Africa’s population set to double by 2050, says new report

Huge population increases in some of the world's least developed countries will exacerbate existing problems. [JamesCridland/Flickr]

Africa’s population will double by 2050, according to a new report from the Population Reference Bureau (PRB) in Washington – posing serious questions about the sustainabililty of the world’s poorest continent.

PRB’s projections show Africa’s population will reach 2.5 billion by 2050, by far the biggest increase in any of the globe’s continents.

By contrast, the report suggests, Europe’s population will actually shrink in that time, from 740 million to 728 million.

Overall, the study finds that the global population will reach 10 billion by the year 2053 – up from 7.4 billion currently.

“Despite declines in fertility rates around the world, we expect population gains to remain strong enough to take us toward a global population of 10 billion,” said Jeffery Jordan, President of PRB.

“Significant regional differences remain, though. For example, very low birth rates in Europe will mean population declines there while Africa’s population is expected to double.”

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Although Oceania (essentially Australia and New Zealand) rises by more than one third, that only takes it to 66 million from a current 40 million.

Asia will gain around 900 million people, taking its population to 5.3 billion.

Drilling down through the data, it emerges that the combined population of the world’s least developed countries will double by 2050 to 1.9 billion. Most of the 48 “least developed countries”, by UN criteria, are in Africa.

Some 29 countries will see their populations more than double – nearly all of them in Africa. Niger, already the country with the world’s highest birth rate, will see the population more than triple.

The top ten fertility rates are all in sub-Saharan African countries, with nearly all above six children per woman. In Europe, the average is 1.6.

In the least developed countries, some 41%of the population are aged under 15 – compared 25% globally and 16% in developed countries.

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Within Africa, some of the most startling increases are seen in countries such as Ethiopia, projected to increase from 101 million now, to 168 million people.

Nigeria rises from 186 million to 387 million, the Democratic Republic of Congo from 79 million to 213 million, and Tanzania from 54 million to 134 million.

Within Europe, the UK is predicted to rise from 65 million to 77 million, whilst Germany actually slips back, from 82 million to 81 million, as does Spain, from 43 million to 39 million.

Similarly worrying, from a development perspective, the ten countries with currently the lowest access to electricity were again all in Africa: Sudan (5%), Chad (6%), Burundi (7%), Malawi (10%), Liberia (10%), Central African Republic (11%), Burkina Faso (13%), Niger (14%), Sierra Leone (14%) and Tanzania (15%).

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