NEW YORK, New York- The State of the World Population report for the year 2012 blames the elite in developing countries for taking the ability to decide on how many children one should have and how to space them for granted. Africa’s population is on the rise, currently representing one-sixth of the world’s population at over 1.2 billion people, a figure which cannot be supported by the continent’s economic growth. The report has been released by the United Nations Population Fund (UNPF.)
Rapid population growth is having a serious effect on the natural environment in Africa. Some 500 million hectares of land have been affected by soil degradation during the last half century, including as much as 65% of agricultural land. This has been a major factor in constraining food production in Africa and increasing poverty.
The number of undernourished people in Africa has more than doubled from 100 million in the late 1960’s to roughly 230 million today; perhaps another 150 million are subject to acute food deficits and possibly as many as 50 million are actually poor and starving. Projections indicate that the region will be able to feed only 40 percent of its population by 2025.
In late 2012, the U.N. Population Fund’s (UNFPA) State of the World Population report sparked controversy in a number of circles by re-affirming that family planning and access to contraceptives are not only human rights, but also policy tools to improve women’s reproductive and economic health. While critics claim increasing family planning places reproductive rights over religious liberties, others argue the potential impact of such policies at the ground level is too powerful to ignore.
In many African countries, the implementation of family planning policies is further challenged by social and cultural barriers that surround the acceptance of contraceptive methods. Dr. Akinyele Dairo, Sexual and Reproductive Health Senior Program Advisor at UNFPA, says that this is due to misconceptions about family planning in some cultural traditions. “You can have a full supply of contraceptives,” he explains, “but without awareness and acceptance, they will expire before people come to use them.”
In response, Dairo and UNPFA are working to improve how the benefits of family planning services are communicated to policy makers and populations. This includes the involvement of high-level stakeholders such as parliamentarians and religious leaders, but also mass media awareness campaigns on radio and television.
According to the report released by UNPFA, making voluntary family planning available to everyone in developing countries would reduce costs for maternal and newborn health care by $11.3 billion annually.
The report finds that the costs of ignoring the right to family planning include poverty, exclusion, poor health and gender inequality. The report suggests access to contraception is the key to controlling population growth, an aspect which has been faced criticism in many African countries because of their religious and cultural beliefs.
There are some success stories of adoption of family planning services in countries like in Uganda, Ethiopia, Rwanda and Nigeria, but a staggering 222 million in developing countries remain in need of these services yet they cannot get them.
In July 2012, at the London Summit on Family Planning, donor countries and foundations together pledged $2.6 billion to make family planning available to 120 million women in developing countries with unmet needs by 2020. Developing countries themselves also pledged to increase support.
But, according to another report, an additional $4.1 billion is necessary each year.
Experts believe that the best way to control Africa’s growing population is by targeting the youth who comprise over half the population of the continent. They say it is better to put youth-friendly family planning services in institutions where they go to, or in the open society where they can easily access them.
– Adama Dickson Salami