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The World in Numbers
December 29, 2018, 3:30 pm

Our view of the world we live in is colored to a large extent by the news that filters down to us through traditional media and newer online sources. We assimilate to these news bits about thousands of people dying, millions of people starving, and trillions of dollars being spent without any real idea of the magnitude of what is involved. Here, we try to put some of the world numbers in perspective.

Only a drop to drink  

Water covers over three-quarter of our planet and the volume of this water has been calculated to be 1,386 million cubic kilometers (km3). To put it in perspective, to store one cubic kilometer of water you would require 1 trillion one-liter water bottles. If these one-liter bottles were arranged in a single line, they would stretch over 100 million kilometers, which is the equivalent to encircling the earth 2,500 times around the equator. This no doubt is a lot of bottles; but now go figure out how many one-liter water bottles you will need to fill the 1,386 million cubic meters of water on earth.

With all these bottles going around the world, you might be forgiven for thinking that there is plenty of water to meet the needs of everyone on Earth. But sadly, the answer is no; the vast majority, up to 96.5 percent of water on earth is salty and lies in our oceans, seas and bays. Fresh water accounts for only 3.5 percent, or around 48.5 million km3 of water on earth. Much of this fresh water, around 99.7 percent, is not easily accessible as it is locked up as ice and snow in glaciers and ice sheets, or as groundwater below the earth’s surface.

The remaining 0.3 percent of freshwater, around1.5 million km3, found in fresh water lakes and rivers is all that is readily available for agriculture, livestock and to meet the various needs of the 7.7 billion people on the planet. With access to fresh water severely limited by availability and affordability, it is no wonder that more than 1 billion people worldwide do not have access to water, and a further 2.7 billion find water scarce for at least one month of the year. Climate change, increased usage of water from population growth and both for personal and agriculture

Today, most of the available fresh water, up to 70 percent, is consumed for agriculture and livestock rearing with significant wastage arising from inefficiencies of usage. Water pollution from industries, pesticide and fertilizer runoffs from agriculture, and domestic effluents and sewage add to the contamination of many freshwater sources. In addition, the increase in frequency and ferocity of droughts and floods in many parts of the world, brought on by alteration in weather patterns, is further piling pressure on fresh water availability. Given the current consumption patterns, many scientists warn that by 2025 at least two-thirds of the global population could face severe to moderate water shortages.

Water down the drain

About 95 percent of the water entering our homes goes down the drain. Here is a look at some of the typical water wastages in homes.

Did you know that running the tap while brushing your teeth could waste over 15 liters of water, or that the seemingly innocuous drip from a leaky faucet could add up to more than 10,000 liters over a year.

Over a quarter of all the clean, drinkable water you use in your home is used to flush the toilets. By just changing old model toilets to modern ones you could save as much as eight liters of water during each flush. Older toilet models generally use around 12 liters of clean water with each flush, while their modern counterparts are more frugal, using just four liters with each flush.

Many people in the world exist on less than 12 liters of water per day. Just think about this the next time you flush your toilet.

The sprinkler on your lawn might appear to be distributing water evenly and sparingly. The truth is a garden hose or sprinkler can use almost as much water in an hour as an average family of four uses in one day. Garden experts also warn that more than 50 percent of landscape water use usually goes to waste due to evaporation or runoff caused by over-watering.

A modern water-efficient dishwasher uses as little as 15 liters per wash cycle, whereas some of the older models can use up to three times this amount per cycle.


The world generated more than 2.12 billion tonnes of solid waste last year. If all this garbage was loaded on to trucks, they would form a traffic jam that would extend around the world 24 times.

Most of this waste is generated in cities and towns. Given the current population growth and rapid rate of urbanization annual waste generation is expected to increase by 70 percent and reach 3.4 billion tonnes by 2050 and more than double that by 2100.

Although they only account for 16 percent of the world’s population, high-income countries combined are generating more than one-third (34%) of the world’s waste. The East Asia and Pacific region are responsible for generating close to a quarter (23%) of all waste.  And by 2050, waste generation in Sub-Saharan Africa is expected to more than triple from current levels, while South Asia will more than double its waste.

While more than one-third of waste in high-income countries is recovered through recycling and composting, only 4 percent of waste in low-income countries is recycled. In low-income countries, over 90 percent of waste is often disposed in unregulated dumps or openly burned. These practices create serious health, safety, and environmental consequences. Poorly managed waste serves as a breeding ground for disease vectors, contributes to global climate change through methane generation.

Enough food to feed the world

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) one-third of food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted globally, which amounts to about 1.3 billion tons per year and is valued at over $1 trillion.

Food is lost or wasted throughout the supply chain, from initial agricultural production down to final household consumption. Food losses represent a waste of resources used in production such as land, water, energy and inputs, increasing the green gas emissions in vain.

