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Rapid population growth threatens global progress

Sep 22, 2018

Despite the sobering projections, a new report by Gates Foundation expresses optimism that the young populations could help drive progress.

Seattle/New Delhi: Pointing to demographic trends that could stall unprecedented progress in reducing global poverty, a new report by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation says that demographic trends are threatening global progress.

Calling for increased focus on health and education in poorest countries, the second annual Goalkeepers Data Report asserts that young people could unlock productivity and innovation.

While one billion people have pulled themselves out of poverty in the last two decades, rapid population growth in the poorest countries, particularly in Africa, puts future progress at risk. “If current trends continue, the number of extremely poor people in the world could stop its two-decade decline - and could even rise,” the report warns.

Despite the sobering projections, Bill and Melinda Gates express optimism that today’s growing youth populations could help drive progress. “Investing in the health and education of young people in Africa could unlock productivity and innovation, leading to a ‘third wave’ of poverty reduction, which follows the first wave in China and the second in India,” the report says.

“To continue improving the human condition, our task now is to help create opportunities in Africa’s fastest-growing, poorest countries,” Bill and Melinda Gates write in the introduction. “This means investing in young people. Specifically, it means investing in their health and education,” the report says.

With the help of new data projections, the report reveals that poverty within Africa is concentrating in just a handful of countries, which are among the fastest-growing in the world. By 2050, more than 40 percent of the extremely poor people in the world will live in just two African countries: Democratic Republic of the Congo and Nigeria.

In earlier times, too, large youth populations have helped drive economic growth and poverty reduction. The report makes the case for leaders to invest in the power and potential of youth to continue progress.

With the help of write-ups domain experts and journalists, the report examines promising approaches in health and education, highlighting ways that young people could help transform the continent. According to the report, investments in health and education, or “human capital,” in sub-Saharan Africa could increase GDP in the region by more than 90 percent by 2050.

Annually, the study tracks 18 data points from the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) , or Global Goals, including child and maternal deaths, stunting, access to contraceptives, HIV, malaria, extreme poverty, financial inclusion, and sanitation. IHME projections provide three potential scenarios for indicators: better and worse scenarios based upon accelerating or reducing the rate of progress, and projections based upon current trends.

This year’s report looks into four topics with a special focus:

The Family Planning chapter includes an essay by Alex Ezeh, a visiting fellow with the Center for Global Development. The essay highlights the importance of empowering women so they can exercise their fundamental right to choose the number of children they will have, when they will have them, and with whom. Ezeh notes that according to data from the United Nations, Africa’s population is projected to double in size by 2050 and could double again by 2100.

“If every woman in sub-Saharan Africa were empowered to have the number of children she wants, the projected population increase could be up to 30 percent smaller, from 4 billion to 2.8 billion. Most critically, this would enable more girls and women to expand their horizons, stay in school longer, have children later, earn more as adults, and invest more in their children. The chapter also explores how a novel family planning program in Kenya is providing young women with access to contraceptives,” the report reveals.

The HIV chapter includes modeling by Imperial College London for what Zimbabwe’s HIV epidemic might look like in 2050 and, thus, what the nation’s overall future holds. Its large number of young people have the potential to drive economic growth, but only if they remain healthy. More than half of Zimbabweans are under 25 years old and reaching the age when they are most at risk for HIV infection.

The Education chapter includes an essay by Ashish Dhawan, chairman of the Central Square Foundation in India. Although more students in low- and lower-middle-income countries are enrolled in school today than ever before, many are not learning what they need to succeed. Unfortunately, the strategy for improving school outcomes is not as clear-cut as the strategy for improving school access.

The chapter studies Vietnam’s success in achieving system-wide improvements. Though the country’s per capita GDP is only slightly higher than India’s, Vietnam’s 15-year-olds outperform students from wealthy countries like the United States and the United Kingdom on international tests.

The Agriculture chapter includes analysis by James Thurlow, a senior research fellow at the International Food Policy Research Institute, estimating that by doubling agricultural productivity, Ghana could cut poverty in half, create hundreds of thousands of jobs, and drive economic growth. An essay by a local journalist follows the journey of a tomato from a field in rural Burkina Faso to a plate in Ghana, illustrating how many jobs it creates along the way.

Bill and Melinda Gates aims to produce the Goalkeepers Data Report every year through 2030, timing it to the annual gathering of world leaders in New York City for the UN General Assembly. The report is designed to highlight best practices and help hold the Gates Foundation, its partners, and leaders around the world accountable. It aims to document not just what is working, but where the world is falling short.

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