Earlier this year, the world’s population surpassed 6.8 billion, months earlier than had been anticipated, and growth shows no sign of slowing down. According to the United Nations Population Division, humanity’s growth actually slowed during the 1990s from 90 million annually to slightly less than 80 million a year. Despite the slowdown, though, predictions of world population growth by the middle of this century range from slightly less than 8 billion to as high as 11 billion people. No where on earth is this growth more rapid than in Africa.
Approximately 13% of the world’s population now lives in Africa, with a population now believed to be in excess of 800 million people. Because so many Africans either live in rural areas difficult to survey or in urban areas without adequate statistical coverage, exact numbers or even estimates are questionable. Moreover, millions of Africans live as displaced persons in their own countries or as refugees in neighboring countries. Africa’s population continues to grow – despite war and civil unrest, famine and pestilence (HIV-AIDS particularly). An estimated 95% of global population growth is in Africa and Asia, regions that already contain more than three-quarters of the world’s population, and Africa itself is seen as expanding to 1.8 billion by 2050.
Currently, only seven African nations are among the 30 top populations in the world: Nigeria, Ethiopia, Egypt, the Democratic Republic of Congo, South Africa, Sudan and Tanzania. By 2050, nine African nations are expected to be in the top 30: Ethiopia (exploding from number two to number one), Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda, Egypt, Sudan, Tanzania, Kenya and Madagascar. Kenya and Ghana have led the way in sex education, contraceptive distribution and other population control efforts, and they have slowed their respective population growth, but with a fertility rate of 38 births per 1,000 people and a mortality rate of only 14 deaths per 1,000, Kenya, Ghana and the other African nations continue to grow despite all man-made and natural impediments to population growth.
If you think this is good news that Africa is surviving and increasing its population against all odds, you have to ask yourself is this really what Africans and their friends want at this pointing history? The continent is unable to feed itself and otherwise provide for the needs of its people now, and with tropical forests being depleted, animal species being systematically eliminated, deserts encroaching on arable land and pollution increasing as urban centers continually expand, a rapidly rising population is definitely not good news for Africa.
Each African country must get serious about estimating what the reasonable rate of population growth is for its own ability to sustain its citizens and enact measures accordingly. That means centuries-old traditions about family life must be reexamined to determine what is reasonable for a 21st century in which growth has its limits if viable lifestyles are to be maintained. Donors, especially the United States, must resolve disputes over contraceptive use; it is not only for HIV-AIDS control, but also is necessary part of population control. The crises we now see can and will be much worse if we don’t jointly act to devise reasonable, ethical means of controlling Africa’s population. African fertility spawned the human race, and if unimpeded, it continues to overcome all obstacles. Still, uncontrolled growth is no longer a blessing; it has become a curse.