When Malawi got its independence in 1964, the country’s population was around four million. Since then, the population has been increasing.
Around the 1970s, it was around five million. At that time, land was plentiful. In those days, it was possible to own big pieces of land and grow crops such as maize, groundnuts, tobacco, cassava, rice, peas and many other crops. We had plenty of land which our population could accommodate.
The population of the country rose to around five or six million in the 1970s and 1980s. From that time, Malawi’s population has swollen to around 17 million at present. It is projected that if the current trend continues, the population will hit 30 million in 2030. That is a disaster, considering Malawi is one of the smallest countries in the world! In fact, the country is smaller than all its neighbours-Mozambique, Tanzania and Zambia.
In fact, Zambia shares boundaries with Angola, Tanzania, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana and Mozambique. You could never expect, therefore, that Zambia-which is much bigger than the size of Malawi-would have the same population as this country. Yet this is the situation. A Zambian, therefore, owns more land to carry various social activities. Malawians must understand this fact and government must curb the rapid increase of our population, realising that we need the land for various social activities.
The rapid increase in population has resulted in a number of problems. Conflicts for land are now common. Social services have also borne the brunt of this phenomenon, leading to high teacher to pupil ratios in public schools and high doctor to patient ratios in health facilities. For example, the Ministry of Education has set the teacher to pupil ratio at 1: 65. However, it is common in our primary schools to find a teacher managing a class of 80 to 100. There is need for more buildings because the ones that exist are simply inadequate. In some primary schools, classes are still held under trees!
The rapid increase in population has hardly spared our environment. Our forests have been depleted as more people need firewood and charcoal. The consequences have been disastrous resulting in the drying up of most rivers which form the catchment of our beautiful lake. Is it any wonder that the level of the lake is receding, resulting in problems with the generation of electric power on the Shire River? This has led to persistent power cuts and affected the economy of the country.
I often travel between the cities of Blantyre and Lilongwe and over the last two decades I have observed loss of our forests due to wanton cutting. I used to enjoy our rivers; Lilongwe, Diamphwe, Linthipe and Shire, which were full of clear, cool, sparkling water and beautifully covered with green natural forests.
The rapid population growth has also led to government finding it difficult to meet its other obligations. Drugs in public hospitals and other services, for instance, have been cause for concern. The number of patients is too large for hospitals to cater for the needs of each of them. Granted there are other ills such as dishonesty, lack of transparency and accountability and training. Problems associated with rapid population growth exist and we should be able to see them or can we?
I first came to Lilongwe as a very young boy of about eight in the early 1970s. Back then, the country was teeming with beautiful forests and there was a lot of land. That was true of every corner of the country. Not today! The truth now is that we must control our population to match the size of our land. Malawians, let us wake up and do something about it!