Environmentalists and youth activists in Niger have embarked on a campaign to fight climate change by encouraging families to reduce the number of children being born.
The move is controversial but the activists hope the idea is one more families will consider, to help reduce threats from the destructive effects of a changing climate.
Niger is a country with the world’s highest birth rate per woman with statistics showing that each woman has on average 7.6 children.
Climate change has meant Niger has seen a swift rise in temperatures and less abundant water flows in rivers, in addition to more intense droughts and floods, said Issa Lele, a meteorologist with the United Nations Development Programme.
“That is a growing threat to food and water supplies – and the pressures heighten as the nation’s population booms,” said Sani Ayouba, the director of the environmental group Young Volunteers for the Environment.
Ayouba, who has three children of his own, says his group isn’t telling people to stop having children, Instead, he said, his group advocates the use of contraceptives to slow the rate of births – a relief to one listener who said he was expecting his fifth child.
Globally, a rising population is increasing pressure on the world’s limited resources, with every additional person in need of food, transport, energy and other resources that drive climate change.
But very high birthrates in places like Niger also mean the country’s own limited resources must be shared among more people – a particular problem as climate change disrupts farming and herding, threatening food supplies.
Authorities in Niger seem to be warming up to the family planning idea, and have begun to allocate money toward the push, said Issoufou Harou, director of family planning at Niger’s Ministry of Public Health.
But a national budget of 200 million FCFA ($340,000) for purchasing contraceptives doesn’t go far enough, said Salamatou Traore, president of the Coalition of Stakeholders for the Repositioning of Family Planning in Niger.
Census data indicates that some 99% of people in Niger are Muslim,and Islam does not advocate limiting the number of children in a family if they are well cared for, said Sita Amadou of the Islamic Association of Niger, the chief Islamic organisation in the country.
That complicates the ambitious plans of environmental activists who since 2018 have been working to spread family planning as a buffer against the effects of climate change in Niger.
The activists have met with parliamentarians and cabinet ministers, as well as a range of community groups.
“It’s not just about investing in agriculture so that it is organic or sustainable but also in contraceptive methods and family planning everywhere,” said Ayouba, who spoke alongside Issa Garba, who heads the Nigerien Youth Network on Climate Change.
By some estimates, Niamey, Niger’s sleepy capital of 1 million, could become one of the 10 largest cities in Africa by 2100, with as many as 50 million residents as a result of population growth and urbanization, European scientists said in the journal Earth’s Future earlier this year.
The country’s 2012-2020 Action Plan for Family Planning commits to making contraceptives available to half of the population by next year – though their availability is less than 20% for now, government data shows.