Yemen’s population: a milestone and a challenge
The United Nations Population Fund’s Sana’a office held a press conference on the occasion of the world’s population reaching seven billion. A Yemeni girl was officially recognized as the world’s seven billionth child, prompting a visit by the UNFPA to Al-Thawra Hospital to honor the child.
Yemen is one of the world’s least developed countries and is experiencing rapid population growth and high maternal mortality, with both occurring especially in rural areas.
From the start of this year, population control activities have faced many difficulties and challenges as a result of political instability and violence. Armed men recently plundered equipment, computers and documents at the National Population Control offices.
Despite growing unrest throughout the country, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and Ministry of Public Health and Population has made concerted efforts to continue holding population control activities in all of Yemen’s governorates.
“The biggest challenge that Yemen faces is the population issue,” said Dr. Jameela Al-Raebi, Yemen’s deputy minister of Public Health and Population.
“If we had dealt with the population issue seriously, we would have avoided the current problems and crises in Yemen,” said Al-Raebi. “All people should take responsibility for this issue. The population problem isn’t the responsibility of a particular official authority – it’s a responsibility for all people and all authorities.”
However, Al-Raebi did state that the fertility rate has declined in recent years. “There has been success in reducing Yemen’s high fertility rate, but such success is coming slowly.”
According to Al-Raebi, illiteracy among Yemeni women has contributed to the high fertility rate. “Yemeni women should be empowered to decide how many children they want to have.”
She added that the high fertility problem cannot be overcome without the availability of family-planning services.
Speaking about population trends in the country, Marc Vandenberghe, a UNFPA representative in Yemen, said, “Women in Yemen have an average of 5 to 6 children. In addition, the majority of Yemen’s population is young. If high fertility continues among this huge segment, population growth will continue unabated and the population of Yemen will double in the coming 17 years.”
Vandenberghe continued, “High population growth is a serious obstacle in the fight against poverty and malnutrition. It stresses existing resources, such as the provision of adequate and good quality health services for mothers and newborns, or education for children. Therefore, the high population growth will affect Yemen’s development process.”
“It is the responsibility of government authorities, the international community and civil society to provide information on reproductive health (RH) to couples as well as to afford them access to good quality RH and health services. This is especially true for young people. It is important that they have a greater awareness of reproductive health issues and rights,” he said.
Vandenberghe said that potential opportunities to constructively engage with youths include educating them and ensuring that they have more employment opportunities.
Stressing the importance of educating young girls, he said: “We have to make sure that young girls complete their education - at least primary school and preferably high school also.”
He explained, “Giving a girl the chance to complete her education will help her to avoid childbearing at an early age. Then the girl will be prepared for motherhood and will enjoy a healthy life along with her baby. Without a doubt, an education will also give her a chance to educate herself and her family about reproductive health.”
On a larger scale, according to a UNFPA press release, “half of the 200 million women worldwide with an unmet need for contraception are Asian. Access to reproductive health care, including family planning and services, is often limited in poor communities, and each year tens of thousands of women die as a consequence.”
As stated in the press release, efforts to place a focus on reproductive issues have ranged from exhibitions and concerts to television and billboard campaigns.
UNFPA executive director Babatunde Osotimehin has stated that “Instead of asking questions like, ‘Are we too many?’ we should instead be asking, ‘What can I do to make our world better?’ or ‘What can we do to transform our growing cities into forces for sustainability?”
“In many parts of the developing world, where population growth is outpacing economic growth, the need for reproductive health services, especially family planning, remains great,” he added.