World over, human resource is critical to spurring accelerated socio-economic development in nations. As such, sustainable management of the human resource is one of the greatest interventions towards the realisation of the Big Four agenda of the Government of Kenya; affordable universal health care, food security, affordable housing and a robust manufacturing sector.
These resonate perfectly with the globally-agreed Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), especially on elimination of poverty and leaving no one behind.
Food security and nutrition remain a major concern for the Government. Past and current rapid population growth in Kenya has resulted in the recent developments and near-crises precipitated by increasing pressure on many ecosystems; Mau and Mount Kenya water towers and Lake Victoria basin, among others.
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This rapid population growth has led to encroachment on ecologically fragile areas for settlement and related human activities. Subdivision of land into small uneconomic units has resulted into low productivity and output. Areas surrounding Nairobi like Kiambu, which were high agricultural zones producing a variety of agricultural produce, have been converted into human settlement to accommodate the rapidly growing Nairobi urban population.
It is important to strengthen population management, gearing towards harmonising population growth with the available resources to ensure food security for Kenyans.
The pursuit of affordable universal health care must consider the country’s population growth rate. Kenya’s population is growing by around 1 million persons per year or 3,000 persons every day.
The costs of rapid population growth are cumulative; more births today make the task of slowing population growth later difficult as today’s children become tomorrow’s parents.
It is arguable that as parents continue with high fertility, resources must be availed to meet the basic needs, thus limiting allocation to social sectors such as education, health and housing.
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With such worrying data on population growth, effective and timely implementation of policies and programmes that promote universal access to sexual and reproductive health and rights, access to information and high quality reproductive health services in all counties, especially the underserved populations will contribute towards attainment of high quality of life for Kenyans as envisioned in Kenya Vision 2030.
Failure to invest in reproductive health services on the other hand will result in inability to meet the ever growing demands for social services.
It is imperative to ensure that women do not spend their most productive years having and raising children, rather than entering the workforce and contributing to economic production.
This is the pathway with greatest potential for ensuring healthy, educated and productive populations.
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This was the take-off strategy adopted by the Asian Tigers, where millions of people were lifted out of poverty by lowering dependency ratio, while allowing families to make savings. These savings translated into investments and boosted economic growth.
Population migration trends have led to rapid urbanisation, with a large percentage of town dwellers living in slums. This increases their vulnerability to natural hazards, poor sanitation and perpetuates poverty. Majority of the country’s urban authorities are unable to keep up with the rapid pace of growth of informal settlement.
The agenda on affordable housing must consider trends among this population, including consumption patterns, production, employment status and income distribution.
Without such data, determining what is affordable housing can lead to investing in structures that remain out of reach for the majority.
Kenya needs to create one million new jobs every year to absorb the number of young people graduating from institutions of higher learning. At current rates, only one in five graduates is likely to find a formal job, and the rest will either remain unemployed or engage in some unproductive informal occupation.
For a robust manufacturing sector, data is required on the skills gaps, prospects for creation of value chains, especially in the agricultural sector and location of light industries in various Counties.
With a largely youthful population, consumer trends are shifting and data on such trends will help the manufacturing sector to innovate and respond to current demands.
Kenya has one of the highest internet and mobile use penetration in the region. This means therefore that it is possible to add value to manufacturing sector through IT-based applications such as data mining and market information.
The systematic consideration of population data and projections is important for improving the provision of goods and services, but more importantly, population dynamics should inform any social, economic and environmental development programmes to ensure sustainability.
Dr Kibaru-Mbae, OGW is the Director General of the National Council for Population and Development