The CHALLENGE of  RAPID Population Growth [Archives:1999/13/Reportage]

March 29 1999

Why Do We Have Large Families?

By: Mohammed Ali Al-Haj,
National Population Council.
The high rate of population growth is one of the major challenges confronting the Republic of Yemen today. The economic burden of a rapidly growing population is evident in every home and every family. One can see these days one tradition and custom have it that families should buy new clothes for their children on the occasion of the eid holidays. Given continued rise in the cost of living, families with a large number of children have been devastated.
But that is a simple example. The more ominous threat to society is that its limited income will be devoured by consumption and nothing will be left to save for future investments. In addition, whatever annual economic growth is achieved, is more than off-set by a high population growth.
Let me ask, why do we have a high population growth?
I can give several answers to this, as follows:
1) Hedge Against Child Mortality:
In the past, families used to have a large number of children because of a high infant/child mortality rate. Thus, by having a large number of children, the parents are assured that at least some will survive.
Today, however, improvement in medical services and health conditions have resulted in a lower child mortality rates. This means that a higher percentage of children will survive.
2) Children Are a Blessing:
Indeed, we look at children as a blessing, which is true. But what happens if one cannot take care of the blessings.
The point here is that it is more important to fully provide for the needs of a fewer number of children, than to have a larger crowd which is neglected.
3) Children Are an Investment:
In a society that has not yet developed the full system of social security, old-age pensions and other forms of compensation, children are the parents’ hedge when they are unable to earn income.
In reality, however, the collective income of a large number of children who are not properly educated may be far less than that of a smaller number of children who are better trained and educated.
4) Children Farm the Land:
In the past, families used to have a large number of children because they work the farmland. To hire labor to work on the land is costly, and the abundance of children provides free manpower to the family.
Mechanization has reduced the brute human force required in farming the land. Besides, many families have moved to cities, while still producing large families.
5) Family Planning Is Against Islam!
Some people think that family planning is against our Islamic religion. This is untrue. Actually, it has been reported that the Prophet Muhammad himself has practised family planning.
The other day, I was pleasantly surprised with an article by Sheikh Nasser Shaibani, Minister of Endowment and Religious Affairs. His message was that the power or influence of Muslims is not measured by their numbers, but by their capabilities.
6) No Family Planning Tools:
Many families, especially the wives, complain that they do not have access to family planning tools. This is true, particularly in the countryside.
This is exactly our job.
We at the National Population Council are working to make the necessary information and family planning aides available to women.
Our nation cannot cope with the consequences of a high rate of population growth. For example, at the present rate, the nation is required to add 1,800 new seats in our schools every day. We just don’t have the resources.
It is important that we all plan our families so that we have the optimal number we can handle.
What Are the Main Activities of the NPC?
What is Population’s IEC Policy?
Population issues are multi-dimensional issues and are interlinked with health, social, economic, environmental, and other issues. Population IEC is deemed to be considered as a multi-sector integrated and interlinked system. To address such a complicated issue, the National Population Council came up with the IEC. The English abbreviation “IEC” represents the initials of the words Information, Education and Communication.
This refers to a comprehensive and integrated program aiming at increasing the public’s awareness and its behavior and attitudes through the use of a mixture of technologies and communication facilities. In this sense it is a systematic approach for achievement of pre-designed results. Within the framework of its objectives, the IEC covers 3 inter-related activities:
1- Population Information:
This activity calls for generation, production, exchange and dissemination of population data which can be used to raise awareness on population issues among circles of decision-makers – politicians, administrators and academicians. The most important means to be utilized are the radio, television and newspapers.
2- Population Education:
This activity aims at providing the general public with information gradually and in a “user-friendly” manner which helps to take population related decisions, based on increased knowledge and awareness. Population Education will affect the population trends and the individual’s behavior in the long term.
This activity can be carried out through the regular education sector, schools, faculty, etc., or via the irregular education sector such as mosques, youth centers, cooperatives, illiteracy eradication classrooms, sports clubs, military encampments, health institutions, etc.
