By Categories: Geography, Society

Population is a more serious issue than generally construed. The managing of populations can become a serious inflection point as can be seen building up in the recent Rohingya crisis in Myanmar. Frequently, discrimination against communities have been placed in religious and ethnic terms, which can be site-specific.

However, Saskia Sassen, professor of sociology at Columbia University, US, places the context of the current turmoil on a more fundamental concept – land.

Sassen says that recent developments point towards a new trajectory in Myanmar’s interaction with its internally much-despised minority population. The Myanmar government decided in 2016 to allocate 3 million acres of rural land in Rakhine as sites for economic development and international investment, with the military having de facto control over these lands. Before this deal, Rakhine was largely ignored as an underdeveloped, and poverty-stricken part of Myanmar, with a significant population of resident Rohingya.

Living mostly in coastal areas, what triggered the Myanmar government’s violent expulsion of Rohingyas could be plans for the development of a 73 billion USD deep-sea port at Kyaukpyu in coastal Rakhine by a Chinese consortium along with plans for an industrial park estimated at about 3.2 billion USD nearby.

Sassen says that freeing the land through the violent expulsion of the Rohingya population might have been the solution in a country where land allocation is controlled by the military.

Rakine is one of the poorest regions of Myanmar. Governments in neighbouring countries are tasked with balancing national interest with human rights. With many nations in a quandary over whether and to what degree to house Rohingya populations, this forced displacement of Rohingyas is an example of how mass migrations can change population dynamics. In a time of global conflict, land claims and climate change, mass migrations might be more frequent than could be assumed.

The World’s Most Populated Nations

The race for the most populated nation in the world is presently a two-horse race between China and India, with countries like the US, Brazil, Nigeria, Indonesia, Pakistan and Russia in comparison a long way behind in terms of total population.

Although China is the world’s most populated country presently, according to an estimate by the United Nations (UN), the total population in India could overtake that of China by around 2024 (UN, 2017). The following is a list of the 10 most populated countries in the world presently, as compiled by the UN in its 2017 World Population Prospects revision –

Rank Country Parent Continent Population: July 1st, 2016 Population: July 1st, 2017 Change
(in %)
1 China Asia 1,403,500,365 1,409,517,397 +0.4
2 India Asia 1,324,171,354 1,339,180,127 +1.1
3 United States of America North America 322,179,605 324,459,463 +0.7
4 Indonesia Asia 261,115,456 263,991,379 +1.1
5 Brazil South America 207,652,865 209,288,278 +0.8
6 Pakistan Asia 193,203,476 197,015,955 +2.0
7 Nigeria Africa 185,989,640 190,886,311 +2.6
8 Bangladesh Asia 162,951,560 164,669,751 +1.1
9 Russia Europe/Asia 143,964,513 143,989,754 +0.0
10 Mexico North America 127,540,423 129,163,276 +1.3
Total World Population 7,466,964,280 7,550,262,101 +1.1

Table 1: Top Ten Countries Globally in terms of Total Population by July 1st, 2017.
Source: World Population Prospects, 2017 – United Nations

Geographically the population varies a lot. A map depicting the main geographical region and the top 5 populated country is shown below:

Fig. 1: Population interpolated over various countries showing skewed distribution

Data from the UN in the 1950s showed that total world population at the time was about 2.5 billion. In present times, this number has risen to almost 7.5 billion. By 2050, the UN estimates that the total world population could rise to about 9.7 billion.

Sequential order of ever rising world population estimates is given in figure 2. By 2100 the estimate would touch the 11.2 billion mark.

Fig.2: World population estimates
Source: United Nations

Although presently, China is the world’s most populated nation, closely followed by India, with the top 10 list given above, there are indications that the list could look completely different by 2060. India, with a massive proportion of its population engaged in agricultural activities, and also with densely populated urban areas with high rural-to-urban migration, is expected to overtake China as the world’s most populated nation by 2024. India does not have as strict an implemented family planning regime as China, with its newly placed two-child policy, as opposed to the one-child policy regime of yesteryears.

With enforcement largely falling off the radar, India would need to radically alter its policies to curb its high population growth.

Nigeria, currently on 7th, has a high fertility rate and a huge young population, and based on current indicators, is expected to overtake the US is the world’s 3rdmost populous nation by 2060.

In Africa, the Democratic Republic of Congo is expected to grow from 12 million people in 1950 to 237 million by 2060. Brazil and Japan (in 11th place) are however are in sharp contrast to the countries in the list, and are expected to witness a population decline in the coming decades.

By 2040, Russia is expected to not figure in the top 10 most populated countries list.

The high estimate of population in Africa by 2060 could be easily interpreted from its current situation. A glance at figure 3 clearly indicates how the population has increased over the past few decades.

