Africa, LDCs, and the World

- at the crossroads c

Africa, LDCs and the World - At the Crossroads
How Africa’s “under-20s” are the single greatest hope for their continent’s MDGs and its future 20s” Around the world today, there is a generation of young people who have now begun to approach their 20th birthdays. As it turns out, their generation quite arguably has more power to change the world at such a young age than any other generation in human history. How can this be? Because today’s “under-20s” “under and their decisions (or lack thereof) are quite likely to determine the very future of humanity, civilization, and the biosphere of our planet itself. And the power that their generation will exert resides most powerfully in the soon-to-be-made fertility soon and family-size decisions of their entire genera size generation - and most especially so in the choices and decisions made by their “under-20s” colleagues in the least developed regions of Africa, India, and Asia. 20s” least-developed In making their decisions, the under-20s of the world’s least 20s developed regions will be asking themselves if they are happy with the policies that have guided their regions for the past half halfcentury? Did the policies and outcomes of the past h half-century solve their problems, increase standards of living, protect their envirenvir onments, and result in fairness? Did the past doublings, tripltripl ings, and quadrupling of their populations over the past halfcentury lower prices or create chaos? Have the policies and outcomes of the past half-century been a disaster or made century things worse? Have the challenges facing their generation, their nations, their families, and their environments lessened under the policies of the past half-century, or have the chall century, challenges worsened? For the least developed regions of the world, the most recent U.N. population projections are sobering. In two articles posted earlier this year, for example, Joseph Chamie, former Director of the United Na Nations Population Division, reports that the population of middle Africa, for example, “is projected to triple ports by 2100,” while the populations of eastern and western Africa, where populations are currently 324 and an 304 million respectively, “…are projected to more than quadruple, with each having 1.4 billion people by are 2100” 1, 2. Let’s slow down for a minute and let those numbers sink in. First, 1.4 billion in eastern Africa by the end of this century, plus another 1.4 billion people in western Africa adds up to: 2.8 billion people residing in east and west Africa by the year 2100 - and that is without even including the rest of the continent such as North Africa, South Africa, and middle Africa. What will that be like? We can think of it this way: 2.8 billion people is approximately like combining pproximately the entire populations of BOTH China (1.338 billion) and India (1.189 billion) today and settling half of them in the nations of eastern Africa and the other half in the nations of western Africa – and that is, again, without even including the rest of the continent. en And the above projections for Africa simply contemplate mid-range levels of population growth. mid range

Footnote: According to Chamie: Even if fertility rates in Africa gradually decline to replacement levels of about 2.1 children per woman by 2100, “Africa is projected to have a population close to 3.6 billion people…”

It may well be that today, Africa’s “under-20s” constitute their continent’s greatest hope. The under-20s of this region will clearly be the ones who either permit this juggernaut to unfold, or who will bring it under control (no foreign colonial power, for example, is going to force the women of their region to have five, six, seven, or eight children each.) Their parents’ generation and policymakers and the international community have pursued one set of policies and business-as-usual practices for the past fifty years that many might say didn’t seem to work out very well. Yet, if today’s under-20s do nothing more than exactly duplicate the fertility rates that currently exist in their nations, the population densities of their continent will be unimaginably worse than the mid-range projections we have just discussed. Chamie reports, for example, that if Africa’s fertility rates were to simply remain unchanged over the coming decades, “the population of the continent would grow rapidly, reaching three billion by 2050” (equal to the population of the entire world in 1960), and, in his words, “an incredible 15 billion by 2100, or about .15 times. Africa’s current population.” For under-20s of the region: What does this mean? It means that if your generation continues, on average, exactly the same, identical, fertility and familysize practices that characterize your continent right now at this very moment, you will be leaving your children and grandchildren a population on your continent alone that is five times the size of the population of the entire world in 1960.

Footnote 1: In those cases where there is poverty, hunger, lack of health care, violence, chaos, or failed governance now, which of these problems is likely to be solved or overcome by ever-larger populations? In addition,what will be the environmental impacts of such ever-increasing numbers and their damage and their simultaneously increased demands for food, water, and resources? And how many additional such demands, wastes, removals, and degradations can Africa's and earth's planetary life-support machinery absorb and still be expected to function as it has always done in the past? And at what point might failures develop in its functioning or in its self-repair and self-perpetuation capabilities? Footnote 2: For additional considerations, see documents in our collection such as "Carrying Capacity and Limiting Factors," "How big is a billion?," "History of Human Population Growth," "Conservation - Why 10% goals are not enough," "Ecological Services and Biospheric Machinery" and others which are accessible at (How big is a billion? Hint: The answer is 38,461 years.)

