In my last blog entitled “A Busy Professional’s Guide to Learning” I ended it with a quote by Alfred Mercier, who said that “What we learn with pleasure, we never forget.” After using this quote, I thought that it could be a cliché. After all, learning is hard work and how can it be pleasurable too? Isn’t this an oxymoron? Perhaps, Mr. Mercier was speaking of some other forms of learning, one which does not involve my Demography and Health coursework, with its formulas and a lengthy glossary of terms, and so on. For a first-year MSc student, this coursework has been everything but a pleasure.
However, my narrow view of learning as a pleasure changed when I read an article—part of a reading for my Introduction to Demographic Analysis course—by McDonald Peter. Sustaining Fertility through Public Policy: The range of Options. In: Populations (English Version), No.3, 2002. pp.417-446. This paper presents a range of policies that can be used to support fertility rate at a moderate level, that is, around an average of 1.7-1.9 births per woman. After reading this article, I posed to reflect on its practical meaning for a country that has been mired in what appears to be an unending civil war.
I recall reading in a previous course document that “A population with a growth rate of 3% per annum will double in size every 23 years.” This led me to check on the population growth of South Sudan, which as recent data suggest has an annual growth of 2.88%. Hence, by 2040 the population of South Sudan will double. This led me to reflect about the implications of a high fertility rate and McDonald’s policy options for sustaining fertility at a moderate level in the context of South Sudan.
I recognize that I do not have in-depth knowledge of the Malthusian Theory to speak about its merits, but I do know from first account how difficult it is for parents to feed their children without even mentioning their ability to provide them with quality healthcare and education. As a humanitarian worker, I have seen how dependent many households have become on food aid, healthcare, and education provided by non-governmental organizations, both local and international. Reading about the demography transition in Europe, Latin America, and some countries in Asia and Africa, I wondered when South Sudan, which has have been plagued by years of conflict, will start its demographic transition. Or has it started?
A search on the web led to the World Bank’s website where I found several charts on demographic trends on South Sudan. When I looked at the fertility rate chart, it shows that South Sudan’s fertility rate has gone down, from 6.7 in 1960 to around 4.9 children per women in 2015. Although, this rate is still high by global comparison, it is, nonetheless, a surprising finding. My guess is that this decrease in the fertility rate could be explained by, but not limited to, a reduction in child mortality due to immunizations, aggressive campaigns against malaria and other childhood diseases, provision of ante-natal care, availability of modern contraception, robust family planning interventions, targeted programs to address moderate and severe acute malnutrition, etc., by various actors.