- Title: Africa's population boom fuels 'unstoppable' migration to Europe.
- Date: 24th October 2016
- Summary: LAGOS, NIGERIA (FILE) (REUTERS) VARIOUS OF CROWDED SETTLEMENTS VARIOUS OF BUSY STREET/PEOPLE WALKING
- Embargoed: 8th November 2016 08:01
- Keywords: Population Migrants Refugees Europe Economy UN
- Location: NIAMEY, NIGER/ DAKAR, SENEGAL/ AGADEZ, NIGER/ LAGOS, NIGERIA
- City: NIAMEY, NIGER/ DAKAR, SENEGAL/ AGADEZ, NIGER/ LAGOS, NIGERIA
- Country: Niger
- Topics: Society/Social Issues
- Reuters ID: LVA00455N68NR
- Aspect Ratio: 16:9
- Story Text:When German Chancellor Angela Merkel toured three African nations last week for talks on curbing migration to Europe, the leader of the world's poorest country, Niger, suggested it would take a "Marshall Plan" of massive aid to stop people coming.
Merkel politely declined the request, expressing concern about how well the aid would be spent and noting that, at a summit in Malta last year, the European Union had already earmarked 1.8 billion euros for a trust fund to train and resettle migrants.
But Niger's President Mahamadou Issoufou also proposed something perhaps more significant, in the long run, than a development package - bringing Niger's population growth down from 3.9 percent, the highest in the world.
With an average of 7.6 children born to each woman, its population is projected to more than triple to 72 million by 2050, from about 20 million now, according to the latest U.N. figures.
"Niger is facing a massive demographic challenge. We have one of the highest rates of population growth in the world, we have the highest fertility rate in the world and so it is important Niger receives the support to create the conditions for a demographic transition, to control demographic growth. Our aims are very ambitious in this regard and Germany is helping us attain these objectives," said Issoufou.
European Union leaders who meet at a Brussels summit on Thursday (October 20) to discuss controls on irregular immigration, will endorse a stepping up, in a tough approach to African governments and people, hoping to nip in the bud a feared surge in migrants crossing the Sahara and sailing from Libya to Italy.
However, analysts say as long as population growth in African countries outstrips their ability to educate, house and employ their citizens, large numbers of people will continue to brave the deserts and seas to escape.
"Let's take the case of Niger. How many school rooms does Niger need to build every year just to maintain enrolment rates? 3000. And how many did it manage to build last year? Just over 800. So it sounds like a tremendous achievement: we've built 800 new school rooms, but actually your enrolment rate went down. Why? Because the population is growing so quickly," said Toby Lanzer, UN humanitarial coordinator for the Sahel.
Niger's location in the largely unpoliced sands of the Sahara also makes it a draw for migrants. They come from across Africa hoping to be smuggled to a better life in Libya or Algeria -- or over the Mediterranean to Europe.
In doing so, the migrants bring cash to Niger, a country that has repeatedly proved unable to feed itself.
The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) expects migration through the Agadez region this year to reach 300,000, more than twice the 120,000 it estimates came through in 2015.
"Niger's population is very young so less than 50 percent of the population is under 18 and 74 percent is under 24 so it is a very young population, very dynamic, that wants to move, that has always moved for cultural reasons. So I don't think we will be able to stop or limit migration without a solid economic and social plan. For the IOM, migration is a source of development so it's not about blocking migration it's about better managing the flows and to give real opportunities," said IOM representative for Niger, Josepe Loprete.
EU officials hope to deter migrants by making clear that life as an illegal immigrant in Europe is hardly better than staying in Africa. But that message has yet to filter down.
"We are a big family. It is just my mother who is over there now, everyone is looking for money for her so she can feed the family because she can't go to work anymore now. We are the ones working in suffering to feed the family," said 21-year-old Guinean, Mohamed Kande.
Demography clearly holds the key both to Europe's migration crisis and to the poverty feeding it.
Frequent droughts in Niger cause hunger, and low investment in education means a dearth of skills. Yet somehow it must hugely increase food production just to stay where it is.
"If your population is expanding so very quickly, it's difficult to keep up and no matter how much more food one produces, no matter how many more tables of water one finds underground, no matter how many more school rooms one builds, if the population growth is faster than everything else I've just mentioned, the region is going backwards," said Lanzer.
By 2020 Africa will have more than doubled its population to 2.4 billion, the United Nations says.
But according to a theory popular with investment bankers and management consultants, Africa's population woes will solve themselves. Africa, they say, will reap a "demographic dividend" as its bulging youth population drives innovation and consumer markets -- as happened to Asia in decades past.
The latest commodity crash highlighted reasons for being less optimistic: Africa remains over-dependent on raw materials and has failed to create the manufacturing or service jobs that helped drive Asia forwards.
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