This week Kenya started conducting a national census; its population is projected to be hitting 40 million, a 10 percent increase. However, high population growth rate is not unique to Kenya.
With a population of 10 million and an unchanging surface area of 26,338 sq kms, Rwanda is the most densely populated country in Africa. The question is not the population size but the rate at which it is growing.
Currently, Rwanda’s population growth rate at 2.782 percent is among the highest in Africa.
The Demographic Health Survey (DHS) indicates that the country has registered fertility rate reduction from 6.1 children per woman in 2005 to 5.5 children per woman in 2008.
Though this reduction is impressive, for a country like Rwanda, still in the early stages of demographic transition, this figure (5.5) is still high.
The combination of high fertility and pervasive poverty intensifies the latter by slowing economic growth and increasing the cost of health, education and other basic needs, lowering female productivity and reducing income and savings.
Falling fertility, on the other hand, can accelerate poverty reduction, especially when combined with supportive social and economic policies
If the population grows unchecked, we shall end up with a mass of poor people that become a burden to the government.
As a matter of fact overpopulation does not depend only on the size or density of the population, but on the ratio of population to available sustainable resources, and on the means of resource use and distribution used by that population.
If a given environment has a population of 10 individuals, but there is food or drinking water enough for only 9, then in a closed system where no trade is possible, that environment is overpopulated; if the population is 100 but there is enough food, shelter, and water for 200 for the indefinite future, then it is not overpopulated.
While the government’s Vision 2020 seeks to transform Rwanda into a middle-income country by the year 2020, the population increase is exerting pressure on socio-economic progress; including lowering living standards and increasing service demand.
While the country in the recent past has made tremendous progress particularly achieving double digit growth of the economy (11.2 percent) last year, unchecked population growth is threatening to undermine these achievements.
It is difficult to alleviate the country’s biting poverty levels with increasing population. As the population continues to growth, without a corresponding increase in resources, government’s efforts towards poverty reduction will be fruitless.
This calls for massive investment of both human capital and resources to curb the current trends in population growth, particularly investing in family planning.
For instance while most women today want two, three or four children – fewer than in generations in the past , access to modern family planning methods remains a big challenge.
Not only do women find it hard to access these family planning services but also the cost of accessing these services still relatively high, limiting their use.
Family planning is one of the wisest and most cost effective investments any country can make towards a better quality of life.
Limited access to contraception, on the other hand, constrains women’s opportunities to pull themselves and their families out of poverty.
The population will continue to increase for some time. It is extremely crucial to ensure that particularly women should not produce children by chance but by choice.
And they should neither produce them too early or too late nor should they be too many and too frequently.
The writer is a journalist, The New Times