At the 2005 World Summit, the international community reaffirmed its commitment to cut in half the number of people living in extreme poverty by 2015 and achieve the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), a series of time-bound and quantified targets to attack poverty’s root causes in a multi-dimensional way.
The scale of the challenges, and the benefits of success to individuals, communities and the family of nation, are enormous: Global population is expected to increase from about 7billion today to 9.3 billion by 2050, and the population of the 48 Least Developed Countries will more than double to reach 1.7 billion.
Almost all of the net increase in population is occurring in the urban areas developing countries, and in many of them, the number of people living in poverty is rising.
Moreover, the supportive development environment that prevailed in the early years of this decade is now threatened as the world faces a global economic slowdown and a food security crisis. At the same time, the effects of climate change are becoming more apparent.
Recent remarks by Tanzania Prime Minister Mizengo Pinda regarding rapid population growth and its impact on the living standards of Tanzanians come at a time when the country is struggling with poverty.
Tanzania is estimated to have a population growth rate of 2.9 per cent and Mr Pinda’s suggestion that we turn to family planning is a gloomy assessment of the country’s economic prospects.
Substantial evidence suggests that slower population growth and investments in reproductive health and HIV prevention (particularly among adolescents), education, women’s empowerment and gender equality reduce poverty.
Carrying out the Programme of Action adopted at the International Conference Population and Development (ICPD) in Cairo and reaching its goal of universal access to reproductive health information and services by 2015 is an essential condition for achieving the MDGs.
A central premise of the ICPD is that the size, growth, age structure and rural-urban distribution of a country’s population have a critical impact on its development prospects and on the living standards of the poor.
The ICPD realized that investing in people and empowering individual women and men with education, equal opportunities and the means to determine the number, timing and spacing of their children could create the conditions to allow the poor to break out of the poverty trap.
It is not always true that huge populations always have a negative impact on economic growth. Some of the major economic giants in the world such as the United States of America and China have huge populations, yet their poverty levels are relatively low compared to most countries.
Huge populations are only harmful to the economy if they are compounded by other factors, such as the level of productivity of the population, the level of education and government policy. Infrastructure and health facilities may also be an issue.
Countries such as Tanzania, where economic planning is relatively poor, are always in danger of experiencing the negative impact of a huge population. For starters, we have not invested enough resources in education, which is a major economic driver.
As a result of this failure, many people—especially those who live in rural areas—are not only unable to achieve optimum productivity but they are also ignorant of reproductive health issues.
Lower fertility and slower population growth temporarily increase the relative size of the workforce, opening an historic, one-time only demographic window.
With fewer dependent children and older dependents relative to a larger, healthier working-age population, countries can make additional investment that can spur economic growth and help reduce poverty.
Within another generation, the window closes again, as the population ages and dependency increases once more.
If jobs are generated for the working population, this demographic bonus results in higher productivity, savings and growth.
In East Asia where poverty has dropped dramatically, this demographic bonus is estimated to account for about one third of the regions unprecedented economic growth from 1965 to 1990.
In the poorest countries, where fertility remains high, the demographic window will not open for some time, but investments now in reproductive health services can hasten its arrival and ensure future dividends.
Family planning continues to face opposition in many societies on the basis of religious beliefs and the perception that it is harmful to the health of those who are subjected to it.
We need to strike a balance between population growth and productivity. This can only be achieved by positive policies on education, health and infrastructure development.