Expanding too quickly?
Rapid population growth is one of the biggest challenges facing Yemen today, experts say. Numerous studies conducted by international organizations and government institutions outline the negative consequences the nation’s swelling population has on public health, the economy and the environment.
Last week the National Population Council in Sana’a in cooperation with the United Nations Population Fund held a meeting entitled, “Population Programs …the Reality and Future Challenges,” in order to highlight current growth trends in Yemen and ways to cope with it.
Indicators reveal that Yemen’s population will continue to grow given that more than 50 percent of Yemeni society is under the age of 18, according to statistics from UNICEF from 2011. The population is expected to nearly double by 2050, according to a survey conducted by the United Nations in 2012.
At the conference, the secretary general of the National Population Council, Dr. Ahmed Burji, warned about the negative impacts of continued rapid population growth in the coming decades. He said Yemen’s current trends of internal migration and external immigration—from countries like Somalia and Ethiopia—contributes to the uncontrolled growth of urban centers.
According to the National Population Council’s report, Yemen is now paying more attention to addressing population-related issues than it did in the 1990s. In 1991, the government adopted a national population strategy to address its expanding population. The introduction of family planning programs, as part of the strategy, has made a small dent in the population growth rate.
The first census in Yemen was conducted in 1994, after the North and the South unified as one country. According to estimates made since then, Yemeni population indicators have witnessed tangible decreases in terms of population size and growth, birth rate and mortality rate.
However, many of the efforts that were addressing population growth were suspended when the 2011 anti-government uprising broke out. The tumultuous events of the year-long protests largely put a halt to many of these programs as both international and national funding for them shrank.
But some say there is room for praise.
“The population growth rate has declined from 3.7 percent in 1994 to 3.1 in 2004 [when the last official consensus was conducted in Yemen]. Currently it is estimated at 2.9 percent,” said Ahmed Shuja Al-Deen, a professor in the Population Studies Center in Sana’a University, who also presented a working paper during the population conference.
But Shuja Al-Deen was quick to point out that “Although there has been a decrease [in the growth rate], [Yemen’s] rate remains one the highest growth rates in the world as demonstrated by 2012 United Nations figures.”
This is troublesome for many. Hesham Sharf, the minister of higher education and scientific research, expressed concern about the population situation in Yemen.
“In the coming 10 years, the government will not be able to meet the population’s needs for education, health and services unless a practical strategy is adopted,” he said.
Dr. Ahmed Al-Ansi, the minister of public health and population, echoed Sharf’s sentiments, saying population growth needs to be a government priority.
“It is absolutely necessary to revisit the national population policy in a way that takes the recent developments and changes in the country into account,” said Al-Ansi. “The role of the civil society and the private sector in terms of development and population growth should be reconsidered.”
While many working groups at the now concluded National Dialogue Conference (NDC), which was designed to address Yemen’s most pressing issues, discussed population growth, it received very little attention and did not make it into any of the groups’ final reports that included recommendations of how to tackle challenges.
“This hints that the focus of government in the coming phase will not be on comprehensive development,” said Mujahid Ahmed, the media manager for the National Population Council.
According to Ahmed, the government will soon reveal a special two-year action plan that will recommence activities that support a national population policy.
“This plan will include health and population-related programs—such as family planning,” he said.
He added that awareness of population and reproductive issues should continue to be raised, stressing the importance of establishing population-related strategies that are aligned with the country’s new administrative divisions that are expected to be implemented after Yemen’s yet-to-be drafted constitution is put up for a referendum.