Experts warn on rapid population growth

People go about their business in downtown Kampala in 2021. The rapid population growth in the country is outstripping the capacity of facilities. PHOTO / FILE

What you need to know:

  • Mr Stephen David Mugabi, the acting Director of Environment Affairs in the Ministry of Environment, says population growth has led to land degradation, increasing soil erosion, deforestation and destruction of wetlands.

Experts have warned that Uganda’s rapid population growth, which was estimated at 47.2 million in 2022 and growing at 3 percent per annum has serious implications on gender, health, environment and development.
This in turn leads to changes in social values and cultural behaviour of the affected communities.

The observations were made at the just concluded conference on Population Dynamics, Gender, Health and Climate Connection, on the theme ‘‘Why bridging the gap and building solutions together is a win-win for people, climate and the planet’’, held in Kampala on Tuesday.
The conference was organised by the National Population Council (NPC) in partnership with Regenerate Africa and National Population, Health and Environment (PHE) Network.
Mr Stephen David Mugabi, the acting Director of Environment Affairs in the Ministry of Water and Environment, stated that the rapid population growth in the country was outstripping the capacity of facilities providing all services and these facilities were stressed. 

While delivering a keynote address titled ‘‘Uganda in a world of 8 billion people: What are the implications for environment, gender, health and development’’, he said. The high population growth also increases the demand for food, shelter, water, employment and social services, which means more land for agriculture, settlement, social services, more uptake of water for domestic and industrial use, and other production means.
This implies increased loss of forests, wetlands and extraction of minerals, sand, clay, and medicine from the environment to meet the increasing demand for food, settlement, construction works, energy and industrial parks.
“It means more conversion of forest resources for timber, food and fuel. It also means extraction of more resources including minerals, medicine, wildlife, sand, clay and all these are in the environment because you want to meet the demands of an increasing population,” he said.

Mr Mugabi warned that population growth has cost implications to the environment such as degrading agricultural land, increasing soil erosion, deforestation and destruction of wetlands.
“And these losses are already experienced in our country like increased loss of biodiversity, reduced rearing [grazing] capacity, we are seeing increased pollution of water, of land and air, from chemicals from gas, dust and from waste all from the population across the country,” he said.
Mr Mugabi added: “We are seeing increased land use change due to changing investment priorities. We are seeing protected areas becoming farmland, settlements, industrial parks, and communication facilities due to the need to meet the demands of the growing population in Uganda.”

According to Ms Winnie Masiko, the National Programme Coordinator of Uganda Women Entrepreneurship Programme in the Ministry of Gender, the high population growth leads to women’s unequal participation in decision-making processes and labour markets. 
She said these compound inequalities often prevent women from fully contributing to climate-related planning, policy-making and implementation.
She observed that women are key users of biodiversity, but are routinely excluded from decision-making and benefit-sharing in conservation.
“Equal benefits from nature and biodiversity for women and girls, including nutrition, food security, livelihoods, health and wellbeing, come from access, benefit-sharing mechanisms and employment opportunities in biodiversity-related sectors management and conservation. It is important at this rate for women to understand issues of biodiversity,” she said.

Dr Jotham Musinguzi, the director general of the National Population Council, said the issue of high population growth is recognised but there are measures that can be put in place to mitigate the major challenge.
“One of these measures is to tame the growth of the country’s population so that it grows in tandem with the economic growth and the resources. The other ways are to ensure that the population is educated, putting in place measures to protect the environment, using family planning services and also being able to take adaptive and mitigative measures to protect the environment,” he said.
Dr Musinguzi suggested that the government should ensure that the policies in place are affordable and accessible, like appropriate curriculum for the education system to prepare learners for job creation to address poverty.

Mr Charles Kabiswa, the Executive Director of Regenerate Africa, said it is high time for the country to shift its development approaches into cross-sectoral information to address challenges associated with population growth.
“If we are to intervene against the challenges, there is need for multi-sectoral approaches because many of the proposals have been lacking on adaptation hence missing out on the funds. We just need to open up our eyes, especially to colleagues in the health sector, and population demography sector because there is potential to do a lot,” he said.

The Minister of Gender, Labour and Social Development, Ms Betty Amongi, commended the stakeholders for recognising the need for inclusion of gender as one of the key aspects with the objectives of sharing experiences, strategies and realities of future population, gender, health and climate change interconnectedness in Uganda.
She said the government is committed to fast-tracking commitments towards addressing issues of climate change, global diversity framework, family planning and sustainable development goals.
“The government is also committed to improving the quality of lives of the people of Uganda through development of strategies on education, health, gender and violence, population and poverty reduction,” she said.

The National Population Council estimates that the population of Uganda - about 47,250,000 people in 2022 - is expected to double by mid-century of 2050.

Also, the United Nations places Uganda’s 2022 fertility rate at an estimated 3.5 births for each woman, almost twice the current global average of 2.3.