Nigeria’s population has doubled over the past 15 years to reach an alarming 21 million, reflecting a population boom all across Africa, according to a recent article in the New York Times. The United Nations projected that Africa will exceed 1.7 billion people by 2050. According to the World Bank, Africa will contain more than 20% of the world’s population by 2050.
These observations reflect a growing concern in recent years about the rate of population growth in Africa. While developing areas such as Latin America and Asia have brought down the fertility rates to around two children per woman, many countries in Africa have average fertility rates of about five children per women. The high birthrate is primarily the result of cultural norms, limited family planning education and a lack of access to contraceptives.
Africa’s population growth will have serious impacts not only on human health and hunger but on the environment as well. The continent’s population boom is expected to put a strain on limited natural resources, especially in a changing climate.
Africa’s deforestation rate is four times the world’s average, according to BBC News. This can be attrib-uted to two main factors. The first is that increased food production means that more natural wildlife is converted into agricultural land. The second reason deforestation is so frequent is because most of Africa’s population relies on wood fuel for both heating and cooking needs. As Africa’s population grows, therefore, these two causes will only further increase deforestation. This will have a negative impact on the environ-ment because deforestation reduces biodiversity, increases soil erosion and destroys natural habitats critical for species survival.
The Food and Agriculture Organization reported that growing populations are encroaching on Africa’s natural habitats, forcing species into smaller marginal habitats. Habitat loss and degradation can have catastrophic effects on a species’ survival. Although Africa has set up many national parks for wildlife con-servation, these limited, smaller habitats often push species into direct competition with each other and decrease populations.
In addition, a 2011 report by the Worldwatch Institute acknowledged that increased food production in Africa to feed the growing population is threatening fresh water resources and degrading soils. Soils are being stripped of critical nutrients without time to recover, which is threatening to future agricultural production and wildlife recovery.
Africa’s population growth will not only have a detrimental effect on the continent’s environment, but also on increasing the intensity of climate change and reducing Africa’s ability to adapt to a changing climate. Most scientists and environmental groups agree that population growth places a larger strain on the earth’s environment, primarily because of resource demand, and aggravates global warming because of increased greenhouse gas emissions.
Contact Cassidy Holahan at [email protected]