Abraham Flaxman

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If 7 billion people are living on Earth, how many are dying? | 

Flickr, aldinegirl87

One of the big news items this week was that the global human population was expected to reach 7 billion with a baby born on Halloween, according to a gang of UN statisticians.

That was yesterday. Today is Day of the Dead, or Día de los Muertos in Mexico.

So let’s talk about dying.

No, this is not a Malthusian strategy for popluation control. What we will examine is  how death actually causes population growth — and how little we know about why people die.

This will lead us into a discussion about a technique known as “verbal autopsies,” which some Seattle scientists are working to refine, and a new phone app that could help reduce the global birth/death burden on the planet.

It is truly a killer app.

First, it needs to be said that we can’t really know when the global population will have precisely crossed the 7 billion person threshold. In fact, as the BBC notes, we may be off by many months — or even years — in either direction with this estimate.

Secondly, we are equally in the dark about how and why people die, about 50 million per year. Most countries around the world have very poor mortality statistics.

But one thing we do know for certain is that those countries with the highest mortality rates are also the countries with highest population growth.

Huh? Yes, you read that right. Continue reading