Marking World Population Day amidst Covid-19

Today, Nigeria joins the international community to mark this year’s World Population Day. The Day is an annual event, observed on July 11 every year, which seeks to raise awareness of global population issues.

The event was established by the Governing Council of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in 1989. It was inspired by the public interest in Five Billion Day on July 11, 1987 – approximately the date on which the world’s population reached five billion people.

According to the most recent United Nations estimates, the human population of the world is expected to reach eight billion people in the spring of 2024. Population in the world is currently growing at a rate of around 1.14 per cent per year. The average population change is currently estimated at around 80 million per year.

Annual growth rate reached its peak in the late 1960s, when it was at 2% and above. However, the yearly growth rate is currently declining and it was estimated that it would become less than 1% by 2020 and less than 0.5% by 2050.

UN projections indicate that world population will nearly stabilise at just above 10 billion persons after 2062. By 2030, India’s population is expected to surpass China’s, to become the largest country in the world. Nigeria’s population is expected to surpass the United States’ population in 2045 to become the third most populous country in the world, starting to rival China by the end of the century, with almost one billion people in 2100.

Currently, Nigeria’s population is based on guesswork. It is widely estimated at between 180m and 200m. No one can accurately state how large we are now. The figures being bandied about are based on the 1991 headcount that stood at 140m, using an annual growth rate of 3.5 per cent. Then, then there is the political dimension where each region accuses the other of inflating figures for economic gains.

It is a huge shame that Nigeria, despite the resources available to it, cannot conduct a credible headcount in a 21st Century world. It is also a demographic disaster in the sense that a nation that cannot boast of an accurate census cannot plan well for its citizens. Nobody can say for sure the nation’s annual birth and death rates.

Furthermore, we make bold to say that achieving higher population, though an asset to a nation, is not enough. A nation that cannot cater for its population by providing the citizens with basic necessities of life such as food, shelter, healthcare, as well as education, employment and security will find its citizens a liability rather than an asset.

Although the theme for this year’s commemoration is not stated, population issues, according to experts, revolve around family planning, gender equality, child marriage, human rights, right to health, among others. It is highly speculated that the world population will soar because of the current Covid-19 pandemic. This is because about 47m women in low and middle income countries may not have access to modern contraceptives, leading to over seven million unwanted pregnancies.

Among the critical challenges posed by overpopulation and poor management of population are hunger, poverty, ignorance, disease, etc.

Most Nigerians see childbearing from religious or cultural point of view. They regard kids as gifts from God. As such, they procreate freely in the belief that God would provide for them. That fallacy has thrown up many kids that suffer neglect from childhood and end up as criminals, social misfits and nuisances to their communities in particular and the country in general. Gone are the days when huge numbers of kids were assets on the farm.

We recall the attempt made by the former military president, Gen. Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida, to stymie the high growth rate of the country’s population with a policy of four kids per family. The policy could not stand the test of time and had to be jettisoned ostensibly because it was pursued desultorily or it had no force of law.

Government at all levels has a responsibility to enlighten its citizens on the socio-economic implications of unplanned childbearing. Most families, especially those in the lower rungs of the social ladder, can hardly afford three square meals daily, pay school fees and meet other simple needs owing to the economic downturn. Family planning facilities should be provided in all our healthcare centres across the country, especially in the rural communities to encourage the people to embrace the practice for free or at affordable costs. Population is not all about the size but also quality. When population has no quality, it is no longer an asset but a burden.

Nigeria’s participation in the commemoration becomes meaningless if we continue to grope in the dark, unable to plan accurately year in and year out for our socio-economic wellbeing now and in future.

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