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WORLD population could skyrocket to 10.9 billion by 2050, U.N. agency says

LONDON (AP) _ The world's population could skyrocket to 10.9 billion people by 2050 if women do not 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 to 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 percent to 9.3 billion over the next half 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 the $20 billion a year needed to meet those goals.

``We are frustrated as to why the resources to implement these targets are not being met,'' said Marshall at the first of a series of press briefings to be held around the world Wednesday.

He said the United States, Japan and Germany all were failing to pull their weight.

All 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 habits, 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 the 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 and improve distribution _ without relying on specialized fertilizers and pesticides, which would further disturb the ecological balance.

``More people are using more resources with more intensity than at any point in human history,'' said the report.

``Population growth, increasing affluence _ with rising consumption, pollution and waste _ and persistent poverty ... are putting increasing pressure on the environment,'' the report said.

The U.N. Population Fund, launched in 1969, aims to help developing countries find solutions to their population problems. It has three main program areas: reproductive health, including family planning and sexual health; population and development strategies; and advocacy.
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