Population growth: Can Uganda meet the challenge?

By Vision Reporter

Tomorrow is World Population Day. This follows a meeting by world leaders in 1968 proclaiming that individuals have a basic human right to determine freely and responsibly the number and timing of their children.

Tomorrow is World Population Day. This follows a meeting by world leaders in 1968 proclaiming that individuals have a basic human right to determine freely and responsibly the number and timing of their children. Arthur Baguma analyses the challenges of Uganda’s meeting services for its fast-growing population.

Uganda’s population is exploding and is on track to surpass 130 million persons by 2050. That will make Uganda the 13th most populated country in the world. The current growth rate is 3.6% per annum. This means over 1.2 million Ugandans are born every year. The country’s population, which stands at over 30.9 million up from seven million at independence in 1962, will have increased four times in 2050.

Five-hold increase in development
A population of 130 million people will mean the need for more services and at least a five-fold increase in the current state of development and availability of goods and services. All services have to increase proportionately with the population. And moreover, this is just to maintain and not improve what the country has. To improve, Uganda needs to up the current rate of provision of services about ten times more.

“The rate of our planning, and improvement in infrastructure for education, health, food security and employment all have to go up proportionately with the population size and needs,” says Dr. Jotham Musinguzi, the regional director of Partners in Population and Development, Africa regional office.

Uganda’s rapid population growth
The 2006 revision of the official United Nations Population Estimates and Projections report titled “World Population Prospects,” shows that at more than six children per woman, Uganda is among the top 10 countries with the highest fertility rates and the third highest rate of natural population increase in the world. The 2006 Human Development Report showed Uganda has 7.1 births per woman, the second highest population growth in the world. Only Niger is higher at 7.9 births per woman.

Between 2004 and 2050, Uganda’s population will have grown by 375.7%, according to Simon Omoding, the communications analyst at United Nations Development Programme in Kampala.

Population challenges
Despite Uganda’s rapid economic growth over the years, experts warn that the current population growth of 3.6% per annum is not healthy for an economy growing at 5.6% annually. This means that the population would double every 20 years.

And no country can manage such rapid population growth. “A population growth rate of 3.6% needs a minimum economic growth rate of at least 12% per annum. We shall continue having poor quality population if the economic growth rate stays or stagnates at 5.6%,” says Augustus Nuwagaba, a senior economist and consultant on poverty.

Nuwagaba, who is also a lecturer at Makerere University, says the Government should have a strategic plan of 30-50 years, that comprises well developed strategies to absorb this population growth, “especially ensuring quality of population through human capital development.”

Need for more services
The logical conclusion is that we shall need at least four times more services than we have today, but this can be better explained by what plans each sector has today, says Andrew Mukuru, the director population and social statistics at the Uganda Bureau of Statistics.

UN statistics indicate that by 2020, more than 1.5 billion people will live in slums and informal settlements. Most of the informal settlements are located in urban areas. Planning for 130 million at Uganda’s rate of growth is going to be a major challenge in terms of planning and financing unless the oil boom turns the tables in favour of the state planners.

High population and markets
But worries of high population growth rates have never given sleepless nights to President Yoweri Museveni, who supports the need for increased population growth as a means of creating markets. Some experts argue that the President’s well-intentioned case is sometimes misunderstood.

“The President has a point which sometimes is misunderstood. If you have a large population, it creates a large market base, and if the population is educated, it will be part of the investment in the economy. We need to invest in the large population with education, give people skills and make sure they get employment and this is the President’s argument,” Dr. Musinguzi explains.

However, experts often do not address the fact that women have a right to safe delivery if they are to contribute to this population growth. The health system in the country does not provide an enabling environment for health workers to provide quality services. Consequently, women deliver away from health facilities and every year, 6,000 and more women in Uganda die due to pregnancy and childbirth-related complications, leaving behind a huge number of orphaned children who may fail to access the free education provided.

Women contribute 80% of the agricultural production. Their unhealthy reproductive life impacts on production directly. There is, therefore, need to sensitise couples on how to plan and space their births. This requires investing in family planning service provision. Unfortunately, family planning is often given lip service not only at government level but at the international level as well.

Addressing the 41st session of the UN Commission on Population and Development in April, Thoraya Ahmed Obaid, the executive director UNFPA, decried the low funding for family planning that has been reducing since the first population congress in Cairo in 1995. Funding has decreased from 55% to 7% in 2005.

Obaid noted that lack of access to family planning and reproductive services affects population dynamics and conditions for poverty reduction.

