Profound Headaches of the Population Explosion

A United Nations report of 2017 predicted that the world’s population would hit a staggering 9.8 billion by 2050. It is also forecasted that over half of the expected growth between 2017 and 2050 will occur in Africa.

Ethiopia, together with Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Tanzania and Uganda, will contribute the most to the world’s population growth. Already the second most populous country in Africa, next to Nigeria, and the 14th in the world, Ethiopia is experiencing an annual population growth of 2.5pc.

There is currently an estimated over 100 million Ethiopians – a quarter of the overall number of East Africans – expected to increase by over half that amount in three decades. In its capital city, Addis Abeba, Ethiopia has around 3.3 million residents, with an urban population growth of 3.8pc. Together with this boom, the economy has swelled, with the government ambitiously targeting for Ethiopia to join the ranks of lower middle-income status by 2025.

But policymakers in Ethiopia and other countries have succumbed to a thinking that has been adopted for some time. It was since 1850 that the human race began to multiply spectacularly, from the then 1.3 billion to today’s 7.6 billion inhabitants. This period is all that everyone alive today and a number of past generations have ever known.

That there is a shared outlook that believes this to be “normal” is understandable. This period has warped thinking to the point that greater economic capacity and production will perpetually be met with rising demand. If nations can only funnel more investment to create unceasingly higher capacity and output, the system will thrive, according to the mainstream logic.

However, some elements will contradict this. Firstly, population growth has shifted to Africa with other regions experiencing deceleration. This is compounded by the fact that Africans have a low disposable income, savings, or access to credit, nor do they immigrate as much relative to citizens of the Middle East or their own population figures.

High population growth in a location that does not drive any significant consumption nor provides substantial immigrants means that meeting the global supply and demand will remain in a mismatch.

What is taking effect is overpopulation, an undesirable condition where the number of existing human population exceeds the carrying capacity of Earth. It is caused by reduced mortality rate and higher fertility rates. Its effects would be a depletion of precious resources, degradation of the environment, a rise in unemployment and high cost of living.

Growing advances in technology with each coming year has affected humanity in many ways. One of these has been the ability to save lives and create a better medical treatment for all. A direct result of this has been increased lifespan and the growth of the population.

In the past half a century, the growth of population has boomed and has turned into overpopulation. In the history of our species, the birth and death rate have always been able to balance each and maintain a population growth rate that is sustainable.

Since the time of the Black Death in the 14th century, the growth of population has been on a constant increase. Between the time of the plague and the 21st century, there was hundreds and thousands of wars, natural calamities and human-made hazards. However, none of these has made a dent in the population curve.

Although this will affect the whole world, population explosion will hurt developed countries less. In underdeveloped countries, the composition of the population is determined to increase capital formation. Due to higher birth rate and low expectation of life in these countries, the percentage of dependents is very high. Nearly 40pc to 50pc of the population is in the non-productive age group which consumes and does not produce anything.

This would reduce the productivity of the labour force by diminishing the availability of capital per head. Their income, as a consequence, is lessened and their capacity to save is diminished which, in turn, adversely affects capital formation.

And as the population rapidly grows, the requirements of demographic investment will rise, reducing the capacity of the people to save. This creates a severe imbalance between investment requirements and the availability of investible funds. Therefore, the volume of such investment is determined by the rate of population growth in an economy. It is estimated that to maintain the present level of per capita income, two to five percent of national income must be invested in the population grows by a percentage annually.

This is not to mention the evident effects of overpopulation, such as unemployment, food insecurity, and dilution of services provided by the government like education, housing and medical aid.

There are no easy fixes to avoid overpopulation. They all require patience and a concerted effort by civil societies and governments.

One of the first measures is to implement policies reflecting social change. Educating the masses helps them understand the need to have one or two children at the most. Family planning and efficient birth control can help in women making their own reproductive choices. Open dialogue on abortion and voluntary sterilisation should be seen when talking about overpopulation.

Governments must also contemplate tax concessions. It may be cutting income taxes for couples with only a child or two.

Growing population also call for a proper reorientation of the free-market economy to one that Ethiopia follows at the moment. Government intervention will be necessary as supply will unavoidably shrink with high population growth, shrinking farming lands and creating ecological degradation.

Adam Smith’s, a political economist, claim of spontaneous order between supply and demand has become a mere possibility. Supply always decreases and fails to meet the ever-growing demands of the ever-growing population.

We are at a breaking point where governments do need to intervene in the market. The market will fail to balance itself in the current context. Thus, smart policymakers must come to the fore. The government must correct winner-take-all markets through close supervision.

New agricultural technologies must also be introduced to fill the gap between supply and demand. Modern fertilisers, genetically-modified species and new farming technologies are the scientific promises to overcome the meagre situation the world is facing.

By Belay Abera
Belay Abera is a public health professional and researcher. He could be reached at

Published on Mar 24,2018 [ Vol 18 ,No 934]



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