Bells Toll for Namibia’s Population

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By Wonder Guchu WINDHOEK Namibia faces the looming threat of a population decline as a result of the new generation’s unwillingness to have babies because they feel building a family is too expensive. This decision by the majority of Namibia’s working class is likely to thwart the country’s Vision 2030, because experts worldwide argue that a decline in population affects economic development. For Namibia, this reluctance to have babies or to solemnize marriage by the working generation, most of whom are co-habiting, also helps HIV/AIDS in slowing down the country’s population growth. The population is now estimated to be 2 044 147 and growing at 0,59 percent per annum. The Latest World Health Organization estimates say that by 2025 – five years before 2030 – Namibia’s population will be 2 061 106, an increase of only about 16 959 but the same figure will fall to 1 795 852 by the year 2050. That decline – 268 254 – is almost 15 times the growth estimate for the year 2025. Economists say a depleted population leads to deflation, the opposite of inflation and affects stock exchange market growth which in turn would make stock exchange investments terrible, according to Dean Baker in his book, No Economist Left Behind Challenge. Not only does population decline affect stock markets but also output since there won’t be enough human resources. But can the future of a promising economy be sacrificed simply because people say it is expensive to bring up babies? And is rearing a child that expensive in Namibia? Of course, a number of young Namibians believe it is and for that reason they either have one or are planning to have one child. “I can’t afford to have more than one kid,” a colleague in the media said last week. “Windhoek is very expensive.” A till operator with a supermarket in the city was taken aback when it was suggested to her that she should have at least seven children. “Seven? What will I do with seven children? I have only one child. It’s enough. At least I can give him everything a child should get,” she said. This was the sentiment echoed by eight others except a few women who blamed Namibian men for being “cowards”. “The problem is the men. Namibian men are scared of commitment. They enjoy living with a woman, have children and when they are done with them, move on. The result is that women are left with the burden of looking after children while the fathers are on the rampage,” she claimed. To prove the authenticity of her claims, a street survey over the past two weeks revealed that out of every 10 people, eight are co-habiting. It also revealed that out of every five co-habiting relationships, three had spawned a child or children. It was also found that out of the 10 such relationships, chances of the men walking out were eight out of 10. Yet women caught up in such relationships, especially the working mothers, seem to be comfortable with it. “What can we do? If the men do not want to marry, can we force them? At least I have been with my boyfriend for six years and it’s working. I respect him as my wedded husband and he does the same to me. What more do I want?” one woman asked. While there is nothing wrong in as far as modern standards and aspirations are concerned, the sum effect this has on the Namibian society is terrible. Under such a set-up, people are not keen to have more babies even if it is cheaper to do so and it will in the end transform the whole Namibian society into a matrifocal one where mothers are more visible than fathers. A conservative estimate of bringing up a child in Namibia, using the cheapest facilities, is around N$700 000 – this is only for education, clothing, transport and other costs for upkeep. An average worker in Namibia – the majority of whom are scared of having babies – gets about N$60 000 per year. Granted, it is expensive to have a baby here, then the state has to chip in just like what has been done elsewhere. There were reports in the media that in Russia President Vladimir Putin put in a 10-year programme to stop population decline by offering financial assistance and subsidies, while Australia has offered a $4 000 bonus for every baby and has also proposed to pay all child care costs for women who want to work. Countries like France, Italy and Poland are also paying out monthly bonuses to families willing to have babies. In Japan, towns are offering rich incentives with Yamatsuri, a town of 7 000 north of Tokyo, paying parents $4 600 for the birth of a child and $460 a year for 10 years. Singapore has a particularly lucrative plan where they pay $3 000 for the first child, $9 000 in cash and savings for the second and up to $18 000 each for the third and fourth. An actuary with the London-based Prudential Assurance Company, Dermot Grenham, in his article for the Mercatornet, dismisses the fears over shortages of natural resources and degradation of the environment, arguing that the real issue confronting the world is ageing and declining populations. “If the current inhabitants are the trustees of the earth on behalf of future generations, this trusteeship should also apply to maintaining human society and not only the natural environment,” he said. Indeed, if Namibia does not want to import labour just like what is happening in some European countries, the time is now for rolling out incentives to make the fertile generation have more babies.