Women in sub-Saharan Africa have an average of 0.7 more children than they want.
If that number went down to zero over the next five years, the population in 2100 could change by 30 per cent, according to a new Goalkeepers report.
Based on current trends, Africa's population is projected to double in size by 2050.
Between 2050 and 2100, it could almost double again.
In that case, the continent would have to quadruple its efforts just to maintain the current level of investment in health and education, which is already low.
The 2018 report co–authored by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, calls for the world to accelerate investments in human capital, particularly health and education.
“If the rate of population growth slows down, there will be more resources to invest in each African’s health, education and opportunity for all,” says the report.
According to Bill Gates, the goal of family planning programmes is not to hit population targets; on the contrary, it is to empower women so that they can exercise their fundamental right to choose the number of children they have, and when, and with whom.
“Fortunately, empowering couples to make decisions about their lives also improves Africa’s future by changing the population growth scenario,” said Mr Gates.
He said that the foundation has invested more than $15 billion in projects relevant to Africa and in the future, will spend even more because Africa is the world’s priority for the foreseeable future. Also, investing in Africa yields results.
Studies from sub-Saharan Africa show that gains in implants, now more readily available, are driving overall contraceptive use.
Research to develop new methods — and to make contraceptives and high-quality family planning services more available — will significantly improve the wellbeing of women and countries.
The average age at first birth for women in Africa is significantly lower than in any other region. Currently, it is 20 or younger in half of the countries on the continent.
“This scenario does not have anything to do with women having fewer children. It just has to do with when they start having them,” says the Goalkeepers report.
The study looked at the challenges presented by the demographics of extreme poverty. It explored what it will take in the areas of health, education, and economic opportunity to position Africa’s booming youth population to transform the continent.
It examined the success of Zimbabwe’s programme on HIV/Aids and considered how to build on it.
It found that one of the keys to keeping development going is to slow down the rapid rate of population growth.
But population issues are so difficult to talk about that the development community has ignored them for years.
“For most African countries, the outlook is positive. For example, Ethiopia, once the global poster-child for famine, is projected to almost eliminate extreme poverty by 2050. The challenge is that within Africa, poverty is concentrating in a handful of very fast-growing countries,” says the report.
“To continue improving the human condition, our task now is to help create opportunities in Africa’s fastest growing, poorest countries. This means investing in young people. Specifically, investing in their health and education, or what economists call ‘human capital’,” it adds.