A new report says children in Africa may account for nearly half of the world’s poor by 2030. That prospect – the result of rapid population growth and continued poverty – poses problems for the continent, but a solution is not far off, some say.
Nigeria is Africa’s most populous country with more than 170 million people and growing fast.
The report by the London-based Overseas Development Institute (ODI) says the population boom coupled with existing poverty and “extreme inequality” are a dangerous mix.
ODI’s Kevin Watkins, one of the researchers of the report, says over the next 15 years, the African child will emerge as the face of world poverty.
“By 2030, around one in five children in Africa will be born into and raised in poverty. So the immediate thing that needs to happen is we need to lift the children out of acute poverty,” Watkins says.
Family planning seen as key
Activists say family planning is a key component of meeting that goal.
Nigeria alone will account for six percent of all global births between 2015 and 2030, the report says. The U.N. projects that by 2050, Nigeria will surpass the United States to become the world’s third most populous country, behind China and India.
“It’s both a blessing and a curse,” says Felix Obi, a development policy analyst in Abuja.
“We have the potential of having a very large pool of skilled workers if government invests properly in education and building human capital. If the population keeps growing and the government is not investing in the education of young people, it’s a recipe for chaos in the future,” Obi says.
In Nigeria, women on average give birth to five children, but it’s not uncommon to find 10, 14 or even 20 children in a household, in particular in areas where polygamy is practiced.
Birth control remains a sensitive subject.
“It’s more of like religion. One of the things they say is that you cannot control birth because if God will give you. God will provide,” says public health worker Bintu Konto.
She says she often meets women who tell her they want to have less children but they don’t know how.
A key challenge for women in Nigeria is not just getting access to birth control pills or injections, but paying for them.
The Nigerian government committed to allocate an additional $8.35 million annually to family planning in 2012. That was on top of its existing $3 million annual commitment.
Family planning activist Chinwe Onumonu is lobbying for follow-through.
“Basically to increase funding for family planning and also to get the government to redeem its commitment it made at the London Summit in 2012. So what we’re trying to do is to first track and do an assessment of the bottlenecks within the Ministry of Health.,” Onumonu says.
Logistical, financial woes
Contraceptives arrive in Nigeria via the seaport in Lagos, but according to Obi, there often isn’t government money to transport them to local public health facilities.
“Procurement is just one bit of it. It’s just the beginning. But for it to be used and get to the end user, logistics comes in, then the advocacy, sensitization and that bit comes in as well, so states are supposed to be able take care of some of these costs,” Obi says.
The federal government passed a record $30 billion budget this year. Only four percent was allocated to health, and out of that, family planning programs received a mere 0.3 percent.
Activists say the government cannot continue to rely on donor agencies to meet its needs. Even Nigeria’s first lady has called for more commitment and funding for family planning services.