For this reason, development experts are calling on all stake holders to plan for Uganda’s 130 million people in only four decades. Below we look at the crucial sectors and what they will need for minimum survival in 2050.

In 2050, it is likely that education will still take the lion share of the national budget as it is the case today. In the financial year 2006/2007, the sector’s funding increased from sh633.43b in the 2005/2006 budget to 720.26b, representing about 17.6% of the total budget. In 2050, we shall need at least sh720.26b five times more to sustain the education sector. While it took only 7% of the national budget in 1990 and 17% in the financial year 1994/95, today the sector takes 24% of the national budget.

Primary education
Primary schools have increased from 7,351 in 1997 to 13,353 today. In 2050, at least 66,765 primary schools will be required. The pupil-classroom ratio has since dropped from 94 pupils per classroom in 1997 to the current 87 and the target is to bring it down to 55.

The number of teachers currently stands at over 145,587 compared to 81,564 in 1996. In 2050, we will need five times the current number, about 727,935 primary school teachers. When the Universal Primary Education (UPE) programme began, primary teacher colleges (PTCs) could only produce 4,000 teachers a year. Today, the PTCs produce at least 7,000 teachers annually. By 2050, they would have produced about 301, 000 teachers. This will leave a vacuum of 426,935 less the required number.

Education infrastructure
The number of classrooms under the UPE scheme has increased from 45,000 in 1997 to over 69,656 through vigorous building efforts by the Government under the School Facilities Grant (SFG), NGOs and the communities. In 2050, about 348,280 classrooms will be needed, four times the number.

Secondary education
At secondary level, Uganda had a total of 21 government-aided secondary schools, serving a population of seven million people in 1960. Today, over 780 of the 900 sub-counties in the country have a secondary school. Enrollment is in the excess of one million students. In 2050, enrollment will be in excess of five million and this will cover only government schools.In addition to government-owned schools, there are also over 4,000 private secondary schools in the country. These also have to double five times to be adequate. Today, the number of teachers has grown to over 150,000 for both secondary and primary schools.

University education
By 2050, Makerere University alone, might have to admit at least 100,000 students on government sponsorship and about 160,000 students on the private scheme annually. Makerere University grew from 1,500 students in 1996 to over 20,000 today. Today, the university admits over 20,000 students every year, including 4,000 government-sponsored students each year.

The World Bank’s publication, “World Development Report 2007: Development and the next generation,” focused on the youth, a portion of Uganda’s population that needs urgent attention.

At the launch, the deputy premier, Henry Kajura, said young men and women comprise more than 50% of the labour force. The percentage is growing at the rate of 3.4% per annum, thus resulting in 390,000 new job seekers yet only about 8,120 new jobs are available each year. This means that in 2050, we shall have about 1,950,000 job seekers annually. And by then, hopefully going by the current estimate of job creation about 40,600 jobs will be created per annum.

Investment in education and training will be crucial in increasing employment opportunities for the youth. The World Bank report warns that governments need to focus policies and investment on people aged 12-24, whose global population has peaked 1.5 billion.

Over 250 health centres have been constructed in the last few years. But in 2050 this figure has to go up five times. Statistics from the 2007 United Nations Human Development Programme report showed that the life expectancy of Ugandans is improving. This means that by 2050, more Ugandans will be living longer. The 2006 report shows, the life expectancy of Ugandans improving from 47.3 years in 2003 to 51.5 years in 2007.

Women continue to live longer than men. Life expectancy for women has risen to 52.3 years, while men have an average lifespan of 50.7 years.

Currently the doctor to patient ratio has dropped to 1:15,000. According to the government policy framework, the target is to have the ratio drop further to 1:12,000.

Water coverage levels increased from 39% in 1996 to 51% in 2003. This was an equivalent to an additional 5.3 million people having access to safe water in 2003, most of them in rural areas. In 2050, more 15 million people would access clean water every year.

Under the10-year District Roads Investment Programme (TYDRIP), funding for national road maintenance has increased from $3m in 1992/93 to $40m in 2004/05. TYDRIP is a component of the revised Road Sector Development Programme II (RSDP2).

The objective of TYDRIP is to improve access to rural and economically productive areas and to gradually build district road network planning and management capabilities. It is an investment plan for rehabilitation and sustainable maintenance of district, urban and community access roads over the period 2003/04 – 2012/13. As part of RSDP2, it will also be a rolling framework.

The projected investment over the programme period is estimated to cost $470m. But all these figures will have to increase at least five times come 2050.

Population growth: Can Uganda meet the challenge?