Nigeria Tested by Rapid Rise in Population

Elisabeth Rosenthal, New York Times, April 14, 2012

In a quarter-century, at the rate Nigeria is growing, 300 million people—a population about as big as that of the present-day United States—will live in a country roughly the size of Arizona, New Mexico and Nevada. In this commercial hub, where the area’s population has by some estimates nearly doubled over 15 years to 21 million, living standards for many are falling.

Lifelong residents like Peju Taofika and her three granddaughters inhabit a room in a typical apartment block known as a “Face Me, Face You” because whole families squeeze into 7-by-11-foot rooms along a narrow corridor. Up to 50 people share a kitchen, toilet and sink—though the pipes in the neighborhood often no longer carry water.

At Alapere Primary School, more than 100 students cram into most classrooms, two to a desk.

As graduates pour out of high schools and universities, Nigeria’s unemployment rate is nearly 50 percent for people in urban areas ages 15 to 24—driving crime and discontent.


Last October, the United Nations announced the global population had breached seven billion and would expand rapidly for decades, taxing natural resources if countries cannot better manage the growth.

Nearly all of the increase is in sub-Saharan Africa, where the population rise far outstrips economic expansion. Of the roughly 20 countries where women average more than five children, almost all are in the region.

Elsewhere in the developing world, in Asia and Latin America, fertility rates have fallen sharply in recent generations and now resemble those in the United States—just above two children per woman. {snip}


Across sub-Saharan Africa, alarmed governments have begun to act, often reversing longstanding policies that encouraged or accepted large families. Nigeria made contraceptives free last year, and officials are promoting smaller families as a key to economic salvation, holding up the financial gains in nations like Thailand as inspiration.

Nigeria, already the world’s sixth most populous nation with 167 million people, is a crucial test case, since its success or failure at bringing down birthrates will have outsize influence on the world’s population. {snip}


Internationally, the African population boom means more illegal immigration, already at a high, according to Frontex, the European border agency. There are up to 400,000 undocumented Africans in the United States.

Nigeria, like many sub-Saharan African countries, has experienced a slight decline in average fertility rates, to about 5.5 last year from 6.8 in 1975. {snip}


Statistics are stunning. Sub-Saharan Africa, which now accounts for 12 percent of the world’s population, will account for more than a third by 2100, by many projections.


The United Nations estimates that the global population will stabilize at 10 billion in 2100, assuming that declining birthrates will eventually yield a global average of 2.1 children per woman. {snip}


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