And what about populations living in some of the region's poorest countries? According to Chamie, “the projected population of Africa’s 33 LDCs [least developed countries] by the close of this century is 2.2 billion.” (This would be almost double the size of the entire population of India today, so that residents of these nations, where conditions can already be problematic right now, may soon be facing even worse conditions.)
In one of his closing observations, Chamie warns that “the demographic transition [to lower fertility rates] in Africa may move slowly or even stall, as has happened in the past in countries such as Egypt and Kenya.”

Veteran PRB demographer Carl Haub, writing this year on the Yale environment 360 website 3 also worries that recent demographic projections that have assumed mid-range levels of population growth may be “too optimistic.” Critiquing prevailing suppositions embedded within the “Demographic Transition” model, for instance, Haub points out that, for one thing, such projections "assume that the European experience will be replicated in developing countries." He then goes on to point out that current demographic projections make three other assumptions concerning fertility in developing countries that are taken for granted  First, he says, the projections assume that fertility "will continue to decline where it has begun to decline," and also that fertility "will begin to decline" in places where it has not yet begun. Secondly, Haub notes, the projections assume "that the decline will be smooth and uninterrupted." And, lastly, Haub notes that the projections also assume that fertility "will decline to two children or less per woman.” (Note that all of the above are just guesses.)

 

Footnote 3: See for a further critique of demographic transition theory. Historically, for example, there has been a tendency to envision demographic transitions as essentially “a one-time event.” That interpretation, however, now threatens to be undermined by repeated mortality reductions, one after another, and also by new, cutting-edge, life-extension studies, (so that the imagined transition period with its period of skyrocketing population growth never completes. but is instead RE-INITIATED with each new medical advance). Thus, the possibility of a population explosion on steroids could conceivably be embedded with such advances, for six-fold life-extensions have already been achieved in laboratory organisms – and an equivalent extension in humans would result , as Cynthia Kenyon once noted, in healthy, active 500-year-olds. In addition, any failure of demographic transition theory would leave classical “climb-and-collapse” population outcomes as the primary default trajectory.

As Haub observes, fertility rates might often “decline from a higher level and then ‘stall’ for a time, not continuing their downward trajectories to the two-child family” and thereby result in “a higher-than-projected population.” “In sub-Saharan Africa,” says Haub, “this has happened in Nigeria, where the fertility rate has stalled at about 5.7, and in Ghana, where the fertility rate is 4.1 and apparently resuming a slow decline. Very recent surveys have shown that fertility decline in Senegal has likely stalled at 5.0 children and has risen somewhat to 4.1 in Zimbabwe. Clearly, not all countries will see a continuous decline in fertility rates,” Haub explains, “and some have barely begun to drop,” which means that the “ projected population sizes will turn out to be too low.” Given his comments above, Haub concludes (among other things) that “the real possibility of fertility decline stopping before the two-children level is reached requires demographers, policymakers, and environmentalists to seriously consider that population growth in the coming century will come in at the high end of demographic projections. The UN’s middle-of-the-road assumption for sub-Saharan Africa — that fertility rates will drop to 3.0 and population reach 2 billion by 2050 — seem unrealistically low to me. More likely is the UN’s high-end projection that sub-Saharan Africa’s population will climb to 2.2 billion by 2050 and then continue to 4.8 billion by 2100” [in all cases, emphasis added].

Thus, “the dire consequences of such an increase are difficult to ponder,” says Haub. “If sub-Saharan Africa is having trouble feeding and providing water to 880 million people today, what will the region be like in 90 years if the population increases five-fold — particularly if, as projected, temperatures rise by 2 to 3 degrees C, [and with] worsening droughts?

As our own closing comments, we note that one lesser-known aspect of Africa's demographics lies in its sheer and ever-growing pPopulation momentump . Recall from our very first paragraph, for instance, Joseph Chamie's point that fully half of Africa’s population right now is uunderu age twenty. Knowing that the U.N.'s high-fertility projections for Africa alone are 5.2 billion by century's end, millions of the continent’s “under-20s” will soon be entering their child-bearing years and begin making their family-size decisions. The choices that they make (or fail to make) will begin irrevocably committing their families, their civilizations, their children, and their continent into extraordinarily dangerous and nearly inescapable demographic, humanitarian, and biospheric outcomes. Thus, while there is unsettling news embedded in the latest U.N. population projections, the good news is that today's "under-20s" have more power at a younger age than any previous generation in history because by individual actions alone, they have the power to change the trajectory of history for themselves, their families, their continent, and earth's entire biosphere and the ONLY thing that they require in order to wield their power, is information like that which we have just seen above.

More information and freely-downloadable open-courseware on . these topics is accessible at


Chamie, J. 2011. As Africa Multiplies (11 July 2011) Chamie, J. 2011. Africa’s Demographic Multiplication
( 13 June 2011)



Haub, C. 2011. What If Experts Are Wrong On World Population Growth?

