By Ariong Moses
U.S. President Donald Trump recently issued an executive order to cut funding to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), which distributes aid to organizations providing reproductive health services. The move will have drastic implications for generations to come, particularly in Africa, where population growth is much greater than in the rest of the world.
Undercutting successful family planning programs will result in more unplanned pregnancies and deaths of young mothers in childbirth, as well as increase rates of sexually transmitted diseases. The ensuing population explosion across developing countries will increase demand for food, drive some families into poverty, and potentially destabilize governments.
As a family planning advocate and food security expert who has worked in rural Uganda for the last 10 years, I understand the challenges that parents with large, unplanned families face in Africa every day. With a mean household size of 4.7, it can be a daily challenge to feed so many mouths. The larger these families get, the more challenging it is to provide health care and education for everyone. In Uganda, we’re already struggling to feed and educate our children. With a stroke of his pen, Trump has created a potential crisis.
I also understand the challenges that come with poor family planning based on the experience of my own family. My grandfather, a traditional medicine man, was married to five women and had 45 children. Just like many other elders at the time, he believed that having a large family was a good thing, and modern family planning practices were not yet heard of in Uganda.
My father often reminds me of the pain they endured as a family, struggling to put food on the table and find money for school fees for all the children.
He vividly remembers the lunch and dinner bells that would ring to call the children to the table. More often than not, he would miss a meal or simply take a few pieces of local bread made of sorghum and cassava to end the day.
His worst memory is his father’s refusal to pay his school fees, saying he had too many financial burdens. My father became a peasant farmer who tilled land with rudimentary tools, such as a hand hoe, for survival.
As one of the largest contributors of funding to UNFPA, the U.S. has been on the frontlines of ensuring that people like my father have better opportunities in life. In 2015 alone, the U.S. contributed $75 million to an effort that helped 11.2 million adolescents’ access reproductive health services, while an additional 23.3 million women were educated in modern family planning methods. It is only through maintaining this commitment that we can satisfy the current need for contraception. This is especially true in sub-Saharan Africa, where only 20 percent of the women have access to it.
UNPFA has made strides since it launched in 1967, but this task remains urgent, and the effects of the U.S. cut will be felt in Africa more than anywhere else.
Today, Uganda has the second youngest population in the world, with a median age of 15.8 and over 75 percent of its population under 30 years old. With a fertility rate more than twice the world average, Uganda is projected to have the highest population growth rate in the world by 2050, reaching up to 130 million people.
Niger, which has the youngest population in the world, is projected to have 72 million inhabitants by 2050, a sharp rise from the current 21.3 million. UNFPA has been conducting sexual reproductive health programs in the country since 1983, but early child marriages and teenage pregnancies remain prominent concerns. In 2015 alone, UNFPA committed nearly six out of every 10 dollars of its budget in Niger toward providing integrated sexual reproductive health services to young people. Their futures can only be guaranteed when their health is secure.
This population explosion can only be checked through meeting the demand for family planning services and advocating against child marriages and early pregnancies. If this is not done, we are likely to experience population growth that exceeds economic growth. This unsustainable trend will lead to increased demand for food and exert more pressure on environmental resources like water and agricultural land. All of this will only make it more difficult to bring people out of poverty and settle internal conflicts.
Aid cuts to UNFPA constitute a direct infringement on the right to good health for mothers and the young people of Africa—the main recipients of these reproductive health services. Trump’s decision threatens to reverse progress made toward the goal of ensuring an additional 120 million women and girls across the world receive reproductive health services by 2020. What will happen to my neighbor, a 23-year-old woman with four children, who just took up a contraception plan to save her the burden of unplanned pregnancies? Or the young girls still subjected to early marriages by their parents?
We all have a moral duty to make our world safer for every mother and child. Pulling back from the work of UNFPA puts the lives and well-being of women, children, and families—and the future stability of developing countries—at risk.
[Photo courtesy of hdptcar]