Uganda revises its population plan

Posted: 18 February 2009

With Uganda's population expected to double to 55 million in the next 20 years, there are clearly serious implications for the future development of the country, says the Daily Monitor. This leading, privately owned newspaper, outlines how the government's revised population policy aims to tackle the issue.

The government has already raised concerns over the fast growing numbers, arguing that if the current population trends continue, Uganda's population would grow to 130 million by 2050.

A group of children, Kampala, Uganda. Photo: 2001 Sara A. Holtz, Courtesy of Photoshare
A group of children, Kampala, Uganda. Photo: 2001 Sara A. Holtz, Courtesy of Photoshare
A group of children, Kampala, Uganda.© 2001 Sara A. Holtz, Courtesy of Photoshare
"There is no doubt that such a surge in population would put enormous pressure on the government's ability to provide social services like education, health, housing as well as putting increased pressure on land use and the protection of the environment," said Fred Omach, a State Minister in the Ministry of Finance, Planning and Economic Development.

Poverty, disease, lack of adequate housing and high unemployment are some of the problems that face the nation as its population grows at 3.2 per cent, one of the fastest in the world.

It means, every year, there is an addition of 1.2 million people, a growth rate which is the third highest in the world after Yemen and Niger, respectively.

Tackling growth

Demographers and development experts say if the population continues to grow at its current rate it will swamp all efforts being made to deal with the challenges that will follow.

To turn the quality of population around, the Population Secretariat, a semi-autonomous body under the Ministry of Finance, has now launched a revised National Population Policy largely aimed at confronting the development challenges posed by the rapidly growing population.

The first National Population Policy, launched in 1995, mainly focused on combating HIV/Aids and addressing needs of adolescents, but the new policy whose theme is "Social Transformation and Sustainable Development" wants to slow down the population growth rate that is now see as too high for the country's economy to sustain.

The revised policy calls for planning and investing in the increasing population so that Uganda develops human capital and expedite its social transformation.

"The revised policy addresses issues of appropriate planning for the rapidly growing population, repositioning of family planning services for child spacing, and avoidance of risky pregnancy among others," said Mr Charles Zirarema, the acting Director of the Population Secretariat.

It defines the critical issues that must be tackled to ensure a quality population, among them poverty, illiteracy, disease and unemployment.

According to the new policy, the high level of unemployment coupled with a high dependence burden has denied the country the potential contribution of this redundant labour force.

The policy also addresses the problem of low contraceptive use, currently at 23 per cent and the high unmet need for family planning services for 40 per cent of women who need the services -all of which are contributing to the fast growing population.

Currently, although poverty has reduced considerably from 56 per cent in 1992 to 31 percent in 2006, infant and maternal mortality remain as high as 76 deaths per every 1,000 live births and 435 deaths per every 100,000 live births, respectively.

A fertility rate of seven children per woman over the last four decades is not unusual. "This high fertility rate is exacerbated by a high teenage pregnancy where one out of every four girls will get pregnant before the age of 20. Eventually this girl will continue producing and this will have both socio-economic and health impacts on her," says Mr Zirarema.

The revised policy calls for more investment in family planning services to address the high fertility which undermines savings and makes it increasingly difficult for families to adequately feed, clothe, house, educate and provide medical care for their children.

Large families among the poor makes it difficult to break out of the cycle of poverty, the new policy cautions.

But the policy also wants to ensure the country benefits from the possibility of a future demographic dividend, as the share of working age people in the population rises. This usually happens when the fertility rate falls and the youth dependency ratio declines.

"Uganda will, sooner than later enter a demographic window of opportunity that is often called the demographic gift, which if not planned for can end up being a demographic burden," the policy states in part.

President's view

President Yoweri Museveni said at the launch of the new policy, in a speech read for him by Prime Minister Prof. Apollo Nsibambi, that it will enable the country to benefit from a growing population.

But the president has been publicly advocating a larger population, defending it as the cornerstone for economic growth. Museveni argues that government only needs to invest more in ensuring that the population is educated, skilled, healthy and employed.

"In so doing, we will be ensuring that people get sufficient incomes from their employment, if they are able to save and participate in supporting Uganda's competitiveness," he said.

A separate report in the Daily Monitor, said acute poverty is forcing parents to give away their children especially girls as young as 14 into early marriage.

As a result, children who should be going to school are instead subjected to sexual abuse, according to a report by Concern for Children and Women Empowerment, (Cofcawe), a non-governmental organization working to fight injustices against women and the girl-child.

"Many children have continued to be sexually abused because their parents give them away to old men for marriage due to high levels of poverty," the Cofcawe report said. According to this reseach in one central district of Uganda showed sexually transmitted disease among children stood 29.4 per cent while that of abused children stood at 60 per cent, with school dropout due to pregnancies and early marriages standing at 29.5 per cent.

The report comes after the UK Department for International Development (DFID),reported that Uganda's children have been let down by the systems that should be protecting them. Many of the organizations that ought to be enforcing these rights are not up and running, it said in the report, 'Innocence at stake: Protecting Uganda's children'.

Source: Both reports appear on the Daily Monitor website (20th September 2008).