The United Nations has announced, with headline grabbing flair, that the world will welcome its seven billionth inhabitant on 31 October 2011. The prophetic accuracy is tempered by caveats that the date is merely a projection, based on current statistical assumptions.
Of course, nothing nearly as accurate can be achieved in a world of imperfect census data. United Nations officials have merely balanced guesses on global birth and death rates to arrive at the magic number on the target date. It seems apt that 31 October abuts All Hallows and then All Souls days, when the faithful departed are commemorated.
Population growth has shifted away from its traditional centres in Asia, with Africa and Middle East currently witnessing the biggest increases in population. This contrasts with Eastern Europe and Russia, where population has been in decline for a decade. They have recently been joined by Germany and Japan, and Italy looks set to see its population decrease within a few years.