This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 12th (it came out in 2015), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

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Thursday, September 8, 2011

Would You Want to Hide in Niger?

Niger has been in the news lately because of reports that some of Col. Gadaffi's loyalists have driven south there across the desert to seek refuge from the rebels who are now in control of Libya. Most of us do not know a lot about Niger, and so I was reminded of a recent article about the country published in the journal "International Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health," by demographers Malcolm Potts, Virginia Gidi, Martha Campbell, and Sarah Zureick. Their major point is that although Niger is currently a country of only about 16 million people, it is growing at a pace that will reach 55 million by the middle of this century! Yet, no one knows what exactly how Niger is going to cope with this growth, since it is almost unimaginably poor.
In 2008, Niger ranked 174 out of 178 countries on the Human Development Index, with more than 60% of its population living on less than US$1 per day,  and the country’s Gross National Income that year ($330; purchasing power parity, $680) was among the world’s lowest. Furthermore, recent economic growth (approximately 2% per year) has been lower than population growth (more than 3.9%). Niger’s high dependency ratio (i.e., the ratio of dependent people to the working-age population) of 108 per 100 undermines the potential to build up the savings needed to expand the country’s infrastructure.
Levels of education are extremely low and it is one of the few countries in the world in which women are having fewer children than they desire because their desired family size is so high. The authors suggest that nothing short of an immediate implementation of a strong program aimed at limiting family size can save the country from genuine ruin.
Population growth at the pace found in high-fertility African countries like Niger undermines any plausible strategy to lift people out of poverty through economic development. If education fails to catch up with demographic growth, then there is no possibility of educating ever-increasing numbers of young people. Finally, even if education could be expanded significantly, it would take a generation to affect population growth, as there is a long delay between the beginning of education and a woman’s maximum fertility. By contrast, improved access to contraception can have an impact within a very short period of time. The adoption of family planning can prevent in- fant and maternal deaths,  even before any improvements are made in clinical services.

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