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The dangers of Nigeria's population explosion

A group of Nigerian young men standing in a market
In a Lagos market. Photo: Stefan Heunis/AFP via Getty Images

Nigeria is on track to have the third-highest population in the world, behind only India and China, according to the UN, a change that could reverberate globally since it's also likely to remain poor.

Why it matters: With more people will come more health risks, a need for more food from already-stressed agricultural land — and the potential for regional and global instability as poor Nigerians along with other Africans seek to migrate for a better life.

By the numbers: Nigeria is expected to surpass the U.S. population by 2050 and Africa is expected to make up 39% of the global population by 2100.

  • Already, Nigeria has the second-highest number of people living with HIV and, when combined with the Democratic Republic of Congo, accounts for more than 35% of the world’s malaria deaths, according to USAID.
  • This year there has been a record-breaking outbreak of Lassa Fever, the Atlantic reports.
  • The need to grow more food to feed Nigeria's growing population will cause humanitarian and environmental havoc, including increased greenhouse gas emissions from producing food.
"This projected increase in population poses a food security challenge for the people of Sub-Saharan Africa. The region is already the world’s hungriest."
  • If fertility rates could be reduced, it could help boost Africa's economy, as there would be fewer children to care for. Such a "demographic dividend" helped fuel the economic expansion of the East Asian "Tigers" between 1965 and 1990.

One solution: Empowering women. "We know when girls are educated and have access to family planning, and you have a decline in mortality rates among infants, every society that has seen that happen has reduced fertility rates dramatically and rapidly," said Timothy Searchinger, a researcher at Princeton.