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Ethiopia's rapid population growth: A threat or an opportunity?

Avatar: Nigist Berta
Nigist Berta August 11, 2021
City: Addis AbabaAnalysis
Ethiopia's rapid population growth:  A threat or an opportunity?

Over the last two decades, Ethiopia has seen rapid population growth, becoming the second populous nation in Africa. A research paper published in 2019 by the United Nations, projected that Ethiopia’s population may reach 200 million by 2050, almost double the current figure.

An old belief in the societies which depicts children as wealth, coupled with low birth control practices has contributed to the rapid population growth in Ethiopia, according to different scholars in the area.

Given the trends of high unemployment rates in both urban and rural areas, some argue that high population growth in low-income countries could affect a country's economy. If a country hosts a disproportionate population in terms of wealth and capacity, it will be a burden to the total poverty, according to the experts.

A recent study by the Ethiopian Academy of Sciences, published on its website, dubbed"Ethiopian Demographic Heritage" states that demographics are the results of rapid economic growth in a country's population structure. 

"Ethiopia is a country with a high birth rate and high mortality rate since the late 1970s," reads the study. At that time, where the population was recorded at 43.5 million, the average number of children a woman gave birth to was 7. Out of every 1,000 babies born, 213 died before the age of five. 

Ahmed Mohammed, the coordinator of population and livelihood management programs at PHE Ethiopia Consortium, fears that this rapid growth in the population could lead to migration.

“Rural children are now adults, but they have no land. So they have the option of either migrating to urban areas or abroad via sea. There is no work opportunity for them.”

“Population is also a challenge for the infrastructure of the past. Instead, due to migration to urban areas, for example, the supply of clean drinking water has at various times been associated with this, where the problem of water supply is due to the large population and the unpredictability of the population,” he said.

In his recent book titled "Medemer", Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed explored this issue under one of the sub-chapters. 

"As the number of young people increases, the economic and social opportunities of our country, especially the natural resources, are declining. Young people who have lost their arable land due to overcrowding are migrating to the cities,” the Prime Minister said in his book.

“This can only be solved if there is a reliable industry and rapid industrial development that will increase the skills of the workers. Population growth is the engine of growth as long as it is in line with economic growth. But if we don't live up to our expectations, economic growth will be a drag,” he explained.

Debrework Zewde (Dr.), who did research titled "Commission on Population and Development", believes that increasing productivity can be used to change the population as a whole. 

She mentioned that she was concerned about the situation in Ethiopia. "We haven’t been able to provide many services for the current population. Electricity, water, health, school, and internet access are low,” she said. “It’s  important to think about this in advance so that population growth doesn’t become a threat.” 

Ayenew Ejigu, a statistician who conducted a survey titled 'Rural Development & Hope in Rural Ethiopia', linked this issue to the high cost of living. He argues that rural areas should be given as much attention as urban areas 

“In order to make a difference and accommodate a large number of people. Agricultural activities can also reduce the cost of living,” he said.

Ahmed Mohammed agrees with Ayenew’s idea. He argues that there is a need to bridge the gap between urban and rural areas. Not only that, but the expansion of the agricultural-led industry has been praised by the government, but it has changed the lives of farmers.

“The number of children a mother gives birth to varies from two to three in rural and urban areas. When a mother gives birth to five children in the countryside, another woman gives birth to two in cities, ” he said. 

The report from the Academy of Sciences also stated that the number of children a woman in rural areas give birth to is three times greater than that of her urban counterpart.”

“Looking back on previous years, the national people's policy has been in place for more than 25 years and that it has not followed up on its implementation and has not listened to the voices of experts,” said Ahmed. He also mentioned that most of the problems are caused by the lack of proper implementation of the policy.

Given the situation in Ethiopia with regards to the opportunities and threats it may pose, experts suggest the growth should be slowed down. 

"We can't stop the growth,” he said. "Let alone stopping the increase, trying to slow it down to some degree is like attempting to stop a fast-moving vehicle with a brake.”

Abebaw Eshete, the director of population development at the National Planning & Development Commission, says that it has been more than 25 years since the policy was issued.

“Now things have been changed and a recently conducted survey recommended that the policy should be revised,” he said.

Despite the success of the policy, there are a number of factors that need to be reviewed. For example, the policy does not limit the number of children. However, indirectly, efforts are being made to educate women and make contraceptive methods more accessible to them. However, given the high number of young people, it is unlikely that the birth rate will decrease in the short term,” he said.

Mohammed Kedir, for his part, said there is a problem with monitoring and implementation regarding policy. 

“In fact, we don’t need the policy to do this. Instead,  it’s possible to make a difference by expanding the city and accessing education, educating women, and changing public perceptions. We mustn’t use a policy that may violate their human rights. The main thing shall be expanding education," he added.

The usage of modern contraceptives has increased from 35%in 2016 to 41% in 2019, according to recent health and a demographic survey released by the Ministry of Health. It is estimated that more than seven million married women are using modern contraception. As a result, more than 2.7 million unintended pregnancies, more than 600,000 unsafe abortions, and more than 7,000 maternal deaths were avoided.

Religions are also blamed for playing a major role in Ethiopia’s high birth rate.  Almost all religious teachings preached in the country are against birth control practice. 

According to some statistics, 35% or one-third of married women in Ethiopia want to extend their next childbirth by at least two years after giving birth to their first child. About 24%of married women do not want to have more children. Fifty-eight percent of them want to use family planning, according to a report released by the Central Statistical Agency.

According to Mohammed, rural women in their early 20s do not get a good education. For this, only one out of every five women completes eighth grade, and one out of ten girls completes tenth grade. This data shows that many women are still uneducated, according to him. 

Dr. Debrework added for his part that it is a great asset to educate the people. “Now is the time to start working and teaching. If a citizen is educated, he/she will not be worried because they will grow up, but if not it will be a threat to the community or to a productive society which makes our country continue as it is now. ”

In contrast, Ayenew argues saying “the rapid population growth is a problematic growth, but if it is possible to grow with the rural areas, there will be no threat. Whereas, while focusing only on the cities, the countryside will be forgotten. And let's be careful not to get there. We are on the brink now. We can all achieve what we can. If not, we will go to the bottom of it. ”

Regarding the solution, Mohammad Ahmed looked at it economically. "A penny accumulated in every family changes the country. And that's where the investment comes in.” 

He also noted that the benefits of job creation are immense. "Growth should not be based on what is available abroad. There must be savings, especially the domestic savings," he said. 

Regarding the solution, Abiy stated, “according to the 1999 census, the youth workforce was 28%. In addition, 61%of young people over the age of 30 are covered. This indicates that Ethiopia's total productive population is growing rapidly, and it’s important to develop an economic strategy to take advantage of this."

“Annual agricultural production must be greatly increased to feed the growing population. There must also be balanced growth in employment opportunities. And job opportunities need priority, " Abiy argued in his book.

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A PIECE BYNigist Berta

Nigist is working as a reporter and content creator at Addis Zeybe to explore her passion for storytelling. She has Bsc. in medical laboratories & BA in media and Communications.