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Uganda’s Population Outpaces Economic Growth

Experts say Uganda's growing population will lead to poverty, given the high rate of unemployment and costly demands for improved health, education and sanitation. Voice of America English to Africa Service reporter Peterson Ssendi in Kampala files this report on the population crisis.

According to the Parliamentarians' Forum, Uganda's population is expected to double in the next 21 years to over 50 million residents. Experts offer a variety of reasons. a typical Ugandan wife delivers seven children on average and Uganda adds over two million people each year to the population.

Some women say they fear their young children will die, leaving a couple with less help with farming, or for taking care of them in old age. Others say young women who drop out of school are likely to bear children sooner than those who are educated.

Professor Ogenga Latigo is the leader of the opposition in Uganda's parliament and the parliamentary representative for Agago county of the northern district of Pader. He says, "If you go to the North you will see 'child mothers' -- people who get married at 12 or 13 years and they have children and the children have children. So, [that adds to] population growth in Acholi despite of the [rebellion there]."

Chris Baryomunsi, the chairman of the Parliamentary Committee on Food Security, Population and Development warns that if Uganda's population is not controlled, Ugandans would be surviving on imported food stuffs. However, President Yoweri Museveni recently told parliament that Uganda is still under-populated and needs a bigger internal market to boost the economy.

Hannington Burunde agrees. He is the head of Information and Communication for the Population Secretariat in the Ministry of Finance, Planning and Economic Development, "We are not really against population growth. What we are trying to address … is to make sure that as the population grows, they have enough social services, and they are provided employment or engaged in activities that can really develop this country."

But family planning experts say improved social services like health care are not likely unless the population is controlled. Dr. Peter Ibende is National Program Manager in Reproductive Health – Uganda, an organization that works to educate Ugandans on family planning:

"In Uganda today, we have one doctor for every 25,000 [Ugandans]. If one person has ten children, you will find that that person will have to support 12 people [including he and his wife]. This, [often with only] the meager income of an average Ugandan, which is less than one dollar a day. So family planning should be used to help society manage its numbers."

Development experts are also asking for improved efforts aimed at keeping girls in school which many say could lower the number of young women having children.

They urge the international community to begin dealing now with the consequences of the likely population explosion – rather than later.