3- Population Communication:
This activity urges the people to adopt behavior based on their concerns and needs. It is a dual operation. In this operation, the target audience does not stop receiving information, when he/she feels that his/her knowledge on population issues has increased.
This approach is based on discussion and exchange of ideas and views between the sender and receiver. Population communication is a significant means for convincing target population groups. An example of the population communication approach can clearly be shown in the direct contact between the agricultural extensioners and farmers.
Seminars, meetings, lectures and social networks are other examples of the population communication.
How Does the National IEC on Population Program Work?
The IEC program works at three levels of activities. These are:
1. National Level Activity:
Programs at this level are designed to cover a number of sectors. Such programs always are based on a comprehensive national view.
2. Sectoral Level Activity:
Programs at this level are drawn up from The National Level Programs. They deal with specific sectors such as education, youth, health, etc.
3. Specific-Level Activity:
These are programs implemented with specific target groups in mind. For example, a certain category of the population; such as, rural woman, age group 15-50, factory workers, etc.
What Will the IEC Program Do?
The importance of this program has become clear. It can be summarized as follows:
1- This program is considered part of the planning of population fieldwork. Such program connects the general theoretical level of the population policy with both its objectives and the executive dimensions in the population IEC field.
2. This program shall play an important role in unifying the view and in prioritization of the work in light of clear and specific national aims.
3. This program enables the Technical Secretariat of the National Population Council and other concerned bodies to evaluate the work in order to assist in the development and expansion of such work.
4. The program will define the roles of various actors in this field and coordinates among the components to achieve a unified drive and direction.
Towards implementing the IEC, the NPC organized a workshop during the period 27 Feb.- 4 March 1999. It focused on the following objectives:
Development of a Master Plan for the IEC Program on Population:
* Situation analysis, including:
– Analysis of relevant policies
– Analysis of the current IEC projects and activities
– Specification & projection of the target population
– Analysis of socio-economic and cultural conditions relevant to the Program
– Identification of important persons, groups and organization connected with the IEC Program
– Analysis of the problem situation.
* Setting objectives with a summary in the form of an “objective tree”
* Strategy design
* Preparation of a logical framework
* Assessment of the Programs feasibility and writing the program justification.
* At the end of each workshop:
– The participants should be knowledgeable about the important issues affecting population dynamic, as well as the factors affecting them.
– The participants have basic knowledge about strategic planning
– The participants will be motivated to support and contribute to the implementation of the IEC Program
* Back on the job, the participants will share the knowledge and skills they have acquired during the workshop with their colleagues
* A core group of at least three persons will have been formed who have the knowledge and skills necessary to prepare for and conduct similar planning workshops in the future.
What Is Reproductive Health Concept?
Reproductive health is the complete physical, mental and social well being of a person. It is not merely related to the functioning of the reproduction/sexual organs.
Reproductive health objectives include:
1. Ability to reproduce
2. Women finish their pregnancy and post delivery safely.
3. Produce a safe newborn that can live and grow up safely.
4. Ability of the couples regarding birth control by avoiding any health risks.
5. Safe sexual relations of couples.
6. Avoid diseases and practices that damage the reproductive health.
Key Experts Address the Issues
Dr. Klaus Wahl, European Expert with the Program,  says:
“The European Commission is assisting the National Population Council (NPC) through the Technical Secretariat which is the implementing arm of the NPC.
Rapid population growth is a great threat to this country. All other efforts to modernize the nation will become useless if the country cannot control its demographic explosion. So I think this is one of the major problem this country is facing.
“To help Yemen control its rapid population growth, we must understand the driving factors of the demographic explosion. If nothing is done, in 18 years, the population will double. To maintain the present living standards, which are already low, it means you need double resources, which are already scarce. But even if it were possible to double the resources, which is unrealistic, still the people would have the present poor living standard.
