Although numbers count for something, Uganda needs to reduce the number of children born per year, in order to provide better services for its people. In the final part of this series, Al-Mahdi Ssenkabirwa writes about what needs to be done about the growing numbers.
Two decades ago, Banda Zone III village in Kampala’s Nakawa Division was simply a bushy swamp, with a few yam gardens belonging to some residents from neigbouring Kireka and former casual employees of the ministry works under the public works department. Today, the landscape looks totally different. The six-acre area which had gardens, currently has more than 3,000 households who call it their home, up from less than 40 who first settled there.
Mr John Alia, 59, the chairperson of the area has witnessed all this change coming: “The land we currently occupy used to be our yam and potatoes gardens, but when Mogas took over the land in 1993, we descended on the nearby swamp to get plots because this was the only alternative we had,” he reminisces. Most of the structures are unplanned and one can hardly spot a well-built house. There is no hospital, not even a school one can write home about.
In what used to be their home, according to Alia, now stands a fuel depot owned by Mogas Oil Company. There are no specific businesses for most residents. The lucky few who own small rooms ,use them as retail shops while others rent them out to Kyambogo University students who cannot afford the exorbitant accommodation in posh apartments’ near the campus.
As in many city slums, residents of Banda Zone III village lack basic amenities like safe water and good health care. The sanitary and general living conditions are appalling.
A bathroom or toilet meant for one family, is shared by several households, while others use buveera as their toilets and dump the faeces in the already filthy drainage channel. Buzzing flies, a nasty stench and desolation characterises the bigger part of the village.
Because the city authorities do not recognise this slum settlement, garbage trucks do not go to the area to collect garbage like is the case in other city suburbs.
“One of the biggest challenge we face is garbage. People just throw it any how and as leaders, we sometimes force them to pay a fee to distil the filthy drainage channel,” Alia says.
This really explains the grave challenge Uganda’s fast-growing population has posed to the country.
Prof Augustus Nuwagaba, a population and development expert, says the country is sitting on a time bomb.
“Our population growth rate is abnormal. It is not good for any country even if it was Japan. For every one thousand people, we get an additional 32 people born every year,” he says.
According to Nuwagaba, the problem with Uganda’s rising population is not the growth itself, but the fact that it is rapid and unplanned.
“Just look at the way we are managing growth of our suburbs .The population is increasing but there is no proper planning and people just build anyhow,” he says.
Children a source of insurance
With the numbers currently estimated at 35 million, the implications of a multiplying population remain a particular cause for worry.
What has worsened the problem, Prof Nuwagaba says, is that many parents look at children as their insurance in future and such mentality has forced many to shun family planning.
“But in UK , even if you don’t have a child, parents pension is guaranteed, government provides welfare benefits, old age benefits and in a country like that you can control population .It is good that government has put this old age fund and it is a step in the right direction, ” he says.
“We need to put in place other policies that can help improve parents incomes like creating an inter-generational wealth flow policy, where children who come in future can cater for this current generation. If government puts in place polices where the welfare benefits get transferred from the earlier generation to later generation, this can be dealt with,” he says.
To reverse this trend, Nuwagaba says, government needs to do two things – one, to recognise that there is a high population, and two, to control the current demographic movement through incentives.
“The best incentive is to ensure the survival of children already born, through improving maternal and child health,” he says.
The professor states that the category of populations that have not come yet, is one that is easy to deal with.
“We need to make very strong family planning programmes for prevention, improve their accessibility, acceptability and make them more friendly. In that case, we shall prevent children from being born. Countries have succeeded in this, take the example of Kenya and Mauritius. In Kenya, they produce only four children because people can easily access good family planning services but here, we are producing as many as we wish ,”the expert says.
For Uganda to have a well-managed population, he says, the government has to invest in people through providing high quality education and training which will improve their capabilities, resulting in high productivity.
