Population is not about numbers, it’s about people

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New Era senior journalist Albertina Nakale speaks to out-going United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) Representative to Namibia, Dr Ademola Olajide, on the organisation’s activities in Namibia and other related issues.

New Era (NE): What is the role of UNFPA in Namibia?
Ademola Olajide (AO): Here in Namibia we provide support to the government in three key areas. Firstly, it is with regard to population data evidence. We gather population information and help with developmental planning and policy. Secondly, it is with regard to reproductive health where we support, through the ministry of health and other stakeholders, interventions that enhance reproductive health. Thirdly, it’s with regard to gender to ensure no one is at a disadvantage as a consequence to their gender whether you are male or female by promoting gender equality by putting policies in place.

NE: When did UNFPA start operating in Namibia?
AO: We started operating shortly after independence around 1993. The co-operation between government and the UN provided the basis for UNFPA to come in. And so we are in our fifth country programme cycle of support to the government of Namibia.
NE: What has been the major achievements of your operations in Namibia?
AO: UNFPA, as an institution, cannot claim to say it has achieved while we have worked in partnership with government, so the achievement goes to government. If you look at issues of maternal mortality, and you go back to 1992. We have been able to address some of the challenges. We have been able to provide support to government. If you look at family planning in 1992, the prevalence rate stood at 2.23 percent now we are about 50 percent. It is not something UNFPA can claim the glory, as government has been able to address some of the challenges.

NE: Are there any advantages in the fact that Namibia only has 2.1 million people?
AO: Population is not about numbers, it’s about people. When you are looking at the population of people within a geographical space, what is important is the quality of life available to each individual. Whether it is 2.1 million or not, it’s not about population size but population demography. Namibia has that population over a large geographical area and so there is some large dispersions of the population itself, which presents some challenges.

NE: And what are the disadvantages of this?
AO: We classify Namibia as an upper-middle income economy. It means you take the entire quantum of resources available to the country and divide it by the population. In that case, the amount of resources coming in Namibia as a whole, is enormous. So the population being as it is, it should be relatively easier to provide for their needs if you are able to overcome some of the challenges that relate to geographical dispersions.

NE: Some UN agencies are pulling out of Namibia. For how long do we expect UNFPA to be in Namibia?
AO: When we use the word pulling out, the aim, as these multilateral agencies are set up by the UN is General Assembly, is to provide support to developing countries to address their needs. When the need to provide the support is no longer necessary, agencies start to step back or scale down their operations. But there is still need for UNFPA to remain here as long as we still have some of these challenges.

NE: What is UNFPA’s view on President Hage Geingob’s poverty intervention strategies so far?
AO: We listened to his State of the Nation Address and indeed for us to be able to get quality of life for all Namibians, we need to address the inequalities. Him speaking and articulating his policies, he seems to have his hands exactly on the cause of the matter. It is not a war or intervention of one agency alone. That is why he spoke of ministries, which have just been created that need a national dialogue, where we begin to unravel some of the root causes of challenges that continue to perpetuate poverty and inequality in Namibia. Generally, globally you see the economy in Namibia improving and you need to ask yourself a question why then is the poverty and inequality there. It requires honest and open stakeholder consultation.

NE: What more should government do to arrest the escalation of poverty?
AO: One is to address the plight of young people. Provide them with quality education so that they can meaningfully participate in the economy. The skills they need should be skills that the private sector wants. The unemployment we have in Namibia is largely skewed towards young people. We have a youth poverty.
Secondly, we need to address gender. If you look at household income in Namibia, about 69 percent of household income goes to male-headed households, only about 31 percent goes to females, irrespective of qualifications or capacity. If we are able to empower women to realise their full potential, again we would have moved significantly to address poverty.
NE: What is your impression on Namibia’s fight against HIV/AIDS?
AO: I think Namibia is one of the governments that have done significantly well in addressing HIV, although the prevalence is still high – around 16 percent. The amount of resources (about 65 percent that is spent) to address HIV comes from government. The Namibian government has been recognised for spending heavily to address HIV/AIDS issues. When you have primary resources, it makes a lot of difference; you are able set the lead.

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