Preposterous population forecasts for Africa
by Gwynne Dyer
LONDON – The news on the population front sounds bad: birthrates are not dropping as fast as expected, and we are likely to end up with an even bigger world population by the end of the century. The last revision of the United Nations’ World Population Prospects, two years ago, predicted just over 10 billion people by 2100. The latest revision, just out, predicts almost 11 billion.
That’s a truly alarming number, because it’s hard to see how the world can sustain another 4 billion people. (The current global population is 7 billion.) The headline number is deceptive,and conceals another, grimmer reality. Three-quarters of that growth will come in Africa.
The African continent currently has 1.1 billion people. By the year 2100, it will have 4.1 billion – more than a third of the world’s total population. Or rather, that is what it will have if there has not already been a huge population dieback in the region. At some point, however, systems will break down under the strain of trying to feed such rapidly growing populations, and people will start to die in large numbers.
It has happened before – to Ireland in the 1840s, for example – and it can happen again. In fact, it probably will.
When you look more carefully at the numbers, you can even identify which regions will be hardest hit, because even in Africa there are large areas where population growth is low and dropping.
None of the Arabic-speaking countries of northern Africa will increase its population by more than one-third by 2100, and some will even be declining. South Africa, at the other end of the continent, will only add another 10 million people by the century’s end. It’s in the middle belt of Africa that things will get very ugly.
Between now and 2100, six countries are expected to account for half of the world’s projected population increase: India, Nigeria, the United States, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Tanzania and Uganda. Four of the six are in central Africa.
In this area, where fertility is still high, the numbers are quite astonishing. Most countries will at least triple in population; some, like Uganda, Tanzania and Zambia, are predicted to grow fivefold. That is on top of populations that have already tripled, quadrupled or quintupled in the past half-century. Uganda had 5 million people at independence in 1962; it is projected to have 205 million in 2100.
The numbers are simply preposterous. Niger, a desert country whose limited agricultural land might feed 10 million people with good management, a lot of investment, and good luck with the weather, already has twice as many as that. By the end of the century it will have 20 times as many: 204 million people.
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