Saleh says, “We are not beasts, but human beings.”Population bomb [Archives:2004/800/Front Page]

December 20 2004

By Peter Willems
Yemen Times Staff

Last week President Ali Abdullah Saleh offered support for action needed to be taken to help bring the population explosion in Yemen under control.
“A father of two will definitely be able to feed, cloth and educate his kids than another with so many children going astray in the streets,” said Saleh at Al-Shawkani Hall last Thursday during the inauguration of Census Night, the beginning of the largest census program being carried out in Yemen.
“We are not beasts but human beings. Determine the number of your children and educate your children. Scholars and preachers have to raise awareness of the public in this direction.”
The president argued against conservatives that are against family planning as “some extremists who insist on labeling family planning as a taboo” because of their skepticism of birth control.
Saleh also warned that the population boom runs parallel to Yemen nearing a water crisis.
“The underground water that has been accumulating for hundreds and even thousands of years is now depleting,” said Saleh. “The basins of Sana'a, Saada and other regions have seemed to run out of water due to the extravagant consumption over the past thirty years.”
Population Reference Bureau (PRB), a private organization based in the United States, reported last August that Yemen's population growth rate is one of the largest in the world. It calculates that in 2050 the country's population will have increased by 255%, bringing the number of Yemenis from 20 million up to 71 million.
“It is a good sign that President Saleh emphasized awareness of the dangers of population growth,” said Abdullah Al-Faqih, Professor of Political Science at Sana'a University. “But it is also important that the concern for population growth is turned into a policy with concrete action. The policy needs to be implemented to reduce the surge in population growth.”
The World Bank recommends that getting more girls to complete an education helps to slow down population growth. 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.
Some economists claim that a stronger economy curbs rapid population growth. According to Dawood Othman, Chairman of the Economics Department at Sana'a University, it has been proven that the more developed countries have a slower population growth rate, and the best solution for Yemen is to speed up economic reform and give a boost to economic growth.
The PRB report said that over the next 50 years, ninety-nine percent of the population increase will come from poor countries “while population size is static or declining in rich nations.” In developed countries, the number of citizens will increase only four percent which will reach 1.2 billion in 2050. In less developed countries, population will jump 55% with a total of eight billion people.
Economic growth in Yemen, however, has slowed down. The World Bank's most recent report showed that Yemen's gross domestic product growth rate has decreased from 4.1% in 2001 to an expected 2.5% in 2004, while population growth hovers around four percent.
Oil production, which takes up over 70% of the government's revenue and the country's exports, dropped nine percent in 2004 after leveling off in the last few years. Inflation has climbed dramatically in the last two years, reaching 12% in 2003 and up to around 13% this year.
There is also concern that with slow economic growth and a rapid population increase, poverty will spread. Forty-two percent of the Yemenis currently live below the poverty line, while roughly 25% are living just above poverty.
It is estimated that as many as 40% of the population is unemployed. With over 50% of the country's population under the age of 15, unemployment will rise further unless there is better economic growth.