Malawi has to convince couples to bear few children or risk continuing to struggle to achieve social economic development at all levels to reduce levels of poverty currently outweighing the majority of the country’s over 13 million population, according to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).

“Malawi is among the least developed countries with high fertility and rapidly growing population, high levels of unmet need for family planning. With an annual population growth rate of 2.8 percent, 5.7 children per woman, 139 people per square kilometer, Malawi has one of the highest growth rates and is amongst the most densely populated countries in sub-Saharan Africa,” said UNFPA Programme Manager for Population and Development in Malawi Thomas Munthali.

He was speaking recently during a Media Capacity Workshop on Population Dynamics and Climate Change in Malawi which was organized by Journalists Against AIDS (JournaAids) with support from UNFPA in the lakeshore district of Salima.

“As the population [in Malawi] grows, more pressure will be exerted on the country’s subsistence agricultural system as the family farm land is fragmented into smaller uneconomic units. Rural-urban migration will increase with negative social-economic implications on women, children and the elderly,” explained Munthali adding that several studies reveal that women will shoulder more burden than men due to the negative impacts of climate change.

“Women and girls bear most of the burden in activities that are most impacted by adverse climate change, because they are primary providers of a number of household essentials such as water, firewood for energy, food. In addition, the changing demographics, as a result of the impacts of the HIV and AIDS epidemic, have meant that women take up greater responsibilities, such as taking care of the sick and orphans,” said Munthali.

He however was quick to say that the good news is that Malawi Government has through a highly consultative process, come up with the Draft Malawi Growth and Development Strategy (MGDS11) which recognizes that efforts to slowing population growth are mutually reinforcing with those aimed at improving environmental protection, reducing poverty, and achieving economic progress.

“The blue print has hence for the first time, included population as a stand-alone sub-theme under social development. Additionally, the strategy clearly defines climate change, natural resources and environmental management as one of the key development priorities making it one of the nine priorities within priorities,” said Munthali.

JournaAIDS Chairperson Mabvuto Banda stressed that Malawi is losing USD 191 million a year translating into 5.3 percent in the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) due to unsustainable use of natural resources.

“This is further worsened by the fact that we are having an annual population growth rate 2.8 percent while having 139 people per square kilometer,” said Banda adding that it was in recognition of the critical role the media can play in reporting issues linking population and climate change that JournaAIDS organized the recent training for journalists on the same with support from UNFPA.

“By looking at population trends [in Malawi] there is a need to join hands with our media colleagues to generate more evidence based information to raise awareness in the general population in local communities, UN agencies, Civil Society, Government Departments and all those key target groups to ensure that Malawi meets Millenium Development Goal (MDG) 7 on ensuring environmental sustainability,” he said.

Banda further explained that the recent journalists’ training is part of a new project called “Population Advocacy in Climate Change Response” in Malawi.

“After this workshop selected journalists will be involved in a media audit to tour some districts to document population and climate change issues from key stakeholders. In a small country with a high population growth more emphasis needs to be put on family planning to ensure that there is high access to concentration and family planning services countrywide to stem population growth,” he said.

A research by Malawi National Adaptation Programmes of Action (NAPA) submitted to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) shows that there has not been a link between population growth and climate change, and further neither has family planning been identified as part of the adaptation strategy-likely because of the fact that family planning falls under the remit of the Ministries of Agriculture and Health rather than Environment, who are responsible for the NAPA documents.

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