Media must educate society about population problems, say experts [Archives:2008/1148/Health]

April 21 2008

Talal Al-Khawlani
For the Yemen Times

International and local organizations warn that Yemen's high fertility and birth rates will cause more social welfare problems – both immediately and in the future – as the nation's population is expected to triple to 60 million by 2050. These additional numbers mean that Yemen will need to find more water and other resources, better housing, schooling and thousands more jobs.

To keep the pressure on officials as well as educate Yemenis about the dangers of overpopulation, the media not only must cover the issue, but also become a type of social advocate, according to sources like Dr. Nasser Al-Absi of the United Nations Population Fund, known as the UNFPA.

Al-Absi explains that his organization is attempting to spread public awareness of population control using two main channels. “We have the mass media, which is communicating to the public [via] television and newspapers, and the other method is through ministries, such as the Health Ministry and the National Population Council.”

However, he points out that the media alone cannot be responsible for handling reproductive education, noting that, “The Education Ministry should take a role in educating both male and female students and at universities. Non-governmental organizations and even mosque preachers also should spread population awareness among citizens.”

He continued, “We should educate people about the importance of family planning and contraception and using modern methods to help achieve smaller family size.”

Although Al-Absi strongly encourages media outlets to promote reproductive and population awareness, he feels that the media's role isn't enough to fill the gap in public understanding.

National Population Council consultant Abdulmalik Al-Tohami says, “There's a balance that occurs when there's balanced population growth and this happens through the media educating people.”

He adds, “Yemen's population is growing and the consequences will be huge, affecting development as well as all other aspects.”

Due to overpopulation, within the next 25 years, Yemen will become impoverished in all aspects of life. For instance, there will be a higher prevalence of disease, while the availability of medical services will decrease at the same time.

“We all should support a media program that will cause the public to respond to family planning; otherwise, residents of Yemen will suffer from the resulting population problems,” Al-Tohami warns.

“I believe the media's role is to convince [Yemenis] to use alternative methods to reduce the average number of children [per household],” he says, adding that, “People still are ignorant about the damage to women who deliver babies annually.” According to UNFPA and National Population Council figures, Yemen's maternal mortality rate is 365 per 100,000 births, while infant mortality is 78 per 1,000 live births.

“We cover the population growth problem every four months,” notes Yemen Post Editor-in-Chief Hakim Al-Masmari. He says the newspaper seeks to show the Yemeni public the problems of rapid population growth, comparing Yemen to other world nations.

Specifically, Al-Masmari believes the media should focus on the potential problems of rapid population growth in rural areas, rather than in the cities. Additionally, he cited previous strategies to reduce the number of early marriages in Yemen; however, he points out that this plan hasn't worked properly.

Although the Yemen Post attempts to provide information on these issues, Al-Masmari believes there should be other venues for learning about reproductive health; for example, “Schools should take a role in tackling these problems caused by rapid population growth.”

Yemen's population increases 3.1 percent annually, thereby adding to the stresses of overpopulation. To lessen its population burden, Yemen must take advantage of every possible resource, whether through outreach via the media or a ministry-led public awareness overhaul.