œOverall, this is not a cause for alarm â€” the world has absorbed big gains since 1950,â€ said Bongaarts, a vice president of the Population Council. But he cautioned that strains are intensifying: rising energy and food prices, environmental stresses, more than 900 million people undernourished. â€œFor the rich, itâ€™s totally manageable,â€ Bongaarts said. â€œItâ€™s the poor, everywhere, who will be hurt the most.â€ The executive director of the U.N. Population Fund, former Nigerian health minister Babatunde Osotimehin, describes the 7 billion milestone as a call to action â€” especially in the realm of enabling adolescent girls to stay in school and empowering women to control the number of children they have. â€œItâ€™s an opportunity to bring the issues of population, womenâ€™s rights and family planning back to center stage,â€ he said in an interview. â€œThere are 215 million women worldwide who need family planning and donâ€™t get it. If we can change that, and these women can take charge of their lives, weâ€™ll have a better world.â€ But as Osotimehin noted, population-related challenges vary dramatically around the world. Associated Press reporters on four continents examined some of most distinctive examples: THE ASIAN GIANTS Across India, the teeming slums, congested streets, and crowded trains and trams are testimony to the countryâ€™s burgeoning population. Already the second most populous country, with 1.2 billion people, India is expected to overtake China around 2030 when its population soars to an estimated 1.6 billion. But even as the numbers increase, the pace of the growth has slowed. Demographers say Indiaâ€™s fertility rate â€” now 2.6 children per woman â€” should fall to 2.1 by 2025 and to 1.8 by 2035. More than half of Indiaâ€™s population is under 25, and some policy planners say this so-called â€œyouth dividendâ€ could fuel a productive surge over the next few decades. But population experts caution that the dividend could prove to be a liability without vast social investments. â€œIf the young population remains uneducated, unskilled and unemployable, then that dividend would be wasted,â€ says Shereen Jejeebhoy, a Population Council demographer in New Delhi. Population experts also worry about a growing gender gap, stemming largely from Indian familiesâ€™ preference for sons. A surge in sex-selection tests, resulting in abortion of female fetuses, has skewed the ratio, with the latest census showing 914 girls under age 6 for every 1,000 boys. Family planning is a sensitive issue. In the 35 years since one government was toppled for pursuing an aggressive population control program, subsequent leaders have been reluctant to follow suit. For now, China remains the most populous nation, with 1.34 billion people. In the past decade it added 73.9 million, more than the population of France or Thailand. Nonetheless, its growth has slowed dramatically and the population is projected to start shrinking in 2027. By 2050, according to some demographers, it will be smaller than it is today. WESTERN EUROPE AND THE U.S. Spain used to give parents 2,500 euros (more than $3,000) for every newborn child to encourage families to reverse the countryâ€™s low birth rate. But the checks stopped coming with Spainâ€™s austerity measures, raising the question of who will pay the bills to support the elderly in the years ahead. Itâ€™s a question bedeviling many European countries which have grappled for years over how to cope with shrinking birth rates and aging populations â€” and are now faced with a financial crisis that has forced some to cut back on family-friendly government incentives. Spain and Italy, both forced to enact painful austerity measures in a bid to narrow budget deficits, are battling common problems: Women have chosen to have their first child at a later age, and the difficulties of finding jobs and affordable housing are discouraging some couples from having any children at all. In 2010, for the fourth consecutive year, more Italians died than were born, according to the national statistics agency. Italyâ€™s population nonetheless grew slightly to 60.6 million due to immigration, which is a highly charged issue across Europe. Unlike many countries in Europe, Franceâ€™s population is growing slightly but steadily every year. It has one of the highest birth rates in the European Union with around 2 children per woman. One reason is immigration to France by Africans with large-family traditions, but itâ€™s also due to family-friendly legislation. The government offers public preschools, subsidies to all families that have more than one child, generous maternity leave, and tax exemptions for employers of nannies. Like France, the United States has one of the highest population growth rates among industrialized nations. Its fertility rate is just below the replacement rate of 2.1 children per woman, but its population has been increasing by almost 1 percent annually due to immigration. With 312 million people, the U.S. is the third most populous country after China and India. AFRICA Lagos, Nigeria, is expected to overtake Cairo soon as Africaâ€™s largest city. Private water vendors there do a brisk business in the many neighborhoods that otherwise lack access to potable water. The population is estimated at 15 million and growing at 6 percent or more each year. Problems with traffic congestion, sanitation and water supplies are staggering; a recent article in UN-Habitat said two-thirds of the residents live in poverty. The rest of Nigeria isnâ€™t growing as fast â€” estimates of its growth rate range from 2 percent to 3.2 percent. But itâ€™s already Africaâ€™s most populous country with more than 160 million people. Ndyanabangi Bannet, the U.N. Population Fundâ€™s deputy representative in Nigeria, notes that 60 percent of the population is under 30 and needs to be accommodated with education, training and health care. In Uganda, another fast-growing country, President Yoweri Museveni used to be disdainful of population control and urged Ugandans, especially in rural areas, to continue having large families. Recently, the government has conceded that its 3.2 population growth rate must be curbed because the economy canâ€™t keep pace. Earlier this year, anti-government protests by unemployed youths and other aggrieved Ugandans flared in several communities, and nine marchers were killed in confrontations with police. â€œThe government has been convinced that unless it invests in reproductive health, Uganda is destined to a crisis,â€ says Hannington Burunde of the Uganda Population Secretariat. Another of the fastest-growing countries is Burundi. With roughly 8.6 million people, itâ€™s the second most densely populated African country after neighboring Rwanda. Omer Ndayishimiye, head of Burundiâ€™s Population Department, said continued high growth coincides with dwindling natural resources. Land suitable for farming will decline, and poverty will be rampant, he said, noting that 90 percent of the population live in rural areas and rely on farming to survive.