Yesterday July 11, 2015, was World Population Day. The day is marked to increase awareness of various population issues such as the importance of family planning, gender equality, poverty, maternal health and human rights. World Population Day was instituted in 1989 as an outgrowth of the Day of Five Billion, marked on July 11, 1987. The United Nations, UN authorised the event as a vehicle to build awareness of population issues and the impact they have on development and the environment.
Following increasing growth in population, there is urgent need for concerted efforts at checkmating the unpleasant trend. The world population was 7.244 billion as of July 2014, according to the medium fertility estimate by the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division, but it is projected to reach 7.325 billion this July 2015 and over 8 billion by 2018.
Strikingly enough, Nigeria is one of the top 20 largest countries by population in the following order :China 1,402,256,917 , India 1,283,238,340, United States 325,199,329, Indonesia 255,868,511, Brazil 203,761,641, Pakistan 188,248,891, Nigeria 183,684,515, Bangladesh 160,502,439, Russia 142,093,446, Japan 126,852,617, Mexico 125,320,917, Philippines101,872,536, Ethiopia 99,035,191, Vietnam 93,446,40, Egypt 84,772,711, Germany 82,576,098, Iran 79,532,852, Turkey 76,775,314, Congo 71,305,089, Thailand 67,441,447 respectively.
Indeed, a recent UN report warns that the number of forcibly displaced people has risen to a record number, almost 60 million at the end of 2014. Among these, women and adolescent girls face particular threats as a result of the absence of health and other essential services that they need.
Even under normal conditions, reproductive health complications are a leading cause of death and illness among women of childbearing age. In humanitarian situations, an estimated one in five women and adolescent girls are likely to be pregnant.
As skilled birth attendance and emergency obstetric care often become unavailable, pregnant women and girls’ vulnerability to death and injury is further exacerbated.
Women and adolescent girls also face much greater risk of abuse, sexual exploitation, violence and forced marriage during conflicts and natural disasters. In addition, many women who survive a crisis become heads of household, with the sole responsibility of caring for their children. They often have to overcome immense obstacles to provide health and care for children, the sick, the injured and the elderly, and bear the heaviest burden of relief and reconstruction. As a result, they may neglect their own needs as they care for others.
Present complex emergencies include: protracted conflicts, made worse by poor or failed governance, the consequences of climate change, and the engagement of extremist groups claiming territory, resources and power such as the Boko Haram insurgency in Nigeria, the ISIS and Al’ Qaeda in Syria and the Middle East.
That is why the theme of this year’s World Population Day, “Vulnerable Populations in Emergencies”, is intended to highlight the special needs of women and adolescent girls during conflicts and humanitarian disasters.
A major priority of both local and international agencies should be to empower, safeguard the well-being of women, adolescent girls, and young people, and address their specific needs and concerns. Government agencies should work closely with UN, local NGOs, the Red Cross and others on disaster preparedness to ensure that wastage of human lives is brought to minimum.
On this World Population Day, we call on the Federal and state governments, Civil Society Organisations, NGOs as well as the international community to redouble efforts to protect the health and rights of women and girls by creating structures and coming up with action plans at the grass root level. Government needs to empower communities with training and equipment that will assist victims. This will go a long way in reducing fatalities as well as putting structures in place before help arrives in times of emergencies. Government should also set up different permanent structures across the geo-political zones in Nigeria with modern and equipped facilities to cater for the needs of Internally Displaced Persons, IDPs and address the causes of these conflicts especially the communal clashes, disputes between farmers and herdsmen.
Above all, women, adolescent girls and young people should be enabled to play their full role in peace talks, peace building and recovery, and to ensure that government comply with international law and bring perpetrators of sexual violence and abuse of human dignity, to justice. By prioritising health, rights and the full participation of women, adolescent girls and young people in public life, the prospects of a more just, stable and peaceful world would be enhanced.