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DEVELOPMENT-KENYA: Rapid Population Growth Threatens Development

Susan Anyangu-Amu

NAIROBI, Mar 15 2010 (IPS) - Margaret Atieno, a 38-year-old mother of six, says she wanted to avoid her last pregnancy. But consistent stock-outs of contraceptive devices at her health care centre in rural Siaya, western Kenya, gave her no choice but to fall pregnant once again, albeit the fact that she did not want another child.

“My husband, who is polygamous and has two other wives, does not want any of his spouses using contraceptives. So a community health worker told me that if I had the intra-uterine contraceptive device (IUCD) inserted, my husband would never suspect anything. But when I visited the health centre on three occasions, I was told IUCDs were out of stock,” said Atieno.

On her fourth visit, IUCDs were finally in stock, there were no gloves – as a result, health workers could not insert the device. Atieno conceived before her next visit to the health centre.

Atieno says she did not want more children because her husband, who is a cobbler, already struggles to provide for the 13 children he has with his three wives. Living in a traditional, rural community, she is not privy to how much money her husband earns, and although they hardly manage to make ends meet, Atieno and the other wives are not allowed to work to contribute to the household income.

“My two eldest children, who are aged 17 and 15 years, would have been in secondary school, but they had to drop out due to lack of funds. It is a daily struggle finding money to feed and clothe my children, let alone send them to school,” she complained.

Social experts have recognized that lack of family planning is one of the key reasons for an increase in poverty throughout Kenya. A November 2009 report by United States Agency International Development (USAID) warns that Kenya will not be able to foster national development at the current rate of population growth.

If the country wants to achieve universal primary education, food security, primary healthcare for all and reduction in maternal and infant deaths, couples have to have smaller families, USAID researchers noted.

The country’s government has also taken notice of the tight link between poverty and population growth. Dr Boniface K’Oyugi, chief executive officer of the National Coordinating Agency for Population and Development (NCAPD), cautioned that Kenya’s rapid population growth of three percent per year, needed to be reduced by at least a third.

“In developed countries, people are having one or two children, but here, one woman is having five children and more. If we want to be as developed as other countries, we urgently need to reduce our population growth,” K’Oyugi said at a meeting at Nairobi’s Hilton hotel in February.

He called for improved health care provision that includes family planning services, to help couples to better manage their reproductive health and pregnancies.

“The decision of the number of children is a personal one. But smaller families will lead to benefits at the individual, household and national levels,” he explained.

K’Oyugi believes the Kenyan government can learn from Asian countries, such as Thailand, Malaysia, South Korea, Taiwan and Singapore, which managed to strengthen their economies by actively reducing population growth rates.

It is, however, important to note that population growth is only one of numerous factors hampering Kenya’s development. Through the national poverty reduction strategy 2003-2007, government made clear that good governance, primary education, gender equality and HIV prevention, as well as high levels of corruption are other major stumbling blocks to economic growth.

Still, the size of a country’s population dictates how much budget is available for services per capita.

According to the Central Bureau of Statistics, Kenya had 38 million people in 2008 – an increase of a third since 1999. USAID projections warn that if this growth rate persists, the number of Kenyans will increase to 82 million by 2040.

“More people means more pressure on the environment, as demands for food, land, clean water and energy resources escalate. With reduced resources, there is a real danger of civil strife arising as people squabble for the scarce resources,” K’Oyugi warned.

An increase in the number of people will also boost rural-urban migration, according to USAID. This will increase the pressure on urban facilities, in turn creating slums and poverty. Already, Kenya’s informal settlements are characterized by over-crowding, inadequate shelter, lack of clean drinking water and adequate sanitation, insecurity, exploitation and abuse.

The NCAPD is now pushing for family planning to take a central role in the government’s policy agenda to reduce poverty and transform the country into a middle-level income country with a high quality of life and secure environment, as the country’s Vision 2030 policy envisions.

“The aim is to rejuvenate the family planning campaign to the level where it was in the 1980s, during which time the fertility rate dropped from 6.7 children per woman in 1989 to 5.4 in 1993 and 4.7 in 1998,” said NCAPD media liaison officer David Kinyua.

He promised that, in the next financial year starting in June, increased budgets will be allocated for family planning, but was unable to explain how much additional money will be spent and where.

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