Africa population boom threatens global poverty progress

Following decades of progress, rapid population growth could slow the fight against poverty, warns a new report

Swift population growth in some of the world’s poorest countries could halt progress in the global fight against poverty and disease, a report by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has warned. Despite a billion people pushing themselves above the poverty line in the last 18 years, the report found that rapidly expanding populations, particularly in parts of Africa, threaten to stultify efforts.

“To put it bluntly, decades of stunning progress in the fight against poverty and disease may be on the verge of stalling,” Bill and Melinda Gates wrote. “If current trends continue, the number of poor people in the world will stop falling – and could even start to rise.”

With Africa set to double in size by 2050, and populations in some of the continent’s poorest countries – including Nigeria and Democratic Republic of Congo – growing the fastest, these two countries may soon be home to 40 per cent of the world’s poorest people. “More babies are being born in the places where it’s hardest to lead a healthy and productive life,” the Gates’ noted.

Creating opportunities for young people by improving healthcare and access to education will be key to shifting the trajectory. The report highlighted birth control as a pivotal factor, stating that if every woman in sub-Saharan Africa was able to have the number of children she wanted, the projected population increase could be up to 30 per cent smaller. 

“Educated girls tend to work more, earn more, expand their horizons, marry and start having children later, have fewer children, and invest more in each child,” said the report. 

Investing in human capital is another economic driver: data shows that differences in health and education levels explain as much as 30 per cent of the variance in per capita GDP between countries.

The report, entitled Goalkeepers, tracks 18 indicators on the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), including child and maternal deaths, stunting, HIV, malaria, extreme poverty, financial inclusion, and sanitation. The Gates’ plan to publish the report annually to 2030. “Our purpose remains the same,” they said: “Measuring progress and trying to spur more of it.”