APRIL 15, 2010: Population Size Affects Quality of Social Services

Population Size Affects Quality of Social Services
SOURCE: The New Vision
Kampala — Over the years there has been a gap in opinion between politicians and population management experts regarding Uganda's high population growth rate.

Several leaders have made contentious statements regarding Uganda's population. They look at a large population as a source of votes and market. On the other hand, the experts argue that the 3.2% growth rate needs to be checked if the country is to have a quality population.

The time has come for our political leaders to heed the concerns of the experts. You cannot achieve economic development in a situation where the poor are reproducing.

The 7th African Peer Review Mechanism Report warns that since Uganda is still in the early stages of economic development and heavily donor-dependent, it is dangerous to urge the population to produce more children.

The concern is not the size, but the rate of increase and the structure. Our population is becoming younger with those below 18 increasing from 51% in 1969 to 56% in 2002.

In addition, 4.6% of Ugandans are aged 60 and above. This means that about 19 million Ugandans are either children or elderly and do not contribute meaningfully to national development. They depend on the small working population.

Not all those in the working bracket are engaged in income-generating activities.

Instead of encouraging uncontrolled population growth, our politicians should encourage citizens to produce children they (citizens) can ably provide for.

Traditionally, giving birth to many children is considered an economic advantage particularly for rural families who look at large families as manpower. However, children are more of dependants than productive people.

We should also be mindful of the mothers' health. The more children a woman gives birth to, the more health risks and complications she faces. Population experts cannot dictate an optimal number of children one should have, however, each parent should be able to provide their children with adequate basic social amenities like shelter, food and education.

Our current population is estimated to be 31 million people and this is slowly having an impact on our natural resources.

Environmental degradation is inevitable as people search for land to settle and cultivate unless our politicians miraculously increase the amount of available land.

In some parts of the country, farming on previously forested steep terrain has resulted in massive soil erosion, leading to siltation of water bodies. The 2000/2001 State of Environment Report names areas of Kabale, Kisoro and Mbale as most affected by soil erosion due to increased population pressure.

Our politicians must work hand-in-hand with the population experts to find ways of planning and managing our big population.

The Government should also increase expenditure on the health sector to address the high infant and maternal mortality and shortage of reproductive health commodities.

The quality of social services provided by the Government to citizens largely depends on availability of financial resources. However, efforts to mobilise resources and ensure a fair budgetary allocation is hampered by the highly growing population.