Visualizing Population Growth

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Overcrowded Planet

via In Nigeria, a Preview of an Overcrowded Planet – NYTimes.com.

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.

If the population growth continues, by 2100 they will surpass the US as the 3rd most populous nation, with over 700 million people.  According to United Nations Population Division data released in May 2011, the global population could increase to over 15.8 billion by 2100.  Most of the growth will occur in sub-Saharan Africa.

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.

Students are packed into classrooms, up to 100 to a room.  High school and university graduates can’t find jobs – unemployment among the 20-somethings is 50% in urban areas.  Unemployed, dissatisfied youth are more likely to cause trouble, joining groups like Boko Haram.

So what are countries doing to make sure they can provide services for all those people?

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. If this large nation rich with oil cannot control its growth, what hope is there for the many smaller, poorer countries?

Half of Nigerian women are under 19, and so population will continue to rise as they reach their child=bearing years.  The status of women is also on the line –

Large families signal prosperity and importance in African cultures; some cultures let women attend village meetings only after they have had their 11th child.

According to the article, there are also regional differences, as would be expected:

The average number of children per woman in the wealthier south of Nigeria has decreased slightly in the last five years, but increased to 7.3 in the predominantly Muslim north, where women often cannot go to a family planning clinic unless accompanied by a man.

Another issue with the continuance of large families is the decreasing amount of land

In Nigeria’s desperately poor neighbor, Niger, women have on average more than seven children, and men consider their ideal to be more than 12. But with land divided among so many sons, the size of a typical family plot has fallen by more than a third since 2005, meaning there is little long-term hope for feeding children.

How will these countries, and the other nations of sub-Saharan Africa, cope with their rapidly increasing numbers?  Will some natural tragedy befall them?  Will they be able to feed increasing numbers of people?  How will they provide services and infrastructure for all the new souls?  Will the rest of the world really step up to help?

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