Population crisis looming [Archives:2004/767/Front Page]

August 26 2004

By Peter Willems
Yemen Times Staff

A report was released earlier this month that predicts a surprising change in population growth around the world in the next half century.
Population Reference Bureau (PRB), a private organization based in the United States, reported that the population in developed countries will rise by only 4% to reach 1.2 billion between 2004 and 2050, while the population in developing countries will jump 55% to more than eight billion.
“Nearly 99% of all population increase takes place in poor countries, while population size is static or declining in the developed world,” said the report.
The report gave a startling forecast on the future of Yemen. The country's population will increase by 255% in 2050, which will be one of the highest growth rates in the world. This year, the country's population is estimated at around 20 million, but according to PRB, Yemen will hold over 71 million people fifty years from now.
“The population growth rate in Yemen is a big problem,” said Abdullah Al-Faqih, Professor of Political Science at Sana'a University. “This is a problem that the government, society and individuals have to deal with. Otherwise, population growth will get out of hand.”
One problem Yemen has to face is that its economy is not keeping up with the rise in population. The growth in population hovers at around 4% per year. According to The World Bank, Yemen's GDP increased 3.9% in 2003 and is expected to grow by 3.5% this year. Forty-two percent of Yemenis live below the poverty line, while a further 25% are only just above it. Although there are different estimates, many believe that as many as 40% of the Yemenis are out of work.
The young generation could be hit the hardest. Over 50% of Yemeni people are under the age of 15. With employment opportunities looking bleak in the future, they will face a difficult time finding jobs to get by.
“My dream is to move to Europe or North America to get a good job and build a family,” said a Yemeni student. “There are very few good jobs here so why should I stay?”
Yemen will also have to figure out how to provide water for its fast growing population. Naji Abu Hatim, Senior Rural Development Specialist at The World Bank based in Yemen, said that Yemen is extracting around three billion cubic meters of water annually, but water resources are replenished by only two billion cubic meters each year.
Water availability in the Sana'a area is nearing crisis point. “It is estimated that the Sana'a water basin will be completely dry in three or four decades,” said Abu Hatim.
The World Bank believes that one of the best ways to slow down population growth is to get more Yemeni girls in school.
“The World Bank has done research around the world. It has been proven over and over again that with more girls getting a full education, the population growth rate goes down,” said Robert Hindle, Country Manager at The World Bank in Yemen. “The highest return is that the financial worth of having a girl educated, in terms of reducing childbearing and increasing family income over time is the best thing you can do. This is true around the world. If you could do only one thing in a poor developing country it would be to get every girl through secondary school and in a reasonable quality high school.”
According to a recent report from the US State Department, 67.5% of women in Yemen were illiterate in 2002. The World Bank has calculated that only 39% of school-age girls are enrolled in primary school to get a basic education.
The World Bank, Ministry of Education and aid organizations have been working on increasing the enrollment of girls in Yemen in the last few years. Early this summer, the Minister of Education Abdusalam Al-Joufi said that over six hundred new schools for basic education had been opened across the country in the first five months of 2004, focusing heavily on providing classrooms for girls.
Some believe that along with encouraging girls to get a full education, social awareness programs need to be included in the curriculum.
” A wider social awareness on measures for controlling population is a must,” said Al-Faqih. “People need to learn about the consequences of so many children entering this world as they will have to face enormous problems in the future.”
Some have another worry about the population explosion coupled with economic problems in Yemen. “Poverty breeds terrorism,” warned Hindle. “It's important for the Yemeni government to tackle the poverty issue.”
Since the terrorist attacks in the United States on September 11, 2001, Yemeni security forces have rounded up hundreds of suspects, including key Al-Qaeda members. Currently on trial are six suspects allegedly involved in the bombing of the USS Cole at the port of Aden in 2000 and 15 others believed to have taken part in the attack on the French tanker Limburg in 2002.
But for over two months, Yemeni forces have been fighting a rebel group that armed itself in the north of Yemen. Many believe that if there isn't a comprehensive effort to slow down population growth, strengthen the economy, create more jobs and reduce poverty, it will become easier for rebel groups to recruit followers.
A Yemeni analyst said that if the country does not act soon to deal with the population explosion and its economy, “Yemen will undergo periods of instability, conflict and lawlessness. It will be a breeding ground for extremism and terrorism.”