USAID: Population Is a Megatrend

By Cody Peluso | 24 March 2023
Population Media Center


USAID’s report, “Transformational Development in Africa” is worth reading – even if you only read the Executive Summary. In that one-page summary, the authors say “five megatrends stand out as most critical to determining the forward trajectory of development in Africa.” Number one on USAID’s list? Rapid population growth.


Population is considered a megatrend by USAID because of its profound impact across vital and interconnected parts of life. Environmental sustainability, food security, health, education, economic stability – all of these are fundamentally changed by population.

Let’s think about this: By 2050 Africa is projected to be home to one quarter of the world’s population. That’s 2.5 billion people. Or this: As much as 40% of Africa’s people will be under the age of 18.

It’s not surprising that the USAID report identifies workforce development, focusing on strengthening digital skills, as one path forward. The population is incredibly young – and will stay so for quite some time. It’s also not surprising that the USAID report identifies climate analytics and planning as another necessary path forward. Africa is extraordinarily vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.

Understanding the population dynamics and addressing the challenges associated with population growth is crucial for sustainable development, and USAID understands this.

A growing population places increasing demands on resources, such as food, land, water, and energy. Population growth exacerbates environmental degradation and climate change. Moreover, a large population also increases the demand for services such as health care and education, which can put a strain on already limited resources and infrastructure. And, of course, population growth impacts the poorest and most vulnerable people of any community the most.

For example, look at food security. Not only does population growth increase demands on food production, which can lead to overuse of resources and environmental degradation, the unequal distribution of resources and food exacerbates existing inequalities and contribute to social and political instability.

Or look at education. Overcrowded schools and insufficient resources limit educational opportunities – for those in the classroom and for those who are forced to stay outside it. Education impacts all aspects of a person’s life, including long-term economic consequences for individuals and societies. USAID recognizes human rights – essential human rights – that stop rapid population growth. And USAID recognizes the importance of things like family planning, reproductive health, and maternal and child health to promote sustainable development and improve the well-being of individuals and communities across the world.

Sustainable Population Through Universal Rights

Addressing population growth by advancing human rights involves three key pieces: women and girls need education, the ability to control if or when they have children, and the ability to earn a living. Obviously, a lot goes into making these three key elements a reality. Here are some ways that this can be achieved:

  • Education: Education plays a crucial role in enabling individuals to determine their future. The skills, such as literacy, change what is possible. These changes not only impact the individual, but ripple out across families, communities, and entire countries.
  • Sex education: Nobody can make informed choices about their reproductive health when they don’t understand how their bodies work. Providing comprehensive sexuality education can empower individuals to make decisions that are right for them and their families.
  • Access to reproductive health services: Access to reproductive health services, including family planning, contraceptives, and maternal health care, is critical for individuals to follow through on decisions and continuing to learn about their reproductive health. These services need to be available, affordable, and culturally accepted (so nobody is ostracized or punished for using them) in order to be truly accessible to all.
  • Eliminating discrimination: Discrimination based on gender, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, or religion can limit individuals’ ability to exercise their rights, including their reproductive rights. It’s important to realize that discrimination can impact any part of a person’s journey toward self-determination. It can change educational opportunities. It can make travel to a clinic impossible. Discrimination in all forms must be combatted.
  • Empowering women: Women often bear the brunt of the negative consequences of population growth – whether it’s being pregnant when they don’t want to be or it’s being kept out of school or it’s the drying water sources that sends them walking further for the family’s water needs. When and if to have children cannot be the husband’s decision. Fear that if a girl child is unmarried that she will be “promiscuous” and/or “unmarriagable” cannot continue. Empowering women by providing them with education, economic opportunities, and access to healthcare can help to reduce fertility rates and improve the well-being of families.

At Population Media Center, our vision is a sustainable planet with equal rights for all. We know sustainability and equity are so interlinked that you cannot have one without the other. We know animals and ecosystems have rights too.

We challenge harmful social norms by inspiring people, especially women and girls, to rewrite their own life stories. By uplifting the most affected and most likely to drive cultural change, we inspire exponential community progress toward the one goal we all share: a more equitable, flourishing world for all people and ecosystems.

This report highlights USAID’s efforts to promote stability, economic growth, and good governance, with a focus on supporting civil society and private sector development. And we’re so pleased to see the analysis that understands and underscores the importance of population growth.

With a global community of 8 billion people, we need a more equitable, flourishing world for all people and all ecosystems. As we look to write the script for our future, PMC focuses on solutions that touch us all. Our goal is to help create the conditions for population growth to stop naturally and of its own accord, as soon as possible, while simultaneously improving the health and wellbeing of people today. It all begins with human rights.

Reprinted with permission.

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