Three-week-old Mukuka Chanda is cradled in his grandmother’s arms in George compound, Lusaka. He is one of 10 who live in a house of three small rooms. His grandmother, a widow, is HIV-positive and struggles to provide for the family.
Mukuka is born into the 64% of Zambia‘s population which live below the poverty line, and he, like the majority of Lusaka’s residents, will start life in a slum area with poor access to water, sanitation, health care facilities and employment.
According to projections from the United Nations, Zambia’s population is projected to increase 941% by the end of the century – the highest growth rate in of any country in the world.
And as one of the most urbanised countries in sub-Saharan Africa, with 35% of the population living in urban areas, rapid growth – particularly in Lusaka – the frantic growth rate is placing a heavy burden on housing, roads, water, sanitation, healthcare and energy provision.
The UN Population Fund representative to Zambia, Duah Owusu-Sarfo, described the projection as “alarming”. “Zambia is still quite large and the country can accommodate more people,” Owusu-Sarfo told the Guardian. “But that does not mean the population can continue to grow. It is about improving the quality of life,” he said.
This population explosion – as in many parts of Sub-Saharan Africa – is due in part to the country’s high fertility rate. Zambian women on average have 6.2 children each.
“Future population growth will be determined by current and projected fertility, which are high in both cases for Zambia,” said Clive Mutunga, a senior research associate at Population Action International, based in Washington.
But both Uganda and Niger have higher fertility rates than Zambia and population growth is projected at just 396% and 766% between 2011 – 2100 respectively.
Zambia’s predicted population growth is exceptional because fertility rates are not falling as fast as other countries on the continent. It has dropped from 7.2 to 6.2 in the last 30 years. This owes to a lack of family planning, education for girls and economic opportunities for women.
Mukuku has been born into a very young population – almost half of Zambia’s people are under the age of fifteen. Data from the country’sDemographic and Health Survey of 2007 – the most recent available – show that educating young people about family planning will be essential to bringing down fertility rates.
On average, poor women with no formal education have more than eight children while educated women in the wealthiest fifth of the population have fewer than four.
According to Owusu-Sarfo, the disparity is due to traditional assumptions, mostly in the rural areas, that some children will die and having more children is a sign of prestige – perceptions also true of other countries in the region. Teenage pregnancies are also common and poorer women tend to get married earlier.
But it is the differences between poor and rich are also down to the young age at which women get married and are expected to give birth. Teenage pregnancies are common – three in ten young women aged 15-19 have given birth already or are currently pregnant with their first child.
Nelson Ncube, county co-ordinator for the People’s Process on Housing and Poverty in Zambia which lobbies for land allocation for poor people, says part of the problem is serious overcrowding in cities, leaving people in mushrooming slum areas and vulnerability to exploitation.
Girls and boys, men and women, live and sleep in small spaces, and studies have shown that sexual activity is higher in slum conditions. Rape is
common, and poor access to contraceptive methods and the healthcare facilities that provide them, together with the reluctance by men to use condoms, compound the high fertility rate.
If land is not allocated to upgrade slum areas, “we will have a serious crisis and case of severe unrest,” said Ncube. “People are building illegally because there is no other option, yet cities have no facilities to cope.”
Of course, population growth also brings opportunity. Jimmy Mwambazi, an economic analyst at Stockbrokers Zambia, a member of the Lusaka Stock Exchange, believes that Zambia is under-populated, so population growth means a larger consumer base with major opportunities in retail and manufacturing.
“With copper mining coming back to the fore we have had good economic growth over the last 10 years,” he said. Macroeconomic stability has also led to rising incomes and investment in the country.
But, he added, there has been concern over the quality of that growth: “It hasn’t trickled down to the extent it could have.”
Back in George compound, Adnes Zulu has to get back to work, making a local brew to sell in the compound bars. She hands baby Mukuka wrapped in a blanket to her son, his father. At 26, he has no job and still relies on her for an income.
“I have no education,” she said. “I have tried to tell my children about family planning, but it’s difficult to teach them.” On the wall is a picture of a spacious western-styled kitchen complete with dining table and chairs. “The children put it up,” she said. “They like to dream of that.”
The Guardian of UK