How Tanzania can turn rising population to opportunity

DAR ES SALAAM: TANZANIA’S population will double every 23 years to put immense pressure on education, healthcare and food if the current high birth rate continues, the World Bank cautions in its latest report.

However, the government has assured that it is setting strategies to turn the raising population into opportunities, including implementing measures to support the youth and rural population to be more productive.

The report, Tanzania Economic Update launched in Dar es Salaam on Tuesday, indicates that Tanzania has managed to lower mortality rates and raise life expectancy but it contends with high birth rates leading to high rates of population growth at 3.0 per cent.

According to the report, the current high fertility rate will lead to a population surge of 140 million people by 2050 in the country.

“Tanzania has experienced a rapid drop in mortality and a rise in life expectancy, but persistently high fertility which implies continued high rates of population growth (3.0 per cent), with the population doubling every 23 years,” says the report titled “Overcoming Demographic Challenges while Embracing Opportunities.”

Tanzania with 61.8 million people according to the 2022 Population and Housing Census is among five leading countries with the highest population growth in Africa.

It is expected to be one of eight countries responsible for more than half of the increase in global population over the next three decades: five of those countries will be in Africa.

Speaking at the launching event of the report, the Minister of State in the President’s Office (Planning and Investment), Professor Kitila Mkumbo said the government was aware of the future risks of the rapidly growing population and as a result, it is implementing measures to support the youth and rural population to be more productive.

He said the government was investing heavily in improving access and quality of education and healthcare services through infrastructure development in the two sectors.

The government had also taken deliberate measures to transform the agricultural sector, which employs about a third of the population.

Some of the measures include increasing the budget allocation to the sector, investing in constructing infrastructure for irrigation farming, providing subsidies to fertilisers and initiating the Building a Better Tomorrow: Youth Initiative for Agribusiness (BBT-YIA).

The government increased the agricultural budget from 294bn/- (about 126 million US dollars) to 954bn/- in the 2022/23 financial year.

Tanzania has also taken deliberate measures to improve access to quality healthcare services with the recently enacted Universal Health Insurance law, an ambitious piece of legislation aimed at guiding the nation to achieve Universal Health Coverage and protect its 60 million population from catastrophic health expenditures.

“The theme of this report is essential and relevant to our country’s current context. The 2022 Census data shows that our population is, among other things, predominantly young and rural,” said the minister.

“76 per cent of our population is below age 35, and 19 per cent is of school-going-age. Also, 65 per cent of the population is in rural areas. Because of this, it is natural that our future development plans and policies will have to be youth-focused and rural-oriented.”

He said in addressing the high fertility rate, the government has taken several measures, including investing in girls’ education with the extension of the fee-free policy to secondary education and allowing back to school all dropouts, including young mothers to give them a second chance to education and an opportunity to shape their futures.

“In the context of a high fertility rate, education remains key in terms of how we go forward because we know that high education outcomes are correlated with low fertility rates,”.

“Our government is once again prioritising family and reproductive health education programmes. We were once champions of family planning on this continent and we are going back to that level,” Prof Kitila noted.

The World Bank Country Director, Nathan Belete said earlier that for the education sector, projections show that by 2061, the cost of public education would rise from the current 3.3 per cent of GDP to 4.1 per cent under the high fertility scenario.

The cost of public education could drop to 2.9 per cent under the low fertility scenario, he said.

Mr Belete said World Bank was urging the government to accelerate ongoing programmes to expand access to secondary education and strengthen completion rates for girls, while not leaving boys behind.

Completing quality secondary education for girls is key to fertility reduction, child survival, improved child nutrition outcomes and overall enhanced welfare, he said.

He said it is critical to scale up access to high-quality, affordable family planning and reproductive health services while addressing social norms using innovative approaches, including community outreach strategies, the use of mobile units and partnerships with private sector outlets.

Particular attention needs to be given to poor and vulnerable women and young girls who are at a disadvantage because of geographic, socioeconomic and cultural barriers.

The government needs to continue to improve child survival interventions, as well as lowering stunting rates, to give parents the confidence to have fewer children, he said.

Mr Belete said the government needs to continue to focus on adolescent girls and promote the economic empowerment of women and girls to support their reproductive health and strengthen health-seeking behaviours and investments in their children.

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