World Population Set To Hit 8 Billion On November 15: What Does It Mean For Africa

Lillian Roberts
Published 2 months ago
Prague

“By 2050, this number is expected to double, making young people (15-34) more than two-thirds of the continent’s population. This has produced a great deal of moral panic, but very little in terms of reimagining what is required to ensure young people are included in the decision-making processes for their futures.”

The United Nations (UN) says that on November 15 2022, the world’s population will reach 8 billion, a milestone in human development.

It adds: “While it took the global population 12 years to grow from 7 to 8 billion, it will take approximately 15 years — until 2037 — for it to reach 9 billion, a sign that the overall growth rate of the global population is slowing.”

Kathleen Mogelgaard, President and CEO of the Population Institute, says that the world’s population will level off at around 10.4 billion in the 2080s.

In a video on the website of Population Institute, she says this is equivalent to about “250 New York Citys”.

Population growth has significant implications for society, she explains; we’ll need more of everything, with population growth placing stress on food security, infrastructure, housing, freshwater availability, the environment, as well as transportation and governance.

Dr Nkechi Owoo, a health and demographic economist and lecturer at the Department of Economics at the University of Ghana, says to FORBES AFRICA that there are existing concerns about the global supply chain processes taking a toll on the environment, and with rising populations and increasing demands for materials, the goal of environmental sustainability may become more challenging to accomplish.

“Food losses, more common in developing countries, also represent waste of environmental resources since ultimately food that is produced is not consumed. Post-harvest losses are a noted challenge in already food insecure parts of sub-Saharan Africa, suggesting the need for better storage and preservation of food through agro-processing, for instance,” explains Owoo.

She says local food sourcing is also important, and while the goal may be increased food production, reduction in food loss is also reduction in food insecurity, and mitigates greenhouse gas emissions.

Mogelgaard adds in the video that worldwide, the population growth rate is slowing down, but there are places where rapid growth continues, such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Egypt, Pakistan, India, and the Philippines.

She adds that areas with rapid population growth overlap with areas that are experiencing gender inequity. Mogelgaard links this to a lack of reproductive autonomy, which is the ability to determine when, whether and with whom to become a parent, to have access and means to actualize those options, she explains.

“Hundreds of millions of women and girls around the world lack reproductive autonomy. As a result, it is estimated that almost one half of pregnancies worldwide are unintended,” says Mogelgaard.

Owoo says reproductive autonomy is not the sole preserve of women in Africa, where husbands, mothers-in-law and other community members sometimes have a say.

She says reproductive autonomy cannot be pursued in isolation from other factors such as poverty, predominantly agrarian economic structures, cultural norms and the absence of social security, lack of laws and sanctions for intimate partner violence.

Owoo says in order for reproductive autonomy to be effective, it must go hand in hand with a larger education and sensitization of forces beyond the woman herself – and that underlying structural and cultural factors cannot be ignored.

In Ghana, she says the female labor participation rate is one of the highest on the continent, specifying that they are hard-working and enterprising, but often engaged in the informal, low-productivity sector. She explains that the reason for this is the flexibility that these positions offer, so they can still fulfil domestic and childcare work.

“It is not unheard of for a woman to quit her formal sector job – and move into the informal sector – once she gives birth. This is a worrying situation as it has implications for her earnings, the household’s welfare, and overall contribution to national growth.”

Women need more support with the provision of basic technologies like access to public taps, modern cooking stoves, as well as affordable childcare, child-friendly workplaces, extended maternity leave, and concretely quantifying the contributions they make to households and the nation, she stipulates.

Owoo also says that African women need more laws that criminalize intimate partner violence, rather than relegating it to a “personal issue”.

The 8 billion milestone serves as an important wake-up call to understand how human population interacts with the global systems that sustain the planet, Mogelgaard explains. She says it gives us an opportunity to understand how people are living, what they need, and how we can work collectively for a flourishing future.

“The largest generation in human history is coming of age right now. The decisions these young people make and the opportunities, services and rights they can claim will play an enormous role in shaping our future beyond 8 billion.”

Dr Nosipho Mngomezulu, a lecturer in anthropology at the University of the Witswatersrand in Johannesburg, says Africa is a continent governed by gerontocracies, while the youth population continues to grow. She says scholarship in this area has been focused on the “youth bulge” where almost 60% of the population in 2019 was under 25.

“By 2050, this number is expected to double, making young people (15-34) more than two-thirds of the continent’s population. This has produced a great deal of moral panic, but very little in terms of reimagining what is required to ensure young people are included in the decision-making processes for their futures,” Mngomezulu says to FORBES AFRICA.

Owoo says youth unemployment is a major issue worldwide, described as “generation jobless”. She says one reason is the absence of technical training relevant to industry, and another is the lack of structural transformation of countries’ economies.

“A major advantage of a youthful population is the access to available labor supply to increase productive activities. However, without the skills and resources that the youth need to engage in the labor market, and without opportunities for gainful employment, these benefits will not be attained,” Owoo outlines.

Without employment, there is likely a greater exploitation of the environment for personal survival, an increase in criminal activity and vices, and civil instability, Owoo says.

Mngomezulu, who finds population research deeply fascinating, explains that ‘generation’ is exceedingly complex on the continent, replete with moral panic and cultural axioms about the status of young people in relation to elders. She says the ‘youth bulge’ needs to be taken more seriously by policy-makers, creating contexts where young people are closely engaged in democratic political processes.

“We have seen the rise of youth-led movements across the continent, a trend I think will continue as the climate and economic crises exacerbate. We urgently need to be building political and social cultures that take young people seriously as more than consumers and hapless recipients of aid, but rather pay more attention to young people as agents, as political actors who will not only shape the future of the continent, but are already reshaping this future in the present,” Mngomezulu concludes.