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The Story Behind the Numbers on World Population Day

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Last year, on World Population Day, many of us talked about the fact that we had crossed the seven billion mark in terms of global population. As I write this, there have been an estimated 72.5 million births and 29.9 million deaths worldwide -- a net population increase of 42.6 million to-date in 2014. On World Population Day, we tend to focus on such numbers and statistics.

While these numbers are still high and have major global impact, I urge us not to lose sight of the fact that each country is faced with its own unique set of population challenges and opportunities.

For example, in Russia, the fertility rate has dropped below the replacement rate, leading to a government endorsed Day of Conception to encourage procreation. Japan faces similar challenges. In Mali, Uganda and Niger, however, according to UNFPA data, the population is projected to more than triple by 2100. Germany, Italy and Finland are grappling with how to manage their growing elderly population, as close to 20 percent is over the age of 60, while in Nigeria, over 70 percent of the population is under the age of 35. And Ghana must figure out how to manage growing urban migration, with 63 percent of its population projected to be living in urban areas by 2025.

The reality is that population growth patterns and population dynamics are very different from country to country.

World Population Day represents an opportunity for us as a global community to recognize and confront the fact that we need creative, effective and diverse solutions to address these divergent needs and issues, and that we should be concerned about growing disparities that leave many sections of the population at a distinct disadvantage, as stated by Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin, the Executive Director of UNFPA.

World Population Day is not a time to be alarmist -- it is a time to be realistic and action-oriented. The world has made significant progress which needs to be celebrated -- global life expectancy has increased by 20 years, infant mortality has dropped by 65 percent since the 1950s, and fertility rates have dropped throughout the world, more in some countries than others. However, 800 women continue to die every day due to pregnancy-related complications; 13 percent of which are from unsafe abortion. There is much to be learned from the successes of many of these countries and a lot to be shared in terms of lessons. Population Day needs to be a day to share these lessons.

Population Day also needs to be a day to remind the world that sadly, there remain a number of countries whose socio-economic indicators continue to lag, a major contributor being the lack of universal and adequate access to contraceptive education and services.

Around the globe, some 220 million women have an unmet need for contraception, more than 90 percent of whom are concentrated in developing countries -- countries which are often grappling with a range of other socio-economic challenges. Providing people with the ability to choose if and when to have children contributes to their own health and well-being as well as that of their countries and our planet as a whole. Given a choice, people do choose solutions that foster their own development as well as that of their family, community, and country.

We can and must ensure they have that choice.