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We are now eight billion people; let's build a better world for us all

 People eat street food as shoppers crowd a market in New Delhi, India as the world's population hit 8 billion people. [AP Photo]

November 15, 2022, was a momentous day in our history. The world population hit the eight billion mark, having grown by one billion people since 2010. It is projected to surpass nine billion by 2037. This historical moment calls for celebration because this unprecedented growth is due to an increase in human life expectancy; people living healthier and longer due to improvements and advancements in public health, vaccines, nutrition, standards of living and poverty reduction.

Kenya, with an estimated 50 million people, has grown steadily from a population of about eight million in 1963. There is an improvement in the average life expectancy from 48 years to 67 years. As of 1963, one in every seven children died before their fifth birthday but today, we have tremendously reduced child and maternal mortality and many babies live long. This progress realised over the past 59 years, makes Kenya a nation on the path to prosperity where no child dies young and no woman dies while giving birth.

The population of a country is considered the most important and valuable resource that contributes to development if they are placed at the centre of development planning. At the same time, rapid population growth poses challenges to progress in social and economic development by necessitating an ever-increasing investment to meet the needs of growing numbers of people. In addition, continued population growth gives heightened urgency to efforts to ensure economic development while protecting and preserving the environment.

In Kenya, the principal challenges lie in ensuring optimal utilisation of the youth's potential and their contribution towards achieving our nation's aspirations and goals. In Kenya, 75 per cent of the population is below 35 years. The demographic dividend due to an increase in the youth population relative to the adult population is an opportunity that arises from a demographic transition that happens once in a lifetime as a country's population dynamics change.

We are celebrating these numbers as we battle the issue of the youth bulge and the aspect of the triple threat; teenage pregnancies, new HIV/Aids infections and gender-based violence. Our resolve to address these challenges is clearly driving the country towards reaping our demographic dividend. A clear path on strategic investment in sectors like education, universal health, infrastructure, housing, food security, climate change mitigation, science and technology spells a brighter future for Kenya.

As we mark the progress in the world population, we recall that an average woman in Kenya had a total of eight children in 1963, but in 2022, she is having three children. That means women have more time to participate in nation-building, have healthier children and are realising their full potential.

This progress comes as we mark the third anniversary of the Nairobi Summit on ICPD25 held in 2019 where Kenya made 17 commitments towards advancing the 1994 Cairo Programme of Action. We need to focus more than ever as we celebrate the eight billion mark. The philosophy of the numbers, if the world must make progress, ought to be seen and viewed as a great opportunity to make the world a better place, more habitable, more equal and a place where we have enough resources for everyone as well as take care of our ecosystem while beating the odds of climate change. Precisely, if we focus on making use of our numbers to build a better world, there are infinite opportunities for all of us.

We may advance arguments that as nations anticipate the changing population dynamics, there is need for them to build demographic resilience within applicable laws and moral standards that allow a more sustainable and prosperous world for all; this should not just be for the current generations but also for the future to enable them reap their demographic dividends. In this regard, we shall be on track on realising the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the 2030 Agenda.

Going by the current discussions and the realities of climate change, at this moment of a world of eight billion people, we must clearly understand each nation's demographic trends and plan sustainably. This means advancing critical thoughts on the social, political, environmental, and economic factors. Key outputs out of these discussions will provide policy responses that are holistic and responsive to the challenges of our times.

We must call nations to be proactive on matters of youth, education, social programmes, health and decency. To build an inclusive society, we must look into the well-being of every citizen. Sustainable solutions to gender issues where, as we strongly build a strong girl-child, we must also, with the same energy, prepare the boy-child who the girl will live with in the same society. The young people, the women, the elderly, the differently abled, all form a bulk of human capital whose contributions to making the world better cannot be ignored. We therefore must strategically invest in this human capital for the good of our society.

As we look towards sustainability, investment in proper policy informed by science and data is key to evidence-based decision making. Sustainability will help stem out the climate crisis whose shocks have hit world populations hard. All of us must remain alive to the fact that we owe this planet a positive contribution. We owe every human being a chance to a longer and healthier life, thus understanding and planning for future demographic changes is essential to achieving continued progress towards SDGs.

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