Beaven Dhliwayo Features Writer
The Zimbabwean Government and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) join the rest of the world today in commemorating World Population Day.
In celebration of the day, President Mnangagwa will officially open Tariro Clinic and Youth Centre in Hopley, Harare, at an event that will be graced by Vice President Kembo Mohadi, Health and Child Care Minister Obadiah Moyo,Youth, Sport, Arts and Recreation Minister Kirsty Coventry, UNFPA Country Representative Dr Esther Muia and International Labour Organisation (ILO) director Hopolang Phororo.
This year’s World Population Day calls for global attention to the unfinished business of the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development, where 179 governments recognised that people’s rights, choices and well-being are the path to sustainable development.
In line with this, the centre, therefore, seeks to support young people in Hopley to lead healthy and productive lives through reducing unintended pregnancies, early marriages, and unmet need for family planning, incidences of HIV, cervical cancer, school dropouts, while creating employment opportunities.
The day, which seeks to focus attention on the urgency and importance of population issues, was established by the then Governing Council of the United Nations Development Programme in 1989, an outgrowth of the interest generated by the Day of Five Billion observed on July 11, 1987.
UNFPA has linked the commemorations to the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) 25th anniversary as preparation for the November 2019 ICPD Summit.
Government will utilise this opportunity to renew its commitment to the ICPD agenda at the highest level.
The main aim behind having a World Population Day is to focus attention on the consequence of population issues and how it affects overall development plans and programmes.
The greatest threat that growing population causes is quick depletion of natural resources and the threat that it poses to sustainability.
However, apart from this threat, the day should also be looked at as an opportunity to celebrate the spirit of brotherhood.
Tobaiwa Mudede, the then Registrar-General, continuously urged Zimbabweans to stop using contraceptives religiously, saying the contraceptives were a ploy by powerful nations to retard population growth in Africa, thereby weakening nations.
Mudede argued that countries like Nigeria with a population of more than 130 million have vibrant economies, while countries like Zimbabwe, which are preoccupied with contraceptives, have subdued economies.
He questioned how society could thrive when it was limiting its growth.
In Zimbabwe, the Doma people of Kanyemba, the San of Plumtree and various apostolic sects, particularly Johanne Marange, do not use contraceptives.
However, in this generation, bearing a child each year is viewed as a bad practice, with a sustained campaign being run to ridicule those who believe in the practice.
According to the 2012 Zimbabwe Population Census, the population growth rate stood at 1,1 percent for the last 10 years, while the average size of a household was at 4,2.
The population growth rate was also 1,1 percent in the 2002 census.
On a similar note, Tanzanian President John Joseph Magufuli pulled off an intriguing feat last year when he told a public rally not to listen to advice from foreigners on contraception because it had “sinister motives”.
For good measure, he accused women who use birth control methods of being “lazy” as it was their duty to have large numbers of children.
Today there are about 7,7 billion men, women and children on Earth, a staggering figure given that a century ago global population was at 1,9 billion.
Although populations have stabilised in many regions, particularly in Europe and North America, figures released by the UN this month show that global numbers are now growing at an alarming rate of about 100 million every 14 months.
By 2050, the Earth’s population will have hit 9,7 billion and it will continue to rise, reaching a figure of about 10,9 billion by 2100.
“These are the kind of population numbers we associate with simple organisms swimming in a pond, not those of a big-brained omnivore that requires 3 000 calories a day to survive. If there are 10 billion of us, every forest, valley and piece of land will have to be turned to agriculture to feed us,” writes palaeontologist Peter Ward in his book “The End of Evolution” (1994).
“Our planet cannot withstand such numbers.”
Crucially, the vast majority of the extra three billion human beings that could be added to the Earth’s population will be born in Africa.
Today there are about 1,2 billion Africans and experts say by 2100, there will be more than four billion.
Our growing population crisis, therefore, needs to be tackled as a priority by boosting women’s rights, making contraception easily available and improving education for all initiatives.
President Magufuli’s remarks suggest that this is going to be a very hard task.
Nor have the actions of United States President Donald Trump’s White House helped.
By slashing funds to international birth control programmes, the US is now undermining hopes of limiting Africa’s population growth.
Proponents of population control note that many countries in Africa are likely to become grimly inhospitable when global heating takes its grip on Earth.
According to studies, millions may be driven from their homes as heatwaves, famines and droughts sweep their lands; hence, the demonstrations — to be staged today by groups such as Britain’s Population Matters and others — in capitals around the world.
This will be the 30th anniversary of the annual event set up by the United Nations in 1989 — when there were a mere five billion people on Earth — to focus attention on the urgency of our impending population crisis.
Hence, there is need for family planning going forward to limit having so many children in a world with an uncertain future due to climate change.
On the other hand, family planning should not be prescribed on the basis of race, sex, language, religion, national origin, age, economic status, place of residence, disability status, marital status, sexual orientation or gender identity.
Government must ensure that family planning commodities and services are available and accessible to everyone.
Contraceptive measures and information must be conveyed in a dignified manner, respecting both modern medical ethics and culture.
Every person must be empowered to make reproductive choices with full autonomy, free of pressure, coercion or misrepresentation.
All individuals must enjoy the right to privacy when seeking family planning information and services.
Zimbabwe should ensure the active participation of individuals in decisions that affect them, including health issues.
Additionally, everyone, including leaders and policymakers, must be accountable to the people they serve in all efforts to realise the human right to family planning.