KAMPALA – On 15 November 2022, the global population reached a new milestone of 8 billion. It’s projected to increase for the next 40 years, but at a slow pace globally. Thus, it took about 12 years (from 2010 to 2022) for the global population to grow from 7 to 8 billion, but it will take approximately 14.5 years (in 2037) for the population to reach 9 billion. While the 8 billion mark could be seen as an occasion to celebrate our diversity and advancements in health that have extended lifespans and dramatically reduced maternal and child mortality, the continued growing population presents very serious challenges, especially to Africa. Besides Asia with half of the people that contributed to the “8th billion”, Africa makes the second largest contribution (almost 400 million). In fact over the next three decades five of the eight countries responsible for more than half of the increase in global population will be in Africa: the United Republic of Tanzania, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Egypt, Ethiopia, and Nigeria. According to UN projections, sub-Saharan Africa’s population will nearly double to more than 2 billion by mid-century.
Uganda’s and Tanzania’s 2022 fertility rate is an estimated 4.55 and 4.66 births for each woman respectively, twice the current global average of 2.3. According to the U.N., the population in sub-Saharan Africa is growing at 2.5% per year — more than three times the global average. By 2070, it will become the most populous place globally, surpassing Asia. Besides, Africa has the youngest population in the world, which experts suggest could worsen poverty for the continent, depending on how countries leverage this age group for economic growth. While this can be attributed to people living longer, family size remains the driving factor. Other factors include; high fertility rates due to a young population, increased illiteracy rates which predispose women to greater possibilities of early childbearing, and a low unmet need for family planning.
This has already been witnessed in the different regions of Uganda; a case in point is in Ssi Bukunja, Buikwe District in central Uganda where a baseline survey was conducted by Regenerate Africa in collaboration with GAIA. Results indicated that the fertility rate of women living in Ssi sub-county was 7.5 children per woman of reproductive age and the literacy rates were 25% with most children dropping out of school before puberty for lack of basic resources or early marriages and teen pregnancies. It further indicated that almost 56% of the district’s natural resources were degraded to the extent that even natives living by the Lake Victoria basin were no longer able to sustain their livelihoods through fishing and other farming practices. The study also noted important cultural reasons for large families where children are seen as a blessing and as a source of support for their elders and parents.
As we reflect on the fantastic progress that has made the 8 billion population size possible, we need to be cognizant of the serious implications to the environment, sustainable development, and humanity’s future on this planet, especially in Africa. Population growth is a key driver of biodiversity loss, and ecosystem collapse, but also poses a huge threat to food and water security, public health, and resilience to climate change impacts. We are consuming more resources than our planet can regenerate, with devastating consequences, yet our future health depends on the health of the planet. In Uganda, a report by the National Population Council indicated that population growth was outstripping the growth in vital services, including health care, education, housing, and employment. The burgeoning population of young people, reported at 77% of Uganda’s population, with no clear employment opportunities raises fear due to the possible increased country’s vulnerability to civil unrest and natural resource degradation (NPC, 2021). Unless young people are targeted and empowered through active involvement in meaningful green jobs along various value chains such as in agriculture, environment, natural resources, and Information and Technology, achieving the demographic dividend will remain unattainable.
Research by Project Drawdown found that slowing population growth by removing barriers to family planning and education represents the third most powerful available climate solution to limit warming to 2°C, after reducing food waste and switching to plant-rich diets. Limiting climate warming to 1.5 or 2°C as laid out in the Paris Agreement will become even harder with more consumers striving towards a comfortable life and requiring the conversion of more natural carbon sinks to cropland, livestock farms, and urban infrastructure. Disasters such as floods, storms, droughts, and landslides are increasing in severity and frequency. Destroying more and more lives and livelihoods, without ambitious action to limit emissions and population growth. We are collectively using resources 1.8 times faster than they can regenerate, meaning we would need two planets to sustain the demands of our current population without destroying nature.
Therefore, the day of 8 billion should serve as a call to action, governments, international bodies, and societies can no longer ignore our population’s role in adding to the climate, wildlife, and ecosystem collapses confronting us. There is an urgent need to heavily invest more in policies and programs that reduce barriers to family planning services, help girls stay in school longer and reach higher levels of educational attainment, and uphold women’s autonomy and rights. Without drawing the links between population growth and environmental and development crises, it is unfortunately hard to increase the adoption of policies aimed at empowering women and improving access to family planning and education. We need to move beyond silos and adopt integrated cross-sectoral policy and practice initiatives targeted at addressing both population growth and consumption habits, environment from the individual to sub-national to national and international levels while advancing reproductive rights and integrating it in countries’ climate actions and budgets.
In conclusion, all the relevant sectors, both Government and Non-Government, must work and leverage synergies to plan together through the shared competencies of each actor to deliver on the shared vision and goals. Regenerate Africa and Partners (i.e. Expanding Health Quality and Access (EXPANDNET) and Preston Werner Ventures (PWV) will pursue structured engagements with duty-bearers to implement responsive policy and practice strategies for coexistence of people and environment through sustainable regenerative pathways.
Nakalanda Maria, Program Officer, Gender, Health & Environment at Regenerate Africa
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