Population Growth: A Pressing Problem for Yemen [Archives:1998/29/Viewpoint]

July 20 1998

The Yemeni population today is among the poorest in the world. With a per capita income of less than US$ 1 per day, it is indeed a wretched lot. That is why socio-economic development is a priority.
A key issue in socio-economic development is the population growth rate. The reason is that the population growth rate eats away from the gross economic growth rate, and reduces the possibilities of savings, and subsequent investments. Let us take the example of Yemen. The gross economic growth rate at the moment is 5%, and the population growth rate is 3.7%. That leaves a net economic growth rate is only 1.3%.
But the problem of population growth rate is not just numbers, and how much it bites away from the growth of the economy. A rising number of people require a lot more investments in infrastructure, utilities, education, health, etc. It also puts a burden on the productive segment of society, especially if a large part of the population is too young to work. Let us take the example of Yemen, again. The population group under 18 years makes up more than 50% of the total.
There is another way of looking at this problem. How many persons does each bread-winner support. In the advanced societies, each working adult supports 1.5 persons. That means, more or less people keep what they earn and spend it on their needs. Once such needs are met, the rest goes to savings, and future investments. In Yemen, each working adult supports about six persons. That means, whatever a person earns, is spread to cover the needs of six persons. The end result is that there is no surplus for savings. In reality, the earnings are often not enough to meet the full needs.
In Muslim societies, there is the mistaken belief that family planning is against Islamic teachings. I have yet to see one evidence to support this allegation. To the contrary, I have seen a lot of evidence to the contrary. In fact, Iran, a strong and vehemently Muslim nation, is a showcase in effective family planning.
In our Yemeni culture, people used to have large families. The reason for that was a high death rate. By having eight or nine kids, the family ensures some will be spared by diseases, which often kill many children. But now better health services have reduced the risks of death.
In addition, the absence of any form of state-based social security and old age benefits, parents with several children stand a higher chance of being supported than parents with fewer offsprings. But now, there is a state-based coverage. Also many parents find that investments are a better source of income than their children.
One of the most important problems of family planning in Yemen is that the facilities required by potential users are not readily available. For example, pills for pregnancy control are not readily available in the capital city, Sanaa; let alone in the countryside.
This country needs a focussed and persistent effort in addressing this matter. To touch it once a year in a rather shy way will not help the situation.
Prof. Dr. Abdulaziz AL-SAQQAF
Editor-in-Chief and Publisher