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Population Institute Report Reveals the Countries Where Population Growth Poses the Greatest Challenges

June 15, 2015

The Population Institute today released a report on how population growth is affecting the development prospects of the world’s most fragile countries.  The report, “Demographic Vulnerability:  Where population growth poses the greatest challenges,” identifies and ranks the 20 countries facing the greatest demographic challenges with respect to hunger, poverty, water scarcity, environmental degradation, and political instability.  In several of the countries—including Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, South Sudan, and Yemen—internal or regional conflicts compound the social and economic challenges associated with rapid population growth.  

To determine demographic vulnerability, the report takes into account various factors affecting a country’s ability to meet the needs of a growing population, including corruption, climate change, and regional conflict.  South Sudan, which topped the report’s list of the 20 most demographically vulnerable countries, was rated as “severely vulnerable” in the areas of hunger, poverty, and instability. Somalia, second on the list, was ranked “high” for hunger and environment, and “severe” for poverty and instability.  Other countries in the top ten included Niger, Burundi, Eritrea, Chad, Democratic Republic of Congo, Afghanistan, Yemen, and Sudan

Robert Walker, president of the Population Institute and the principal author of the report, noted that, “Some of the countries profiled in this report—such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, South Sudan, and Yemen—are ‘headline’ countries commonly recognized as ‘fragile’ states, though demographic pressures are seldom acknowledged. Others—such as Niger, Malawi, and Mozambique—don’t get much press coverage, but the challenges they face are no less daunting.”

World population is projected to increase from 7.3 billion today to 9.6 billion or more by 2050.  Virtually all that growth will be in the developing world, and much of that increase will occur in countries struggling to alleviate hunger and severe poverty.  Many countries with rapidly growing populations are threatened by water scarcity or deforestation; others are struggling with conflict or political instability. While progress is not precluded, population growth in these countries is a challenge multiplier.

Significant progress has been made in reducing global hunger, but mostly in countries with relatively low fertility. Where fertility rates remain high, the battle against hunger is far from won. In some areas of sub-Saharan Africa, the number of malnourished children is actually on the rise, together with population. The population of Burundi, which sits atop IFPRI’s Global Hunger Index (GHI), is projected to increase by 154 percent by 2050. The population of South Sudan, which also ranks very high for hunger, is projected to rise by 236 percent. 

Similarly, while we have made great progress in reducing severe poverty, particularly in emerging economies, progress has been slow in countries where population growth rates remain high. The population of Niger, which ranks first in UNDP’s 2014 Multidimensional Poverty Index, is projected to increase by 274 percent during the next 35 years. The population of Mali, which ranked fourth for poverty is expected to increase by 187 percent.

Population projections help to identify countries where the long-term needs are greatest, and not just for family planning services and information.  In many demographically vulnerable countries gender inequality and informational barriers prevent girls and women from exercising their reproductive rights.  Child marriage, in particular, denies girls and women the ability to decide for themselves how many children they will have and when. 

“Boosting international support for family planning services and doing more to address the cultural barriers to reproductive choice are both crucial. Otherwise,” Walker said, “many women and their families will find it difficult to break the cycle of poverty, hunger, and poor health.”

Many demographically vulnerable countries will also require major investments in sustainable agriculture, water conservation, and good governance, if they are to be sustainable in the long run. 

“International development agencies and donor countries alike need to take these demographic trends into account in setting their foreign assistance priorities,” Walker said.  “Emergency aid is crucial, but we cannot ignore the long-term development needs of these countries.  The challenges are truly formidable and must be addressed sooner rather than later.”  

For a copy of the report visit: http://www.populationinstitute.org/demovulnerability/

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