By Deusdedit Ruhangariyo
Experts at the Population Secretariat have appealed to the Media in Uganda to help sensitise the community about demographic trends in Uganda.
This call was made by Hannington Burunde while presenting a paper entitled ‘Advocacy for Population and development: working with the media’ at a World Bank report dissemination to media practitioners that took place at the Golf Course Hotel in Kampala recently.
Burunde, who is the head of Communication at the Secretariat, said that the Media was critical in the dissemination of the population trends in Uganda.
Earlier, Charles Zirarema, the acting Director of Population Secretariat, in his opening remarks said, the most important demographic issue for Uganda is related to the age structure rather than the overall size of its population.
Quoting the World Bank report he added: "A very young population represents a major challenge for Uganda in the short and medium term. In order to change its population age structure faster, Uganda needs to accelerate the demographic transition, namely the shift from high levels of mortality and fertility to low levels of mortality and fertility."
"Once mortality (especially infant and child) and fertility rates begin to fall, young age dependency ratio will follow the same trend albeit with some lag.This will have positive – and quite possibly major – implications for the economic growth."
Dr. Godfrey Mugyenyi, an obstetrics and gynecology lecturer at Mbarara University of Science and technology, says that the demographic situation in Uganda is facing now is ‘the baby boom they talk about’. He adds, "this means that less than half of Ugandans have to work hard to sustain higher than 50% of their children and dependants."
The report says: ‘Uganda has one of the youngest and most rapidly growing populations in the world.The total fertility rate (TFR) is estimated at 6.7 children per woman according to the government’s data and 6.4 according to the UN data.
About half (48.7 percent) of Uganda’s population is younger than 15, well above Sub-Saharan Africa’s average of43.2 percent and world average of 26.8 percent. Both the high level of fertility and the youthfulness of the population bring a very high youth dependency ratio.
The country’s population growth rate, currently at 3.3 percent, has also been steadily above Africa’s average, except for the period of peak prevalence in HIV/AIDS in early 2000s.
The 2002 census reports that about half the population is under the age of 15. The young age structure has important population and development implications.
It creates a high child dependency ratio that places a heavy burden on the working age population and constrains the provision of basic needs and social services.
The child dependency ratio, the number of child dependants under the age of 15 for every 100 adults in the working ages, is about 105 in Uganda.
Zirarema said the changes in the age structure of our population may bring about a demographic dividend that can be captured to produce a virtuous cycle of economic growth with the right policy framework.
The demographic dividend arises when a country’s birth and death rates gradually drop and alter the age distribution of a country whereby fewer investments are needed to meet the needs of the youngest age groups and there is a bigger number of adults in the productive labor force.
However, participants at the workshop noted that the huge population of young people needs huge investments to meet their needs which investments are not being allocated.
They noted with concern that some politicians traversed the country misleading to produce many children without allocating resources to develop them.
The report says that countries which benefited from the demographic dividend fully exploited the world economy,maintained macroeconomic stability, mustered high rates of saving and investment, let
Markets allocated resources, and finally had committed, credible, and capable governments. Gender equality and upgrading of the social services delivery systems were also among the factors contributing to their success.
The report further says that given the high fertility and reduced mortality over the last several decades,Uganda’s population will be growing rapidly over the next several decades.
The youngage structure will also foster population growth (the phenomenon of population momentum).
If Uganda manages to make further substantial progress in increasing the life expectancy, even under the assumption that current fertility rate will by then more than have halved, its population will be growing in 2050 more rapidly (estimated 1.7 percentper year) than the world’s population is growing today (1.2 percent).
In 2050, Uganda’spopulation is likely to exceed 80 million people.
Focusing Government’s efforts on increasing life expectancy inevitably contributes to population growth. However, in thelong run, this strategy is consistent with accelerating the demographic transition, as fall in infant and child mortality is likely to trigger decline in fertility.
The report calls upon the key stakeholders to help accelerate the fertility saying that investing in girls’ education and adopting laws and policies enhancing gender equality should beamong priorities.
The Government needs also to promote more rapid and better urban planning by investing in infrastructure and by reducing disparities in the provision of social services between the urban and rural areas in order to have the rural-urban migrants better protected as well as more employable in the cities.
Family planning policies targeting reduction in unmet need for contraceptives are more effective when they are accompanied by effective communication campaigns and integrated with otherhealth services.
Finally, improving access to electricity, especially in the country side,can also help to decrease fertility through enhanced access to mass media communication.