The UN's solution? Women in Niger should have fewer babies.
Valerie Amos, the United Nations' top aid official who visited Niger last week, said current population growth was far outstripping rising food production.Because, to quote the article, “[a]cross Africa, high population growth rates are undermining efforts to improve living standards and cut poverty rates.”
"There are recurrent food crises, but there is also a very high growth in population, which could go from 15 million today to about 50 million in 2050," Amos said at the weekend.
"I don't think Niger's agricultural production, which is already vulnerable to climate change, can sustain this and so we need, amongst other things, better family planning policies."
First off, let's get one thing straight, just in case anyone reading this subscribes to the bizarre idea that the reason for all the world's problems is that there are too many people in Africa: African countries tend to have low population density figures. Population density in Niger is roughly 12 people per square km. For comparison, South Africa has an equivalent figure of roughly 40, which is still low compared to Ethiopia's 71 , Haiti's 361 or Bangladesh at 1126 per km² (potentially dodgy figures from Wikipedia but ratios are right).
Even if one assumes that a growing population is a problem, perhaps the UN would do well to take a minute to consider why women in Niger have lots of children. Apart from cultural and religious reasons, perhaps - just maybe - these figures have something to do with it:
- 160 out of every 1000 children, on average, will die by the age of 5 (under-5 mortality rate)
- Infant mortality is 76 per 1000 live births
- Only 46% of women receive prenatal care
- 156 births per 1000 are to women between the ages of 15 and 19
- Maternal mortality is 820 per 100 000 live births (in Australia it is 8)
- (All stats World DataBank)
And here is another suggestion: if the problem is food insecurity (which it is) perhaps greater investment in livelihoods would make it possible for the people of Niger to keep having families and retain the dignity that goes with making this choice for themselves instead of being told what to do by the UN. For example, greater investment in protecting livestock in times of drought and famine could greatly improve self-sufficiency or, at the very least, reduce vulnerability.
Niger is an extremely poor country that suffers from recurrent famine. It is a country with few human comforts and ranks 182 on the HDI, making it officially (according to this measure at least) the worst place on earth to live. It is a huge drain on international and UN resources and a blight on MDG 1 progress. It is also a country full of people who deserve respect and dignity and the UN doesn't get to shirk the responsibility of assisting Niger by simply saying that Nigeriens need to stop having babies.