Fig. 3: World population increase till 2015

What becomes an important variable is the ratio of the population that is young as compared to the ageing population. When the numbers of young people are in excess in a country, the country is likely to witness a huge rate of population increase in the coming years. There can be many other precipitant causes for this rise in the young population that can vary across nations, which is set to increase in many nations as one dominant factor – economic growth expands in many nations.

Between 2017 and 2050, 10 countries in particular are expected to house more than half of the world’s population. These countries include India, Pakistan, Indonesia, Egypt, Ethiopia, Congo, Tanzania, Uganda, Nigeria, and the United States.

World’s densest regions

The current population density around the world reveals a clear picture of the densest regions. South east Asia is among the densest populated regions with parts India and China having density between 1000-1500 or greater than 1500 person per square kilometre. Other dense regions with the density ranging between 200 to 1000 per square kilometre include various parts of  Africa, Europe, South America and North America.

Fig. 4: Population Density (2015)

The World’s Least Populated Nations

The same list featuring in the UN’s World Population Prospects revision of 2017 also features a list of the least populated countries in the world if one counts backwards from the bottom (UN, 2017) –

Rank Country Parent Continent Population: July 1st, 2016 Population: July 1st, 2017 Change(in %)
1 Vatican City Europe 801 792 -1.1
2 Tokelau Oceania* 1,282 1,300 +1.4
3 Niue Oceania 1,624 1,618 -0.4
4 Falkland Islands South America 2,910 2,910 0.0
5 St. Helena Africa 4,035 4,049 +0.3
6 Montserrat Carribbean 5,152 5,177 +0.5
7 St. Pierre & Miquelon North America 6,305 6,320 +0.2
8 Tuvalu Oceania 11,097 11,192 +0.9
9 Nauru Oceania 11,347 11,359 +0.1
10 Wallis & Futuna Oceania 11,899 11,773 -1.1
Total World Population 7,466,964,280 7,550,262,101 +1.1

*Oceania here refers to countries that don’t come under major continents but are surrounded by sea water.

Fig: Top Ten Countries Globally in terms of Least Total Population by July 1st, 2017.
Source: World Population Prospects, 2017 – United Nations

The Vatican City in Europe, Christianity’s holy city, is the least populated city in the world, with 792 people by July 1st, 2017. Out of these over 450 have citizenship of the country, while the rest are people with permission to reside in the country. Many of Vatican City’s residents are people who live in different countries around the world as dictated by their occupational duties. The Vatican City is also the world’s smallest country in terms of area.

Like the Vatican, the Falkland Islands are also predominantly urban, with 81.1 per cent of the people living in urban areas. However, the total population density here is less than 1 per sq km. Immigration policies are tough here and people generally earn well, with modest commercial expansion. The problem in the Falkland Islands is growing a population to support the expansion of its economy. Other than the Vatican City and the Falkland Islands, most other countries in the top 10 are island nations where people predominantly live in rural settlements in villages.

Migration’s Impacts on Population

Migration implies the movement of populations from one location to another. Migration can be temporary or permanent, or it can be voluntary or forced, as in the case of the Rohingyas. Most legal migrations are usually voluntary, and a lot depends on the host country’s political climate and economic capacity.

Many states do not have strong welfare set-ups to support the immigration process, and can struggle with migration that creates problems both for the state along with its host community and the migrants themselves.

Migration tends to radically alter spatial and temporal aspects of the host location, with the first being a sudden alteration of the demographic profile of a location. In such a scenario a well thought out approach becomes necessary as immigration throws up often dynamically unpredictable effects. With the world moving towards an increasing overall population, migration is poised to become an important issue in the times to come.

Many departures among migrants can be involuntary or forced migrations, and can radically alter how population dynamics are distributed, especially in the case of mass migrations, such as those arising out of conflict or event. These forced migrations can occur due to a war and conflict, such as those from Syria in the ongoing Syrian conflict, where huge numbers of Syrians are migrating to other Middle-Eastern countries or to Western countries.  Forced migrations can also occur out of natural disasters, such as in the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, which led many Haitians to attempt to immigrate to the US on boat.

In forced migrations, people are left with no choice but to migrate. Faced with the prospect of ethnic cleansing, many Rohingyas in Myanmar are feeling forced to migrate to neighbouring countries such as India and Bangladesh, where governments need to take conscientious stands on the issue, balancing both national interest and human rights.

In this international conventions on managing migration such as the International Migration Law (IML) must be utilized as a component of diplomatic negotiations to establish the rights of immigrants as well as establish frameworks for states in dealing with immigration. In an increasingly interconnected world, governments cannot function entirely in isolation, and must engage diplomatically with international arrangements.


Share is Caring, Choose Your Platform!

Recent Posts