Nigeria and Pakistan: emerging population giants
There are not many countries in the world where population projections are
more difficult to believe than in Nigeria. If the latest UN projections are
correct then our children (and the younger among us) will watch the emergence
of an African population giant, well comparable to the most populous Asian
In 1950 the West-African country had a population of about 33 million; since
then the population has more than tripled. The UN Population Division
estimates that Nigeria’s population in 1995 was about 112 million (please note
that the UN does not revise their estimate according to the most recent
Nigerian census, which was significantly lower. Obviously, the UN Population
and Statistical Divisions do not consider this census accurate enough).
Between 1995 and the year 2050 the country’s population will probably triple
again and reach almost 339 million (see Figure C1_6). If this does occur, we
will have a tenfold increase of a 33 million population within one century.
This would have no historical precedence. And this is just the medium variant
UN projection. Based on the demographic parameters it would be not impossible
that Nigeria’s population will grow even faster.
There are several overwhelmingly Muslim populations with very high population
growth rates, such as those of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait or the United Arab
But none of them is projected to have such a massive absolute increase of the
population as Pakistan. In 1950 Pakistan had a population of about 40 million
people. Since then it has more than tripled and stood at 136 million in 1995.
But the real population explosion in Pakistan will only come over the next few
decades, because the country not only has a very young population, but also
still an extremely high fertility – much higher, for instance, than in
Bangladesh or Thailand.
These large numbers of children and young adults will soon come into
reproductive age and will produce a large number of offspring even if we
assume, as in the UN medium variant, a rapid decline in average fertility to
reproductive level (of 2.1 children per woman) by 2020.
Pakistan’s population will be about 357 million by 2050 (according to the UN
medium variant projection) (see Figure C1_6).
High fertility in the early 1950s was not the only reason for the exceptional
population growth in Nigeria and Pakistan. There were other countries which
initially had a similar or even higher level of fertility.
Consider the case of Bangladesh and Thailand. The Total Fertility Rate of
Bangladesh during the early 1970s was as high as in Nigeria or Pakistan and
the initial population size was quite comparable.
Yet Bangladesh is projected to have a population of «only» 220 million by 2050
(as compared to 339 in Nigeria). Even more impressive are the demographic
trends in Thailand, which reflect one of Asia’s success stories in population
control. The country’s average TFR was comparable to that in Nigeria, but
declined sharply in the early 1970s.
This «saved» Thailand from building up this massive population momentum which
characterizes the situation in Nigeria or Pakistan. Consequently Thailand will
have only a very moderate population increase of 14.7 million between 1995 and
2050 (see Figure C1_6).
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