(EnergyAsia, October 21 2011, Friday) — The world’s population will reach seven billion sometime this month, the child likely to be born in Asia, according to the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) unit.

“There is a good chance that this birth will take place in our region, home to 61% of the World’s population,” said Noeleen Heyzer, Under-Secretary General and Executive Secretary of ESCAP, at the launch of its flagship statistics publication.

According to the Statistical Yearbook for Asia and the Pacific 2011, among children below the age of five last year, there were 110 boys for every 100 girls, which is much higher than the natural sex ratio, and higher than any other region of the world.

East and Northeast Asia has the highest ratio of 119, followed by South and South-West Asia with a ratio of 108.

Dr Heyzer said: “Prevailing family structures, culture, policy incentives and the available technology combine to make parents in some countries prefer boys over girls and act on that preference. This is an alarming trend that reflects existing social practices of gender discrimination and neglect, and has serious consequences for the demographics of the future.”

Gender inequalities in the Asia-Pacific region are also evident in education, employment, property ownership and decision-making.

Women account for 65% of the 518 million illiterate people in the region, and only eight girls are enrolled in secondary school for every 10 boys.

Female participation in the labour force in the region has remained unchanged for almost 20 years with 65 employed women per 100 employed men.

Women have very limited access to land ownership in at least eight Asia-Pacific countries. In all but two countries in the region, women hold less than 30% of national level political positions.

The report also reveals for the first time in recorded history, the Asia-Pacific fertility rate was equal to the replacement rate of 2.1 (live births per woman). Replacement level fertility means that women give birth to the exact number of babies that would be needed to replace themselves. This means that this generation is not producing enough children to replace itself which will lead to reductions in population in the future.

ESCAP estimates published in its online database along with the yearbook also project the regional fertility rate to drop below the replacement level by 2015 if current trends continue.

Thus, without immigration, the next generation of people in the Asia Pacific region will decline in number, implying a reduced population in future.

The low Asia-Pacific birth rate, together with increased life expectancies, also mean a greying population with a 34% increase in the proportion of elderly in the last two decades, a more drastic increase than all other regions except Latin America and the Caribbean. An ageing population changes the relative burden on different generations and has implications for social welfare demands, including healthcare.

While the Asia-Pacific region has recorded high economic growth over the last few decades, this has had adverse environmental impacts. According to the Yearbook, despite reductions in the carbon intensiveness of production, in 2008, Asia-Pacific countries accounted for almost half the world’s carbon dioxide emissions compared to 40% a decade ago.

The proportion of primary forests in the region over this period has declined by more than 10%.

There have been improvements in health and living conditions in the region including a reduction in extreme poverty, increased access to water and sanitation, a decrease in maternal and child mortality as well as a decline in new infections of HIV, tuberculosis and malaria.

Socio-economic progress, however, has been mixed. The  Yearbook  notes  that   “total expenditure  on  health  as  a  percentage of GDP in the region declined in recent  years  (in  contrast  to  all other regions) demonstrating that per capita  [health] expenditure in the region has not kept pace with economic growth”.