Niger’s population explosion

On 15 March 2017, The Guardian ran a piece under its “Development 2030” rubric with a headline which confirmed our 2016 forecast of Africa’s mounting problems:

Why have four children when you could have seven? Family planning in Niger.

Niger’s has the world’s highest birthrate and its population is set to double in 17 years. NGOs are providing contraception, but what if women want more babies?

The facts are depressing and bode ill for Niger:

Niger’s population challenges are compounded by the prevalence of a conservative strain of Islam, which encourages followers to have as many children as possible. Any organisation working to put contraceptives into the hands of women has the dilemma of doing so in a way that doesn’t provoke religious backlash. Political leaders, too, have elections to worry about, and don’t want to cross influential clerics by pushing the population issue.

  • Niger’s population exploded from 3.5 million people in 1960 to nearly 20 million today, with half of the current population under the age of 15.
  • At current growth rates, the population is set to double in 17 years. This, experts say, drives poverty, famine, political instability, and violence.
  • 80% of Nigeriens live in poverty.
  • Niger is landlocked nation and consists largely of desert.
  • Less than 20% of the land is arable, and that percentage is falling due to climate change.
  • Polygamy is legal and commonplace, especially in the rural areas where about 80% of the population resides.
  • Girls get married young, usually as teenagers, and have their first child at 18.
  • More than half of girls do not finish primary school, and fewer than one in 10 attend secondary school. As a result, less than a quarter of women in Niger are literate.
  • Women have an average of more than seven children apiece, the highest in the world.
  • Women and men alike in Niger say they want more children than they actually have – women want an average of nine, while men say they want 11 – despite having the highest fertility rate in the world.
  • Women face a one-in-23 chance of dying from pregnancy or childbirth.


When you have a huge number of young people who are jobless, they have no choice but to emigrate. They may also fall into crime, or integrate into terrorism. The country is facing this problem as well, with the Boko Haram issue – they are recruiting jobless young people.

Hassane Atamo, division chief for family planning at the Niger ministry of health.“


This is a time bomb, because all the Sahel is in this situation, and especially with climate change, the food supply will be less abundant than before. It’s a huge crisis.

John May, visiting scholar at the Population Reference Bureau.

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