Mon. Dec 5th, 2022

The world population is expected to reach an estimated 8 billion people on Tuesday, according to a United Nations projection, with much of the growth coming from developing countries in Africa.

Among them is Nigeria, where resources have already been exhausted to the limit. More than 15 million people in Lagos compete for everything from electricity to light their homes to seats on packed buses, often for two-hour one-way journeys in this sprawling megacity. Some Nigerian children start school as early as 5 in the morning

And over the next three decades, the West African nation’s population is expected to grow even more: from 216 million this year to 375 million, the UN says. This will make Nigeria the fourth most populous country in the world after India, China and the United States.

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“We are already overloading what we have – housing, roads, hospitals, schools. Everything is overstretched,” said Gyang Dalyop, an urban planning and development consultant in Nigeria.

Tuesday’s U.N. Day 8 billion milestone is more symbolic than precise, officials were careful to note in a comprehensive report released over the summer that makes some startling projections.

The upward trend threatens to leave even more people behind in developing countries, as governments struggle to provide enough classrooms and jobs for rapidly growing youth numbers, and food insecurity becomes an even more urgent problem.

Nigeria is among eight countries that the UN says will account for more than half of the world’s population growth between now and 2050 – along with neighboring African states Congo, Ethiopia and Tanzania.

“The population of many sub-Saharan African countries is projected to double between 2022 and 2050, putting additional pressure on already depleted resources and challenging policies aimed at reducing poverty and inequality,” the UN report said.

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The world population is predicted to reach around 8.5 billion in 2030, 9.7 billion in 2050 and 10.4 billion in 2100.

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Other countries rounding out the list with the fastest population growth include Egypt, Pakistan, the Philippines and India, which is set to overtake China as the world’s most populous nation next year.

In Congo’s capital, Kinshasa, home to more than 12 million people, many families struggle to find affordable housing and pay school fees. While primary school children attend for free, older children’s chances depend on their parents’ income.

“My children took turns” going to school, said Luc Kyungu, a truck driver from Kinshasa who has six children. “Two were studying while the others were waiting for money. If I didn’t have so many children, they would finish their studies on time.”

Rapid population growth also means more people competing for scarce water resources and leaving more families facing hunger as climate change increasingly affects crop production in many parts of the world.

“There is also greater pressure on the environment, increasing challenges to food security which is also compounded by climate change,” said Dr. Srinath Reddy, president of the Public Health Foundation of India. “Reducing inequality while focusing on climate change adaptation and mitigation should be what our policymakers should focus on.”

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However, experts say that the greater threat to the environment is consumption, which is highest in developed countries that do not have a large population increase.

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“Global evidence shows that a small fraction of the world’s people use most of the Earth’s resources and produce most of its greenhouse gas emissions,” said Poonam Muttreja, executive director of the Population Foundation of India. “Over the past 25 years, the richest 10 percent of the world’s population has been responsible for more than half of all carbon emissions.”

According to the UN, the population of sub-Saharan Africa is growing at 2.5 percent per year – more than three times the world average. Some of this can be attributed to people living longer, but family size is still a driving factor. Women in sub-Saharan Africa have an average of 4.6 births, double the current global average of 2.3.

Families get bigger when women start having children early, and 4 out of 10 girls in Africa are married before they turn 18, according to UN data. The continent’s underage pregnancy rate is the highest in the world – around half of the children born last year to mothers under the age of 20 worldwide were in sub-Saharan Africa.

However, any attempt to reduce family size now would come too late to significantly slow growth projections for 2050, the UN says. About two-thirds of that “will be driven by the momentum of past growth.”

“Such growth would occur even if births in today’s high-fertility countries immediately fell to about two births per woman,” the report said.

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There are also important cultural reasons for large families. In sub-Saharan Africa, children are considered a blessing and a source of support for their elders – the more sons and daughters, the greater the comfort in retirement.

Still, some large families “may not have what they need to actually feed themselves,” says Eunice Azimi, a Lagos-based insurance broker and mother of three.

“In Nigeria, we believe that it is God who gives children,” she said. “They see it as the more children you have, the more benefits. And you’re actually overtaking your peers who can’t have as many children. It looks like a competition in the villages.”

Politics has also played a role in Tanzania, where former President John Magufuli, who ruled the East African nation from 2015 until his death in 2021, has discouraged birth control, saying a large population is good for the economy.

He opposed family planning programs promoted by outside groups, and in a 2019 speech urged women not to “block their ovaries.” He even described contraceptive users as “lazy” in a country he said was awash in cheap food. Under Magufuli, pregnant schoolgirls were even banned from returning to classrooms.

But his successor, Samia Suluhu Hassan, appeared to change government policy in comments last month when she said birth control was necessary to avoid overburdening the country’s public infrastructure.

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Although the population is growing in some countries, the UN says the rate is expected to fall by one percent or more in 61 countries.

The US population now stands at about 333 million, according to the US Census Bureau. The population growth rate in 2021 was only 0.1 percent, which is the lowest rate since the founding of the country.

“We will have slower growth in the future – the question is how slow?” said William Frey, a demographer at the Brookings Institution. “Immigration is a real wild card for the US and many other developed countries.”

Charles Kenny, a senior fellow at the Center for Global Development in Washington, says environmental concerns about the 8 billion figure should focus on consumption, especially in developed countries.

“Population is not the problem, the way we spend is the problem – let’s change our spending patterns,” he said.