Fresh population concerns in Africa

Posted: 29 October 2007

Recent reports from Uganda, Kenya and Burkina Faso show that concern over rapid population growth is once again becoming a matter of public concern. The latest census report from Burkina Faso shows that the population is growing increasingly rapidly, with women bearing an average of seven children.

Burkina Faso map
Burkina Faso map
Burkina Faso's population of 13.31 million is expanding by 2.95 per cent every year, the August census report showed. And if the current growth rate continues, the country, which is among the very poorest in the world, will be more than 20 million strong by 2020.

"The census indicates that between 1996 and 2006 the population grew by 341,000 every year, which is considerable", says Bamory Ouattara, director of the National Institute for Demographics and Statistics (INSD).

Meanwhile the urban population, which was almost non-existent in the 1970s, has multiplied by eight, with the highest density found in the capital Ouagadougou.

Family planning

Activists in Burkina Faso are using the data to lobby for more political attention to family planning, which they say has been ignored because reproductive health services are still focused on preventing HIV/AIDS, even though prevalence of the disease has shrunk from 7 per cent in the early 1990s to 2 per cent now, according to UN statistics.

"We need clear political commitment, strong words from our leaders to reposition family planning," said Brigitte Thiombiano, coordinator of the Clinic for Midwives, the first official clinic for reproductive health promotion in Burkina Faso, established in 1985.

"Family planning activities and sensitisation must be restarted, by bringing back community-based activities in villages, districts, and by sensitising the activists that were mobilized for HIV/AIDS to get them back behind family planning," Thiombiano said.

The situation is "alarming", according to Jean Louis Dakuyo, head of planning and research at the National Council for Population (CONAPO). "We need to revisit the relations between population and development in our country, for if we do not control the growth rate, make it compatible to our resources, living standards will not improve."

"Authorities need to understand that doing family planning does not mean implementing Malthusian policies, but it is all about progress for all groups, including women who need fewer children to be healthy and economically productive," Dakuyo added.

Contraception link

In Burkina Faso, just 14 per cent of people use contraception, according to the Ministry of Health, shrinking to 9 per cent in some rural areas. "This means after 20 years of [family planning] activities we have not done much and we need to step up efforts," Dr Koudaogo Ouédraogo of the Burkina Association for Family Well-Being (ABBEF) said.

Malnourished boy Burkina Faso
Malnourished boy Burkina Faso
Malnourished boy Burkina Faso. Burkina Faso's government says 23 per cent acute malnutrition is not a crisis. Aid agencies say the government is the obstacle to making progress. Photo © Nicholas Reader/IRIN
Last month, the Burkina Faso government launched a US$7 billion programme, which addresses HIV/AIDS, family planning and female genital cutting, with family planning at the centre of the project.

The government has said it believes contraception will also help reduce the maternal mortality rate. The number of women who die giving birth in Burkina Faso is among the highest in the sub-region: 484 women die for 100,000 children born. The government has said it plans to reduce the death toll by 30 per cent before 2008.

Surveys conducted by the Burkina Faso Ministry of Health have shown that the lower the use of contraception, the higher the maternal mortality rate. To promote contraceptive use the government has adopted a 10-year strategic plan to ensure the availability of contraceptive products country-wide.

Ugandan concern

In Uganda, the Ministry of Health and the Population Secretariat says it wants to revitalise family planning services to check the rapid population growth rate. Mr Hannington Burunde, from the population secretariat, said Uganda's speed of the increase remains a major challenge to government's efforts to reduce poverty and provide adequate social services like health, education, water and sanitation, housing, food among others.

Mr Burunde told reporters that Uganda's population is growing at 3.2 per cent. He said the present population of 28.4 million is projected to shoot up to 39.3 million by the year 2015 and to 54.9 million in 2025 due to high fertility rate of 6.7, meaning that women ar having, on average, 6 or 7 children in a lifetime.

Mr Burunde said that low education levels, polygamy, cultural preference for boys, early marriages, and looking at children as a source of cheap labour, were some of the drivers of high fertility in Uganda.

Concern is also reviving in Kenya, as it becomes clear that despite a recent improvement in the economy and in levels of poverty, this may not be sustained if the rate of increase in population continues at the current rate. Kenya's population is projected to grow from 33-35 million to around 40 million by the end of the decade.

Population surge

The pressure of such a population surge would limit employment opportunities, result in rising costs for education, health services, and food imports and an inability to generate resources to build housing in both urban and rural areas, Dr Kamal Mustafa a population scientist with the United Nations Population Fund told Business Daily."The poor will feel the pinch of the population growth." said Dr Mustafa.

His view is echoed by planning minister Henry Obwocha who argues that a slowdown in the rate of population growth is a key factor in building a sound foundation for long-term economic growth. "It remains too high for the current rate of growth," he said at a media briefing in Nairobi.

Dr Obwocha said the causes of the country's explosive growth in population were sharp falls in mortality rates - especially infant - and the traditional preference for large families.

According to UNFPA, Kenya was the first country in sub-Saharan Africa to view runaway population growth as a serious impediment to economic prosperity, and it became the first, in the late 1960s, to begin developing a national family-planning campaign. Kenya's next census is due in two years time.

Sources: IRIN, 'Daily Monitor', Uganda and 'Business Daily', Kenya