This summary zeros-in on the population-momentum factor as a particularly powerful force-multiplier that could both amplify humanitarian challenges in LDCs and also under-mine or overwhelm achievement of Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in many of those same countries. As former Director of the U.N. Population Division Joseph Chamie has recently pointed out, for example, in some regions and LDCs, more than half of today's population is under the age of 20. This fact is powerful because millions of young couples in this cohort will be entering their child-bearing years and making their fertility and familysize decisions ssoonn - in the weeks, months, and the relatively few years just ahead. Throughout the highest-fertility regions of the world, the decisions that these "under-20s" make (or fail to make?) will set the stage for the very futures of their families, their nations, their continents, and even for vast parts of civilization itself. If, for example, they choose, on average, to limit themselves to two children or less, they will largely avoid the almost impossibly challenging highfertility trajectories that U.N. models project, and move their nations, earth’s biosphere, and civilization itself toward stable populations with an easier path to high standards of living for all. If on the other hand, their generation, the “under-20s,” continue, more-or-less by tradition or by default, and on average, along exactly the same family-size/fertility practices that exist right now in their countries, populations in many of their countries will more and more inescapably enter a trajectory toward tripling or quadrupling the numbers in their region by the end of this century (as demographers Joseph Chamie and Carl Haub point out in their articles which we have already cited). Joseph Chamie has outlined these numbers in two important articles posted earlier this year which are accessible at
and at

Also writing on approximately the same subject (population momentum, the under-20s of the highest-fertility LDCs, and UN projections) thirty-year PRB demographer Carl Haub earlier this year suggests that current U.N. medium-projections may be "too optimistic" and that the numbers that actually emerge may well turn out to be closer to the "higher-end" projections (higher-end UN projections envision world numbers of up to 15.8 billion by century's end as depicted in the graph above left). Carl Haub's article asks "What if the experts are wrong on world population growth?" and is accessible here

The good news, if there is any to be found in these possibilities, is that the power to decide the demographic futures of their own families, their nations, their continents, and to a great extent, of humanity itself and great parts of earth's biosphere is embedded in the individual decisions on fertility that will or will not be made by today’s under-20s in the ten years that have already begun to unfold as we speak. And the only thing that they need in order to exercise a greater power than any other generation in human history has ever held at such a young age is iinformationi like that contained in the three articles which we have cited here (along, of course, with guar-anteed access to voluntary, ethical, and in-expensive means of family planning). Addendum: Actually, it could be even worse, not just in Africa, but worldwide, because most demographic projections today focus on fertility-rates and aassumee that “the” demographic transition is simply a “one-time” process or a “one-time” event. However, science, medical research, and life-extension studies may be about to obliterate both the fertility rate suppositions AND the “one-time event” demographic transition suppositions that we have just mentioned. Dramatic medical advances, for example, may be on-track to lowering mortality rates so greatly that unexpected declines in mortality offset or cancel-out the population stabilization gains that are imagined on the basis of falling fertility. Secondly, over the past two decades, scientists have already succeeded in extending the life-spans of laboratory organisms SIX-FOLD (an equivalent extension in humans would result in healthy, active 500-year-olds) (for a review paper, see Kenyon, 2005) – and a few years ago Cambridge University geneticist Aubrey de Grey suggested that the “first 1000-year-old human” may already have been born. Even human life-extension advances that are a tiny, tiny fraction of those already seen in laboratory organisms would have the effect of tossing U.N. world population projections right out the window. (Think of the first flight of the Wright brothers, for example, in 1903 which lasted twelve seconds and traveled 120 feet, followed by moon landings less than seven decades later. And similar advances have also characterized telecommunications, computers, DNA sequencing, biotechnologies, and genetics.) Lastly, since earth’s planetary carrying capacity for a modern, industrialized humanity is on the order of otwoo billion or less, and, on a worldwide basis we are now at seven billion and headed toward ten to sixteen billion by century’s end, let’s say that we could be in trouble. See our carrying capacity-population-environment PowerPoint and PDF resources at (What Every Citizen Should Know About Our Planet) and our graphs and images at flickr (dot) com/photos/pali_nalu.
Sample Journal Articles on Life-extension Asencio C, et al. 2003. Silencing of ubiquinon biosynthesis genes extends life span in Caenorhabditis elegans. FASEB J (Apr 22): Friedman, D. B. and T. E. Johnson. 1988. A mutation in the age-1 gene in Caenorhabditis elegans lengthens life and reduces hermaphrodite fertility. Genetics 118: 75-86. Kenyon, C., 2005. The plasticity of aging: insights from long-lived mutants. Cell 120 (25 Feb 2005): 449-460. Kenyon, C., et al. 1993. A C. elegans mutant that lives twice as long as wild type. Nature 366: 461-464. Larsen, P.L. and C.F. Clarke. 2002. Extension of life-span in Caenorhabditis elegans by a diet lacking coenzyme Q. Science 295 (5552): 120-123. Sinclair, D.A. and L. Guarente. 2006. Unlocking the secrets of longevity genes. Scientific American 294 (3): 48-57.

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