Managing Rapid Population Growth in Africa: The ADB Group's Perspective

By Fadayomi, T. O. | African Business, June 1994 | Go to article overview

Managing Rapid Population Growth in Africa: The ADB Group's Perspective


Fadayomi, T. O., African Business


Among the regions of the world, Africa has displayed some distinct demographic features which are of major concern to politicians, governments, opinion leaders, economic planners and intellectuals.

With an annual population growth rate of over 3.0%, the region exceeds others in the rate of population expansion.

It is also a continent whose rate of urbanisation, from a relatively low level, is quite spectacular. With an average family size of over six children per woman, Africa records the highest fertilityrate, with the obvious consequence of an age pyramid in which children are dominant.

Given that health conditions are generally poor, the relatively low average life expectancy and the high mortality rates might be worsened by the widespread prevalence of Aids in several countries. A combination of these features of fertility and mortality in the region puts Africa on the lower rungs of demographic transition, with a handful of countries depicting an incipient decline in fertility in the face of a gradual decline in mortality.

While the averagely low population density of the region might give the impression of an empty continent, Africa is one of the most devastated regions in the world. The continent is probably losing about 6 million hectares of land resources every year to deforestation, soil erosion, land degradation etc.

Finally, a major feature of the African demography is the massive movement of population, both intra- and inter-state, as a result of drought, famine and war especially.

This has led to the displacement of persons and the disruption of the social and economic life of many communities.

New Challenges

These features, in interaction with other social and economic conditions, have produced seemingly new challenges of development, such as the dwindling social overhead capital, including a persistent decline in the per-capita consumption of social services, burgeoning poverty, environmental degradation, unmet needs of voluntary family-size regulation, the prospects of substantial Aids mortality, and the emerging phenomenon of aging.

It was, until recently, the orthodoxy to view most of these challenges, in the demographic context, as resulting from the high rate of population growth in Africa. The view is now being held in restraint because population is also perceived in most of the African countries, especially where explicit population policies have been adopted, as a critical factor of production and sustainable development.

ADB's Approach

Trying to meet those challenges, which, as indicated, have underlying demographic dimensions, the ADB Group organised in September 1992 an international technical conference at its headquarters in Abidjan, Cote d'Ivoire. The theme of the conference was "Population Growth and Sustainable Development in Africa", with the main objective of reaching a broader understanding of the population dynamics which would in turn facilitate the formulation of a clear policy statement for the Bank Group.

Specifically, the conference provided valuable insights into contemporary African population trends and their determinants and into the linkages between the dynamic factors of population growth and a number of development parameters, such as traditional cultural values, poverty and quality of life, status of women, environment and natural resources, health and education, urbanisation and migration. The outcome of this activity was an adopted policy on population and strategies for its implementation. The policy addresses population issues from the mutually reinforcing perspectives of human capital formation and programmes for attenuating rapid rates of population growth. In other words, the main thrust of the Bank's population concerns is the search for a balance between human "quantity" and human "quality", via socioeconomic development policies and programmes.

The Principles of the Bank's Policy

The guiding principles of the Bank's population policy are these:

(1) that the human potential in Africa is often undermined because Africa's rapidly growing population imposes an additional strain on the various systems designed to advance human-resource development, viz education, health, employment, housing etc. …

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