Meanwhile, over 800 million people around the world go to bed each night on a hungry stomach because they do not have food to eat. They remain malnourished and suffer from various ailments and deficiencies related to their poor diet. Each and every one of the 800 million starving people could be sufficiently fed on less than a quarter of the food that is wasted in the USA, UK and Europe each year.

These starving millions are not living just in the less developed countries; in the UK over one million people accessed a food bank in 2017 while in the USA more than 40 million people live in food poverty. In the UK the average family throws away 22 percent of their weekly shop, which is worth $890 per year. In the US, the per-family equivalent is worth a staggering $2,275 each year.

It takes an area larger than China to produce the food that is ultimately wasted each year. Land clearings to grow more crops usually leads to the degradation of soil, evacuation of indigenous tribes and the extinction of various exotic species of animals and plants.  And, in the end, all the food grown in these areas ends up in landfills. In addition, food that is never eaten accounts for 25 percent of all fresh water consumption globally.

The story does not end at the landfills. Once there, the food decomposes without access to oxygen and creates methane, a gas that is 23 times deadlier than carbon dioxide emissions. It is estimated that 1.6 billion tons of carbon-dioxide-equivalent were generated from the treatment and disposal of waste in 2016, which represented about 5 percent of global emissions. If food waste were a country, it would be the third largest emitter of greenhouse gases after China and the USA.


When the world entered a new century in 1800 there were fewer than one billion people living on earth. Between 1900 and 2000, the world population increase was three times greater than during the entire previous history of humanity — an increase from 1.5 to 6.1 billion in just 100 years. The fastest doubling of the world population happened between 1950 and 1987: a doubling from 2.5 to 5 billion people in just 37 years — the population doubled within a little more than one generation.

Today, we are 7.6 billion strong and adding around 83 million people more each year for a growth rate of 1.1 percent. Even at this relatively slow pace the world is projected to have a population of 11 billion by 2100, according to UN population figures.

The good news is that the growth rate has been steadily declining from its peak of 2.1 percent in 1962. It is estimated to take approximately 13 years to reach eight billion in 2024; a further 14 years to reach 9 billion in 2038; 18 years to reach 10 billion in 2056; and a further 32 years to reach the 11 billion mark by 2100.

However, there is no absolute consensus on this future population figure. According to the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) is an interdisciplinary, highly-respected research institution near Vienna, Austria, the world population will increase to 9.4 billion by 2070 and then begin a slow decline to reach below 9 billion by 2100. The difference in numbers arises from the granular approach taken by IIASA researchers, who base their figures through a country-specific approach that considers the knowledge of experts for each country separately.

Either way, there could be two to three billion more people to feed, clothe and care for by the end of the century.

To put the 7.6 billion people on the planet in perspective, let us imagine the world population to be a nice round figure of 100 people. The gender split could then be a neat 50:50 between women and men, while the age-wise round up shows 26 people in the below-14 age group; 66 in the 15–64 group and 8 in the above-65 cohort. Split along religious affiliation there are 33 Christians, 22 Muslims, 14 Hindus, 7 Buddhists, 12 of other religions and 12 with no religious connections.

On the literacy front, 83 are able to read and write while 17 have no literacy skills; 7 have a college degree, while 93 do not. On the all-important internet, only 30 have access to the internet while 70 still remain offline, but 75 have a mobile phone while only 25 are still without one. 

In the meantime, nearly half the population (48 people) live on less than $2 per day, but thankfully 87 now have access to safe water while 13 do not. With all the food that goes to waste each year, it is sad that I person continues to starve, 15 are undernourished, 63 have adequate nutrition and 21 are overweight. When it comes to shelter, 77 have a roof over their heads while 23 have no access to shelter.

No wonder we often find it difficult to communicate with each other for when it comes to languages, 12 speak Chinese, 5 speak Spanish, 5 English, 3 Arabic, 3 Hindi, 3 Bengali, 3 Portuguese, 2 Russian, and 2 speak Japanese, while the vast majority, 62, speak other languages.

Rapid urbanization has also led to 51 moving to urban areas while 49 still remain in rural locales. Splitting the 100 along continents we find that 60 live in Asia, 15 in Africa, 9 in South America, 5 in North America and 11 in Europe.

After all these splits along languages, religions and areas, let us now try to put all 7.6 billion people together. Based on the assumption that you can fit ten individuals into a square meter, which incidentally is not just an assumption; nine Frenchmen did actually squeeze themselves together into a square to prove it. What about the 10th person, you ask. Well, all humans are not similarly endowed and, moreover, we have to take into account that children would occupy far less space.

So, if we put the 7.6 billion folks shoulder to shoulder, you could fit 1,000 people in a 10 by 10 meter square; a football field could hold 54,000 people, roughly the population of Monaco. New York City’s Central Park, which measures 3.4 square kilometers could accommodate the population of Australia, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Peru, Venezuela, Malaysia, Nepal, Mozambique or Syria.

