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China population set to be overtaken by India

Could India become the world’s most populous country — overtaking China — within the decade? Statistics suggest this is likely.

China and India are the world’s most populous and second most populous states respectively. They hold unique positions as the only nations on earth whose populations exceed that of a billion people. The two nations alone account for 37 percent of the entire global population of roughly 7.7 billion, with China currently home to around 1.4 billion people and India to approximately 1.3 billion people.

By 2027, India is poised to eclipse China as the world’s most heavily populated state. The UN’s 2019 World Population Prospects Report found that India is likely to overtake China in terms of population size by around 2027. This increase is projected to continue through to 2050, widening the gap in population size between India and China — and indeed all of the other nations whose populations are dwarfed by those two. 

The world’s population is predicted to reach its peak around the end of the current century, at a level of nearly eleven billion, according to the study. More than half of the projected increase in the global population is theorised to be concentrated in just nine countries. India will be the focal point of the increase, followed by Nigeria; Pakistan; the Democratic Republic of the Congo; Ethiopia; Tanzania; Indonesia; Egypt; and the US.

“India is expected to add nearly 273 million people between 2019 and 2050, while the population of Nigeria is projected to grow by 200 million. Together, these two countries could account for 23 percent of the global population increase to 2050,” the report said.

China has long been unchallenged in terms of population size. This took a turning point upon the intervention of the Chinese state in implemented political measures such as the one-child policy, as well as declining fertility rates, facilitating a decrease in its population growth. The resultant reduction in birth rates left China with a slower rate of population growth and an ever-expanding ageing population, eventually resulting in the revocation of the policy three years ago.

Conversely, India is not only anticipated to outflank China as the most populous nation on Earth within the next decade but to maintain that position until the end of the 21st century. As per the UN report, India’s population will touch 1.5 billion by 2050; peak at 1.65 billion in 2059; and then decrease in the subsequent decades. 

To be clear, India is witnessing a number of the same phenomena as China. Its population growth rate slowed considerably in the 2010-19 period. Its fertility rates are falling, to the point it is expected to reach replacement fertility levels within the next decade. Its population is also ageing, with India’s elderly expected to number 340 million by 2050. This begs the question as to why India’s population will increase by such considerable numbers.

India, too, has enacted policies to temper birth control rates. As previously reported by Health Issues India, 85 percent of India’s family planning budget is spent on sterilisation. India has a long and controversial history of sterilisation, from the programmes enacted in the Emergency of the 1970s to the sterilisation camps of recent years where scores of women have perished in botched, unsafe surgeries. Efforts to expand access to birth control and contraception have not been rolled out at the same pace; India, in fact, has the highest unmet need for contraception in the developing world. This could be one reason why its population continues to grow, relying on extraneous factors like falling fertility to temper the increase in the decades to come. 

The projected increase in India’s population could place yet more pressure on the country already overburdened public health system. If improvements to infrastructure are not made in line with the population increase, the results are virtually certain to be disastrous. Already the country suffers from lack of facilities and a poor doctor-patient ratio. Without the necessary policies in place to amend this, the population growth will only exacerbate these issues.

The report serves to assist governments in planning future policies. Aside from the necessary infrastructure needed to accommodate the rising population, large-scale healthcare programmes such as Ayushman Bharat will also be affected by the probable increase in demand. If India is to shoulder this burden, healthcare budgets cannot remain at their current, dismal levels. Meanwhile, efforts to expand access to contraception and family planning are vital.


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