Wake up to challenge of 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:

The issue: Population growth

Our view: …we urge the government to digest and act on the contents of the latest State of Uganda Population Report.

Let’s head back to 2006. Uganda’s population stands at 27.7 million people. A United Nations (UN) dataset indicates that the fertility rate, which has remained largely unchanged for a little over three decades, stands at seven. Half of the population is under 15, the dataset also shows, with fewer than one in five married women having access to contraception.

As for the projections, the UN estimates that there will be 56 million people in Uganda by 2025. In 2050 the country’s population will have grown by nearly as much as China’s.

Fast forward to 2023 and that one half of the population from 2006 that was under 15 is well and truly into childbearing age. Last week, Uganda released its latest State of Uganda Population Report. The vast majority of its data points, which are highly valuable to policymakers and researchers, make for grim reading.

For starters, our population is well on track to breach the 55 million mark in 2050. It currently stands at 46.2 million, with an eye-watering if unprecedented population growth rate of 3.2 percent per annum.

While the fertility rate has dropped to 5.2, forty-four percent of the population is not just under 15 but on the cusp of moving into childbearing age. This coupled with a teenage pregnancy rate that has stagnated at 24 percent thanks in no small part to a stubbornly low contraceptive prevalence rate portends great danger.

The country’s HIV/Aids burden keeps shearing off years of potential productivity from its working age population. This has translated into high dependency rates and fewer tax-paying citizens. It is crystal clear that family planning and the HIV/Aids fight have to both be treated as national priorities. Privileging one over the other would be foolhardy, the country’s shrinking resource envelope notwithstanding.

While it has been abundantly clear that Uganda’s population explosion threatens to trap the country in a cycle of poverty, we should also be alive to the fact that development may not be the only casualty of the population boom. The increased competition for scarce resources such as land is just as troubling if anything because of the conflict that it is pregnant with.

It is against this background that we urge the government to digest and act on the contents of the latest State of Uganda Population Report. Awareness campaigns should be lined up to address the low use of modern contraceptives triggered by poor education. The conservative culture that frowns upon sex education and misinformation about birth control’s effects on fertility should be decisively tackled. Ditto the patriarchy that accords male partners telling influence over decisions pivoting around contraception. Above all, the much-coveted demographic dividend where the share of the working-age population is larger than the non-working-age share of the population looks primed to remain a pipe dream. The sooner the country wakes up to the difficulties that lie ahead, the better.

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