Wednesday, December 26, 2007

How much love is too much: Overpopulation in Niger

In terms of human population, the first one billion is the hardest to attain. In fact, it took from those halcyon days in the Garden of Eden up to the year 1810 AD – all of human history until that point – for human population to reach one billion people. By 1930 AD, the planet’s population doubled. Some 45 years later – 1975 – it doubled again, allowing four billion people to refer to the earth as home. Today, roughly 6.7 billion people can say that.

On a global scale, there are many reasons for the burgeoning population. Public health has improved over time, so fewer babies (on average) are dying and less elderly people are passing away in later ages. Food production has also increased, allowing countries to sustain larger populations.

Niger, however, appears to be a special case. Most astonishing is that on average, Nigerien mothers bear 7.37 children, the second-most prolific rate in the world. The country does suffer from one of the world’s highest infant mortality rates, but this has been steadily dropping for the past decade. On the other hand, Niger possesses one of the lowest life expectancy rates, especially troubling for a country with a relatively low HIV/AIDS prevalence rate. (Other infectious diseases appear to be the problem.)

Using World Bank and United Nations funding, the government of Niger would like to sensitize people on the problems caused by mushrooming population. According to Agence France Presse, their steps would be to:

…A demographer and economist from the population ministry, Bassirou Garba, explained that the government's plan is to bring the number of children per woman down to five by 2015.Bring the number of children per woman down to five by 2015.

It intends to achieve this by promoting family planning and aims to have 11 percent of women using some form of contraception by 2015.

One major obstacle to the promotion of family planning is that 59 percent of all marriages in Niger involve girls under the age of 15, Garba said.

Another of the government's aims is to bring this percentage down to 11.

Together these measures should enable the government to get demographic growth down to 2.2 per cent annually, according to official projections.

To succeed, the government will have to overcome serious resistance from Islamic clerics opposed to contraception and from traditionalists who favour early mariage, UN sources say.