Africa will struggle to escape from poverty and hunger this century because its rapidly expanding population will continue to grow significantly faster than any other region of the world, says a United Nations report.
Every continent has seen the stabilisation of their populations, with Asia's expected to peak in the middle part of the 21st century, but the number of people living in Africa by 2100 is likely to treble, the report says.
The UN estimates that the global population, which on Monday is estimated to reach seven billion people, will hit 9.3 billion by 2050 and more than 10 billion by the end of the century. But it warns that if fertility rates in Africa do not begin to fall as demographers predict from present levels, then the global population in 2100 could reach as high as 15 billion – more than twice the present level.
Demographer John Cleland, of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, is quoted in the report as saying the reason why the focus is on population growth in Africa is clear. "The escape from poverty and hunger is made more difficult by rapid population growth," Dr Cleland said.
Much of the global population increase this century will come from "high-fertility" countries where women have on average many more babies than the 2.1 replacement rate.
There are 30 high-fertility countries in Africa, nine in Asia, six in Oceania and four in Latin America, the UN report showed.
Fertility rates worldwide have fallen dramatically since 1950. In Central America, for instance, the rate has fallen from 6.7 children per woman to 2.6, while in East Asia it fell from 6 to 1.6, helped largely by China's draconian "one-child" policy.
Asia will remain the most populated region of the world this century, due largely to the two most populous nations, China and India, but Africa is catching up, with its present population of one billion expected to rise to 3.6 billion by 2100, the report says.
"Africa's population has been growing at 2.3 per cent per year, a rate more than double that of Asia's population (1 per cent per year). The population of Africa first surpassed a billion in 2000 and is expected to add another billion in just 35 years (by 2044)," the report says.