Booming African population leads UNICEF to call for more investments in children

A baby girl is weighed in a sling scale at the Bilmari health centre in the town of Mirriah in Mirriah Department, in Zinder Region. Credit: UNICEF

Two out of every five children in the world will be living in Africa by 2050, according to a projection by UNICEF. The average African woman will have nearly 5 children, in the period between 2010 and 2015. That rate is expected to drop soon, but 2 billion births are estimated to take place in Africa in the next 35 years. The UN agency is using the report to make the case that investments are needed now to ensure that the next global generation will prosper.

“By investing in children now – in their health, education and protection – Africa could realize the economic benefits experienced previously in other regions and countries that have undergone similar demographic shifts,” says Leila Gharagozloo-Pakkala, UNICEF’s Regional Director for Eastern and Southern Africa, in the press release.

Here are some of the key figures from the report:

  • By 2035, Africa as a continent will have its first generation of children that can expect to reach the pensionable age of 65 years, as life expectancy at birth by this year will rise above 65 years for the first time.
  • Almost 2 billion babies will be born in Africa between 2015 and 2050 due to high fertility rates and increasing number of women of reproductive age
  • Women in the poorest quintile in Chad, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Mali, Niger, Nigeria and the United Republic of Tanzania have on average 2-4 children more than women in the wealthiest quintile. Similar trends are prevalent in other countries.
  • Life expectancy for Africa’s children has risen sharply in recent decades but is still shorter than the global average; within 20 years, Africa will have its first generation of children who can expect to reach pensionable age
  • About 60 per cent of the African population — and 70 per cent of sub-Saharan Africa — survives on less than US$2 per day. In the two subregions of Eastern Africa and West Africa, about three quarters of the population lives on less than US$2 per day.

In total, 1 billion children will be living in Africa by the middle of the century. Major population growth will take place in countries such as Nigeria, Tanzania and Niger. The increase means not only more children, but more births, affecting the health and well being of entire families. This all comes at a time when more and more African will move from the rural countryside to the urban cities. It is expected that 60% of Africans will live in urban centers by 2050, a major increase from the 40% that do so today.

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What does that mean in terms of numbers? Lagos, Nigeria is expected to nearly double in population size between 2015 and 2030 to 24 million inhabitants. Cairo, Egypt will add 6 million more people during the same period, reaching a total of 25 million. Those are only two cities.

The report is meant to seize on an opportunity to not only invest in children, but do so in a way that propels larger goals, such as gender equity. UNICEF stresses that efforts need to be undertaken immediately.

“If investment in Africa’s children is not prioritized, the continent will not be able to take full advantage of its demographic transition in the coming decades. Without equitable and inclusive policies, the pace of population growth could potentially undermine attempts to eradicate poverty and increase disparities,” says  Manuel Fontaine, UNICEF Regional Director for West and Central Africa.

All of this comes at a time when the Milennium Development Goals are winding down. With roughly 500 days remaining, all eyes are on what comes next. Deliberations continue as to what the new goals, called the Sustainable Development goals at the moment, will look like.

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Tom Murphy

Tom Murphy is a New Hampshire-based reporter for Humanosphere. Before joining Humanosphere, Tom founded and edited the aid blog A View From the Cave. His work has appeared in Foreign Policy, the Huffington Post, the Guardian, GlobalPost and Christian Science Monitor. He tweets at @viewfromthecave. Contact him at tmurphy[at]humanosphere.org.