“We must adopt a duo- qualification framework so that our people can study and graduate with skills in different disciplines like is the case in China, say one can study a Bachelor of Arts in Economics and add Carpentry or Electronics. If this is done, we shall have a population which is an asset not a liability. Countries like China, Malaysia, Indonesia, South Korea, Thailand, and Mauritius have heavily invested in people. And this explains why there is no body in Mauritius who is not employed and it has the lowest poverty levels (2.2 per cent) in the whole world.”
He further says the minister of educations also needs to integrate practical sex education in the curriculum to teach girls the dangers of risky early sex engagements. “Our children must know that early sex which is not protected will cause HIV and unwanted pregnancies so that we do away with unwanted pregnancies,” Nuwagaba says, adding that the government has also to increase the participation of girls in education so that they delay getting married and by the time they finish their studies, they only produce only three or four children. “In fact, if I were the president, I could give all girls scholarships for master degrees so that they delay for another one or two years studying.”
Growth needs to be planned
Dr Wilberforce Kisamba Mugerwa, the chairperson National Planning Authority, says Uganda’s big population is a result of misleading statements made by some politicians.
“Our leaders have been encouraging people to produce forgetting that it is not about numbers but quality. The problem with a fast-growing population is not the growth itself, but rapid, unplanned growth,” he says
However, Kisamba says all is not lost since the recently launched country’s Vision 2040 aims at addressing some of the pressing issues like poverty, hunger, access to health, quality education and clean water.
“The moment we guarantee those, we will be assured of reaping from our demographic dividend. Short of that, our population will become a burden. But we have to work hard to avoid such a scenario because it is not manageable,” he warns.
Prof Venansius Baryamureeba, vice chancellor Uganda Technology and Management University, says government must rethink its priorities and put more money in vital sectors like health, education and agriculture. “Take the example of the colossal sums of money we are putting on roads. In our current state, we do not need roads everywhere. Some areas simply need bridges and good murrum roads because they have less traffic .Such money should be channelled into equipping the youths with skills and offering excellent health care as well as promoting modern agriculture.”
He says the one -child policy which some people suggests, will not help Uganda since China which adopted it has since relaxed the policy to allow people to produce two children.
“We have to learn from what other people did and do better. Take the example of South Korea, they never said that people should have one or two children .They simply said, have a small family that you can provide for and people took the message and started producing two children per family on average.”
He says fertility rates typically fall as a country becomes more urbanised and more economically stable and this explains why many Asians countries without one-child policy have witnessed a rapid decline in fertility rates in recent years.
If the rate of population growth can be reduced from 3.2 per cent to 2.4 per cent, according to Baryamureeba, annual per capita GDP growth must rise by between 0.5 - 0.6 per cent but looking at economy’s progress ,this can only be achieved in 40 years to come.
Recently, the government launched a new population policy action plan that will guide it in addressing challenges of a fast-growing population. The action plan is expected to implement what was outlined in the 2008 population policy.
The policy calls for more investment in the growing population, addresses issues of appropriate planning for a rapidly growing population, investing in family planning for child spacing and identifying critical concerns that must be tackled to ensure a quality population, among them poverty, illiteracy, disease and unemployment.
The need for family planning
“The need for family planning services is very high. About 77 per cent of people are not using contraceptives. Most of them are in rural areas where these services are inadequate. Urban areas are okay, but in rural government health centres supplies are inadequate. Some of the health workers can’t administer some of the methods.
The need is high but the demand is low. The reasons for low uptake are lack of awareness on the benefits of family planning. The other is the related side effects; when someone gets side effects, they don’t disclose to anyone, they drop the method and spread then spread their experiences.
The other reason is that the capacity by health workers available to address these side effects is lacking and questionable. There are also myths and misconceptions based on lack of knowledge, there is low level of male involvement and support; and most women enroll for family planning privately. There also are religious beliefs about these contraceptives where some people value their religious beliefs too much that they can’t take up any of the methods. There is inadequate supplies and skilled labour especially in government health facilities.”
Prisca Asiimwe, Head of Reproductive
Health Uganda, Mbarara area