Zambia Population: A challenge or an opportunity?

Zambia’s Population: A challenge or an opportunity?
Zambia’s Population: A challenge or an opportunity? Credits: chikowa-hbc.com
WITH a population of about 13 million people and against challenges such as the provision of social and economic opportunities for a decent livelihood, Zambia needs more than just lip service to ensure that the provision of social services is commensurate with the population growth.

Preliminary census results indicate that the population has grown from about 9.9 million in 2000, representing a growth rate of about 2.8 per cent per annum, between the year 2000 and 2010.

This growth has been enhanced by high fertility rates coupled with the declining mortality rates.

However, the government realises that development planning and implementation processes should aim at accommodating the increased demand for goods and services brought about by an increase in the size and growth rate of the population.

Development efforts should aim at influencing the population dynamics and their determinants so as to keep the size, composition, structure, distribution, and growth rates at optimal levels.

This therefore, emphasises the importance of integrating population matters into the country’s development programmes.

Currently the world population stands at about seven billion, which on one hand, can be viewed by a country like Zambia, as an opportunity for a wider human resource base, as a factor of production, as well as a large market for the country’s produce.

The United Nations Fund for Population Activities (UNFPA) has predicted that Zambia’s population is likely to triple by 2050, and reach about 100 million by the end of the century.

UNFPA country representative Duah Sarfo-Owusu explains that Zambia faces future challenges that are formidable, with expected pressures on land, energy, food and infrastructure.

“It is not just a question of the number of people and growth of the numbers, but rather a question of equity, human rights and social justice. The government must provide services such as education, health, infrastructure, etc, in order to provide opportunities for its people to achieve their aspirations,” he said.

Dr Sarfo-Owusu says the population policy deserves a much higher profile and impetus and more resources should be allocated for its implementation than is the case currently.

Investing in population and reproductive health and rights and programmes will assist Zambia expand her chances for socio-economic prosperity and improve the welfare of all communities and individuals.

During the recently held National Population forum in Livingstone, Ministry of Finance and National Planning principal planner Belinda Lumbala outlined the implications of the population on socio-economic development, vis-à-vis the provision of basic needs.

She explains that selected goals of the now sixth national development plan (SNDP) coincide with the Millennium Development Goals (MDG’s) and some of these show how population has been factored in the development plan.

According to analysis by the Ministry of Finance and national Planning, indications are that Zambia’s planning does not precisely meet the projected needs in 2015 of the population due to a number of factors.

“For example, the planning should be in tandem with the population characteristics (size, growth, age structure) to meet required service needs. It also requires accurate projections of population to be used in development plans,” she explains.

In the wake of the high HIV prevalence in Zambia, which currently stands 14.3 per cent, it is estimated that the population will reach around 15.2 million by 2015, with a fairly young population of approximately 45 per cent of these (6.9 million) below the age of 15 years, indicating a high dependency ratio.

It is envisaged that those aged 15-64 years will comprise 52 per cent of the population or approximately eight million people indicating a huge labour force.

“The population of women aged between 15-49 years will be about 7.1 million or 46 per cent indicating a high potential for high population growth rate and thus development interventions should address the needs of this population group. What do the numbers mean for sector planning and resource allocation and or investments? The SNDP has identified a number of targets which have to e attained by 2015,” she says.

For example, the proportion of males and females in rural areas with access to clean and safe drinking water as of 2011 stands at 53 per cent, but the target for 2015 is 75 per cent, while for urban areas, the current is 74 per cent, with a target of 80 per cent by 2015.

The proportion of urban population with access to adequate sanitation is 33 per cent, with a target of 60 per cent by 2015.

The proportion of households living within a radius of 0-5km of a health facility is currently 54 per cent, with the target for 2015 being 70 per cent.

The2007 Zambia Demographic and Health Survey (DHS) indicates that the country’s infant mortality rate is 70, while the desired target for 2015 at 65.

The child mortality rate stood at 52 per cent in 2007, with a target of 45 per cent by 2015.

The current under-five mortality rate per 1,000 live births is 119 as of 2011, while the target for 2015 is 63. Maternal mortality ratio (per 100,000) live births is at 519 as of 2007, while the target for 2015 is 159.

The selected SNDP indicators show that the net enrollment rate (NER) for grades 1-7 is currently 103.6 per cent, while the desired target is 100 per cent, the completion rate at grade 12 stands at 19.47 per cent, with the 2015 target being 38 per cent.

The water and sanitation target population with access to safe water supply for rural areas should increase from 53 per cent to 75 per cent, while in urban areas the increase should be from 74 to 80 per cent.

The rural target translates into about 3.1 million of the rural population by 2015 should be targeted, while for urban areas, the increase translates into 549,000 people over the period of five years.

For education, the SNDP strategic focus is to expand access to high school and tertiary education, and some of the observations that have been noted are that provinces with the highest number of basic schools have the lowest completion rates, with Northern province accounting for 1,441, and Eastern 1,138, which is the same as Southern province, compared to Lusaka with 978, and Copperbelt with 677 which have the fewest basic schools but have the highest number of secondary schools.

It was also established that most basic schools are located in rural areas, with 7,103 compared to urban areas 1,390. Community schools make up 33 per cent of the total number of schools, currently at 2,843, leaving 5,642 schools, with eight community schools being secondary.

For Southern province, the high number of secondary schools compensate for the high number of basic schools. In fact, the province has the second highest number of secondary schools, with 101 after Copperbelt with 129.

Now that policy has changed, what is the direction on high schools, and what will happen to the many young people who will not proceed to higher grades, whose figures indicate about 300,000 aged between 14 and 15 years?

Northern and Muchinga provinces on the other hand have higher populations, third after Copperbelt and Lusaka but the two put together are ranked seventh on the lowest number of secondary schools.

However, there is need for investment in improving the knowledge base which is essential for effective poverty reduction. Innovative interventions are needed at all levels of planning, and thus these factors should be taken into consideration when allocating resources.

For education, the target is to increase the completion rate from 19.47 per cent to 38 per cent by 2015, and this can be achieved by doubling the completion rate and requires doubling the number of high schools from the current 644 to 1,288.

The SNDP target is to have at least 106 new schools over the same period of time.

Planning for health service provision requires robust integration of population factors. For ratios of health planning, factors such as doctor-patient ratio and other health cadres, as well as health facility ratio are cardinal. The national budget for health services as a percentage of the total budget, according to the Abuja agreement is supposed to be 15 per cent.

Development efforts should ensure that the country taps into the population and put in place interventions that address the peculiar characteristics of the population needs thereof.

Many people consider rapid population growth in the third world to be a major obstacle to development, yet there are many ways in which population growth may be used as stimulus to progress and there are many rational reasons why families in developing countries choose to have many children.

Population and development are interrelated as population variables influence development and vice versa.

Population growth should be seen as an opportunity for development, however, if it is not well managed and integrated into development plans, it can be challenge.

Given the current population, as well as the population growth rates, it remains to be seen if a country like Zambia will be able to utilise its population as well as future projections well enough to ensure effective provision of basic needs and services, and for the overall socio-economic development.

Author: BY MIRIAM ZIMBA
Source: Times of Zambia

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