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The moderating trajectory of Bangladesh’s population growth shows that there is a reasonable hope that the African population bomb can be defused.
According to the UN Population Division, back in 1950, what are now the countries of Bangladesh (blue line above) and Nigeria (red) were host to 37 million people each.
(How accurate are the UN’s historical population data? Who knows … But, to their credit, they took the hit to their egos a half decade ago of revealing that they had discovered that they had badly underestimated Africa’s rate of population growth by trusting the lackadaisical official statistics of African governments.)
Nigeria and Bangladesh are geographically similar: well-watered lowland areas where multiple large rivers deposit rich soils that support a relatively high density of farmers. If climate change really does lead to the oceans rising, both countries are vulnerable, although Bangladesh is in the path of cyclones, such as the cataclysmic one that hit in 1970 and led to George Harrison’s famous 1971 Concert for Bangladesh and encouraged East Pakistan to declare its independence from West Pakistan in 1971.
Of course, Asian farmers are traditionally far more efficient than African farmers: Nigeria has more than six times the area of Bangladesh despite a similar population. (In general, Africa countries are huge. The Mercator projection used in flat maps understates how much land Africans have compared to Europeans.)
But Bangladesh grew faster in population than Nigeria during the Green Revolution era, peaking at a 16% higher population over Nigeria in 1970. But by 2007 Nigeria had caught up and by 2017 Nigeria had 26 million more people.
According to the UN’s projections, Bangladesh is expected to peak at 203 million in 2058 when Nigeria is at 476 million. By 2100, Bangladesh will be down to 174 million (compared to 165 million in 2017), while Nigeria will be at … 794 million and rising almost six million per year.
Obviously, there isn’t likely to be 794 million people in 2100 living in a polity known as Nigeria. All sorts of things are likely to happen over the next 83 years. But these projections serve a useful purpose in alerting us to the locomotive headed our ways.
Why does Bangladesh’s future look less outlandish than Nigeria’s? Because Bangladesh has done the hard work of lowering its total fertility rate (2.17 babies per woman in 2014) down to about the replacement level. Due to Demographic Momentum, Bangladesh’s population is expected to keep growing into the late 2050s, but a slowing growth rate appears to be baked in by now.
In contrast, Nigeria was still at 5.65 babies per woman in 2014, which means that another generation of rapid population growth is, barring catastrophe, almost inevitable.
The world has the right to demand of Nigeria and the other several dozen sub-Saharan countries that they make the same sacrifices as Bangladesh.
Unfortunately, due to the Sacred Cow status of blacks in the 21st Century’s moral economy, many non-blacks are terrified to give due emphasis to this enormous threat to the world.
However, there is one half-black who, having enjoyed eight years as the world’s biggest Sacred Cow, could in between his rounds of golf and collecting his huge payoffs from corporate America, could make this his special issue: it’s not racist to encourage blacks to get their population growth under control.
Would that fit into your schedule, Mr. Obama?