“If population growth is not checked, people will become poorer, there will be more suffering and more unrest.
“This population program will lead to an information, education, communication and education campaign on population issues. We had 57 participants in last week’s workshop. I am happy that a lot of community elders, opinion-makers and intellectuals from different governorates show great interest in this topic. We also had officials from the Ministry of Endowment and Religious Guidance participate. This means that the problem is acknowledged by religious figures.
“We emphasized that this problem cannot be solved only by donors, or by one ministry. Thus, the most important outcome of this workshop was more awareness of the problem and to engage all the ministries to work together to address this problem.
“After a long evaluation of the process, we selected four different governorates as models which stand for the different regions of the country. We chose Hajjah to represent the mountainous area, Hodeidah to represent the coastal region of the Red Sea, Taiz to represent the plateau region, and Hadhramaut to represent the arid and coastal regions of the Indian Ocean. In addition, the project will address urban sites, especially in Sanaa and Aden.” Mujahed Ahmed Al-Sha’ab, General Director of Information, Edu. & Communication, says: “We have two on-going projects. One is funded by the State of Yemen and the other is funded by donors. Both projects have one goal, namely to increase awareness on the problem of population growth. In both projects we maintain a certain degree of balance between the possible and ideal goals.
“We run educational activities through the official media, mainly radio and TV. We also use the service of the press. We have two pages on population education published weekly in Thawrah and 14 October newspapers.
“We also take advantage of certain social establishments to spread education on this problem like Health centers and Family care Societies. The Ministry of Education has including a program on population education in its curricula, etc.
“The problem of population growth should be everyone’s concern. It affects the whole population whether rural or urban; in the mountains or deserts. So the best media to reach all people is the radio, being the most affordable and accessible and the cheapest means, and then the TV.
“The main question of tackling this issue is coordination. The most important achievement in this regard is that we have completed the draft of the National Program for Information, Education and Communication on Population, which will cover this gap. It will be the mechanism through which we can coordinate our activities
“What is really important is to offer information and education, and then to quickly move on by offering services to give the public access to birth-control tools. So generally, we work closely with health departments and family care associations to provide the necessary services related to the problem of population growth and how to tackle it.
“In a 1997 survey on Mother and Child Health, it was shown that 20% of Yemeni women are using contraceptives. Half of these were using modern contraceptives. There are also traditional means used as contraceptives like herbs and other methods. Some of these methods are really effective.” Amin Marouf Al-Jana’ad, Assistant Secretary General OFNPC-TS, says:
“We held a national workshop, during the period 27 Feb.- 4 March 1999, for generating information which will lead to the draft of a national IEC on population program. In addition we have a project, financed by the EC for implementing IEC activities.
“We are probably the first ones to tackle this problem head-on, and to have the Yemeni authorities address this problem.
“Since 70% of the Yemeni people are in rural areas, four governorates shall have been taken to represent the whole rural population. But 30% of population, which is urban, is still not covered. It will be represented by the cities of Sanaa and Aden. Thus, in total we have six targeted sites where we are going to start work.
“The funds we have at hand will cover our activities up to the year 2003. This of course includes the European donors’ contribution. So as you see, we cannot really plan long-term projects. But we have a medium-range view of our work.
“In my opinion, the first and most important factor that will determine the success of the program political commitment. to this problem. In this regard we have conducted a number of meetings with opinion leaders and decision makers and urged them to be actively involved in this vital problem. We also invited their perspectives. We have also expanded our contacts with prominent community elders, religious leaders and other prominent public figures who have influence with the public. In several governorates, we organized seminars on population issues. The ministry of Endowments and Religious Guidance is now a full partner.
“Let me share with you that the general position of the Yemeni public on this problem of population is undecided. That is good, because we do not have to fight a negative attitude. All we have to do is provide information that will allow the Yemenis to decide wisely on this matter.
“We have to do our best to help people understand what is at stake. To show them that there is no conflict between religion and birth control. For that we have to engage more religious and social leaders.