BY LAKACHEW ATNAFU
The Ethiopian Nutrition Leaders Network (ENLN) strongly believe that the recurrent conflict widely observed in the country is an accumulated adversities the country failed to implement sound policies mainly in the education, health and agriculture sectors.
In fact, few years ago, the Ministry of Agriculture formulating nutrition policy, a policy which has multifaceted impact on building better nation, has been working untiringly.
In turn, substantial achievements are gained even if food and nutrition security still remains to be the major challenges. The ill approaches have been tempting the country in achieving effective demographic dividend which is considered as a principal indicator for nation’s prosperity. Hence, this piece aims to investigate the pros and cons of the subject over the few years.
As researchers in the area stated, and data indicated, in recent years, Ethiopia has extended health infrastructure and services to improve the health of citizens, especially women and children, with significant improvements in some determinants such as fertility, child mortality, and life expectancy.
Reductions in fertility and mortality rates have yielded a rapidly growing youth population, with over 70 percent of the population under age 30 and nearly 50 percent under age.
With an increasing working-age population and decreasing dependent-age population due to sustained lower fertility, Ethiopia can reap a demographic dividend if policies and investments continue to be tailored to tap into this potential for economic growth and development and if areas of existing inequality are addressed.
A demographic dividend is the accelerated economic growth that may result from a rapid decline in a country’s fertility and the subsequent change in the population age structure.
Despite achievements at the national level, similar trends are not consistently reflected at the subnational levels due to Ethiopia’s diversity in culture, ecology, and socioeconomic conditions. Ethiopia’s Demographic Health Survey (DHS) data show vast differences in fertility and other health and education indicators between rural and urban Ethiopia and across regional states.
Examining indicators for the regional states in terms of fertility, child mortality, and education is important for understanding where efforts may need to be intensified for Ethiopia to achieve a demographic dividend.
Investments in health care and education both at the national and subnational levels will be critical in order to accelerate the demographic transition and to improve Ethiopia’s workforce productivity.
Despite remarkable achievements in fertility reduction at the national level, this performance is not uniformly replicated at the subnational level and between urban and rural settings. Fertility is consistently higher among rural women, who give birth to nearly three more children during their reproductive years than urban women.
The difference in fertility reduction between regions can be attributed to factors such as relatively delayed marriage for women in more advanced regions, levels of household wealth, and education, with uneducated women having more children than women who have secondary or higher education.
Increased contraceptive use is observed at both the national and subnational levels, also with regional variations. Although, urban women are more likely than their rural counterparts to use any method of contraception, use among married women in some rural areas has skyrocketed in recent years.
The rapid reduction in fertility and child mortality has accelerated Ethiopia’s path toward the demographic dividend. However, harnessing this dividend at the national level will depend on the regional states’ ability to maintain and scale up investments in human capital.
Because national averages often mask differences in health and education outcomes, a subnational perspective is important for equity considerations.
Achieving the demographic dividend requires sufficient investment in human capital development to produce a workforce capable of maximizing the country’s economic potential.
Women in more remote and less developed regions give birth to more children than do women in the more developed regional states: The total fertility rate ranges from 1.7 children per woman in Addis Ababa to 6.4 children per woman in Somali, one of Ethiopia’s designated “emerging regions.”
Fertility levels are higher than the national average in Somali, Benishangul-Gumuz, Afar, Tigray, Oromiya, and Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples’ State (SNNPS) and fertility is rising in Somali, Benishangul-Gumuz, and Afar.
For example, contraceptive use increased by more than six times in Amhara and SNNPS between 2000 and 2016. By contrast, in 2016 the contraceptive prevalence rate was only two percent in Somali, where contraceptive use has actually declined, indicating that reproductive-age women who might not want more children or might want to space births are not using family planning. These trends have significant implications for fertility reduction and prospective gains from any demographic dividend.
Overall, Ethiopia has made progress catching up with peer countries and has a lower infant mortality rate than the average across low-income countries in Africa. Before 2000, almost all states recorded more than 100 infant deaths per 1,000 live births, but by 2011 infant mortality in all states was lower than 100 infant deaths, except for Benishangul Gumuz. By 2030, the infant mortality is forecasted to fall to 31.5 per 1,000.
Similarly, under-five mortality was 21 percent lower in 2011 than it was 10 years ago. Childhood mortality varies among regional states and is consistently higher in rural and emerging regions than in urbanized and advanced regions.
The 2011 DHS data clearly illustrated that Benishangul Gumuz has the highest infant and under-five mortality rates at 101 infant deaths per 1,000 live births and 169 under-five deaths per 1,000 live births, followed by SNNPS, Gambella, and Amhara, while urban areas Addis Ababa and Dire Dawa have the lowest infant and under-five mortality rates. Nevertheless, even in Addis Ababa, one in 25 children dies before their fifth birthday, as to documents.