Cape Town — With the world population estimated to reach seven billion this Monday, the Minister of Social Development Bathabile Dlamini today said it was important to invest in education and skills for South Africa's youth - which make up a sizeable section of the population - while also providing youth with job opportunities and access to health care.
In a media briefing in Parliament today, Dlamini welcomed the release of the UN Population Fund's (UNFPA) 2011 State of the World Population, which revealed that 43% of the world's population is under 25.
About a third of South Africa's population of 50 million is made up of those younger than 15 years old.
UNFPA's report said young people could become a powerful force for economic development and positive change when they had access to health, education and decent working conditions.
"Without a doubt, our young people are the building blocks for the future development of our communities. We must therefore continue to target our youth in all quarters as we push ahead with our youth development programmes that seek to change the face of our nation for today's generation and generations to come," said Dlamini.
The UN report also revealed that 13% or 893 million of the world's people are over the age of 60 and Dlamini said in line with world population trends, South Africa's population over 60 had also seen notable growth.
She said it was for this reason that the government was seeking to make social security and retirement reforms to ensure that all persons had adequate economic and social protection during old age.
The UN report said about half of all people live in cities and that about two in every three people will live in cities in the next 35 years and Dlamini pointed out that it was important to plan properly for migration and rapid urbanisation.
She said the government's Comprehensive Rural Development Strategy seeks to develop the economic viability of rural areas while also focusing on upgrading informal settlements in urban areas.
Despite its sizeable youthful population, Jacques van Zuydam, the department's chief director for population and development, pointed out that the percentage of South Africans under the age of 15 had been declining in recent years.
He said South Africa's population growth had rapidly slowed down due to lower fertility rates and a higher mortality rate, largely due to HIV and Aids deaths.
The country's population is only expected to grow at 0.6% between 2009 and 2014, compared to 2.1% between 1996 and 2001.
He said on top of this the country's fertility rate, now at about 2.7 children per woman, had begun declining in the 1980s, gaining in decline in the 1990s with improved health and education access for women after 1994.
But he said Census 2011 would help to product more accurate figures.
However, UNFPA's report released today revealed that while some regions and countries had experienced a massive decrease in fertility rate between 1950 and today, fertility rates in sub-Saharan Africa had only experienced a modest drop.
In Central America the fertility rate has dropped from 6.7 to 2.6 - half a percent above the replacement level of 2.1, while in East Asia the fertility rate has plunged from 6 to 1.6, well below the replacement level.
But in sub-Saharan Africa fertility rates, despite declining, are at around five children per woman.
The report quotes John Cleland of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine who says sub-Saharan Africa is the last region in the world where the population is expected to double or treble in the next 40 years.
Though Asia (4.2 billion) will remain the most populous continent this century, Africa's population of one billion is expected to more than treble to 3.6 billion by 2100, fuelled by an annual population growth of 2.3% (compared to Asia's 1%).
Africa, which surpassed one billion two years ago, is expected to reach two billion in 2044, even with the average fertility rate expected to decline from 4.6 children per woman between 2005 and 2010, to three children per woman in 2040 to 2045.
The UN report revealed that the world population had increased more than threefold in the last 100 years - reaching two million in 1927, three million in 1959, four million in 1974, five million in 1987 and six million in 1999.
About 2000 years ago the world population stood at just 300 million, the UN estimates, and it took more than 1600 years for it to double to 600 million, hitting a billion in about 1804.
The UN said rapid growth began in the 1950s when mortality rates declined, however with declines in fertility the global growth rate of the population has been decreasing since its peak of two percent between 1965 and 1970.
Yet despite this about 80 million people are added to the world's population every year - about the size of Germany or Ethiopia's population, the report said.
Average life expectancy has leapt from about 48 years in the early 1950s to 68 years in the first decade of the new century.
Developing countries make up 5.7 billion people, while developed regions make up 1.3 billion.
According to the report, the five most populous countries are China (1.35 billion), India (1.24 billion), the US (313.1 million), Indonesia (242.3 million) and Brazil (196.7 million).
South Africa's population of 50.5 million makes it the fourth most populated country in Africa, according to the UN.
It is preceded by Ethiopia (84.7 million), Egypt (82.5 million) and the Democratic Republic of Congo (67.8 million).
Dlamini said it was important to strengthen international co-operation and pointed out that in this regard South Africa would host the 2011 Partners in Population and Development (PPD) International Conference on Population Dynamics, Climate change and Sustainable development next week.