To accommodate the entire global population of 7.6 billion you would need an area of 27 square kilometers, which coincidentally is roughly the area of New York City. More specifically:

Manhattan could fit 600 million people; Brooklyn could fit 1.5 billion people; Queens could fit 2.8 billion people; The Bronx could fit 1.2 billion people and Staten Island could fit 1.5 billion people.

Climate change and global warming

Climate change is the defining issue of our time and we are at a defining moment, says the United Nations while warning that its impacts, which are global in scope and unprecedented in scale, could determine the future of our planet and its people.

The vast majority (97%) of climate scientists around the world agree that climate-warming trends over the past century are with 95 percent probability the result of human activity since the mid-20th century, and that it is proceeding at a rate unprecedented over decades to millennia.

Comparison of atmospheric samples contained in ice cores and more recent direct measurements have provided evidence that for hundreds of thousands of years, carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere have never been above 300 parts per million (ppm). The level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere began to steadily increase since the start of the Industrial Revolution and began to soar after the 1950s to reach the 405ppm level found in 2017.

The evidence that scientists use to base their agreement on climate change comes from a variety of sources, including earth-orbiting satellites and other technological advances that enable them to see the impact of climate on a global scale.

Ice cores drawn from Greenland, Antarctica, and tropical mountain glaciers show that the Earth’s climate responds to changes in greenhouse gas levels. Ancient evidence can also be found in tree rings, ocean sediments, coral reefs, and layers of sedimentary rocks.

The heat-trapping nature of carbon dioxide and other gases was demonstrated in the mid-19th century and their ability to affect the transfer of infrared energy through the atmosphere has been proven. All this irrefutable evidence emphatically proves that increased levels of greenhouse gases cause the Earth to warm.

Some of the recorded evidence includes:

The planet's average surface temperature has risen about 0.9 degrees Celsius since the late 19th century. Most of this warming occurred in the past 35 years, with the five warmest years on record taking place since 2010. Not only were these years the warmest, but eight of the 12 months that make up the year — from January through September, with the exception of June — were the warmest on record for those respective months.

The Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets have decreased in mass. Greenland lost an average of 281 billion tons of ice per year between 1993 and 2016, while Antarctica lost about 119 billion tons during the same time period. The rate of Antarctica ice mass loss has tripled in the last decade. Both the extent and thickness of Arctic sea ice has also declined rapidly over the last several decades.

Glaciers are retreating almost everywhere around the world — including in the Alps, Himalayas, Andes, Rockies, Alaska and Africa. Satellite observations reveal that the amount of spring snow cover in the Northern Hemisphere has decreased over the past five decades and that the snow is melting earlier.

Global sea level rose over 20cm in the last century. The rate in the last two decades, however, is nearly double that of the last century and is accelerating slightly every year.

Since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, the acidity of surface ocean waters has increased by about 30 percent. The amount of carbon dioxide absorbed by the upper layer of the oceans is increasing by about 2 billion tons per year.

Killing the messenger 

The ‘person of the year’ recognition by Time magazine in 2018 has gone to the ‘journalists killed or jailed’ during the year. At least 53 journalists are reported to have been killed across the world between 1 January and 14 December 2018, while hundreds more were jailed for their reports.

The number of journalists killed in the line of duty in 2018 was the highest since 2016, while over 250 journalists are known to have been jailed and 60 were reported missing globally during the year. In the past 25 years a total of 1233 journalists are known to have been killed in reprisal for their work. The highest number of killings during the past quarter-century was in 2009 when 76 journalists were killed, while the lowest so far was in 2002 when 21 media personnel laid down their lives in the line of duty.

The annual global Corruption Perception Index (CPI), which ranks 180 countries by their perceived levels of corruption, has also shows a direct linkage between number of journalists killed or jailed and the level of corruption in that country. The CPI, which this year correlated their data with that from the Committee for Protection of Journalists (CPJ) found that nine out of 10 journalists who were killed in the last six years were killed in countries that scored 45 or less on the index.

This means that, on average, every week at least one journalist is killed in a country that is highly corrupt. The CPI results were found to correlate not only with the attacks on press freedom, but also shrinking civil society space, weak rule of law, lack of access to information, governmental control over social media and reduced citizens' participation.

The CPI, which has been published annually since 1995 by the global organization, Transparency International, defines corruption as ‘misuse of public power for personal benefit’. The CPI ranks countries on a scale from 100 (signifying very clean) to 0 (implying highly corrupt). Among the 180 countries in the index for 2017, New Zealand topped the list with a score of 89 followed by Denmark (88) and Finland, Norway and Switzerland in third place with a score of 85. At the bottom of the index were Syria with a score of 14 out of 100, South Sudan (12) and Somalia (9).

Studies have shown a very close correlation between CPI and other metrics such as black-market activity, over regulation, lower real gross domestic production per capita. Higher scoring in the CPI has also been found to correlate with higher long-term economic growth, with every unit increase in a country’s CPI score translating into an increase in GDP growth of 1.7 percent.

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