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Trade-offs for Namibia’s future

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Namibia is one of the driest countries on earth, and yet nearly all Namibians have access to clean drinking water. At the same time, however, only 34% of Namibians have access to adequate sanitation facilities. This discrepancy is not just a development peculiarity. Rather, it shows that achieving one target may come at the cost of reaching others – mostly because resources are always limited.

To better account for this, planners need to balance trade-offs carefully and improve integrated, long-term planning.

Population forecasts are key to setting long-term targets, and are therefore a useful starting point for long-term planning. More people means more services will be required, including health, education and infrastructure. For example, to achieve near universal access to water, planners must estimate the future water supply and demand, as well as the number of water connections to households. This is based on their best estimate of the future population size, average household size, geographic location and water usage, as well as water demand for industrial and agricultural use.

To model likely future pathways and trade-offs, the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) uses the International Futures (IFs) system – a powerful tool for integrated forecasting and analysis hosted by the Frederick S. Pardee Center for International Futures at the University of Denver.

Namibia removes exam fees for junior and senior secondary schools Photo: kaitpcnamibia.blogspot
Namibia removes exam fees for junior and senior secondary schools Photo: kaitpcnamibia.blogspot

In a recent research paper, the ISS forecasted that the population of Namibia will likely increase to 3.6 million people by 2030 (up from 2.2 million in 2011). Population estimates need to take into account three key drivers: births, deaths and migration.

To forecast births, IFs uses the average number of children a woman is expected to have (referred to as the total fertility rate). There are short-term factors that affect fertility, such as contraception use, but in the long term, levels of education have a more significant impact. Women with higher levels of education tend to have fewer children. Namibia has historically spent well above the relative global average on education, and Namibian levels of attained education will increase over the next 15 years. For these reasons, we expect the fertility rate to decline to 2.6 children per woman by 2030 (down from 3.5 today).

To forecast deaths, planners need to know the health of the population, preferably for each age and sex cohort, i.e. the health of young men vs middle-aged women. Namibians are becoming healthier overall; communicable diseases and infant mortality rates are decreasing while life expectancy is increasing. The average Namibian born in 2030 will live to be over 70; a significant increase from current life expectancy, which is 65.

Namibia has not recently seen high levels of migration (inward or outward) and we expect this trend to continue. Using this population forecast (and various other assumptions), it is likely that many of Namibia’s long-term development targets will remain out of reach, even by 2030.

It is therefore crucial that trade-offs are considered thoroughly. But what should be prioritised? Which area of investment – in sanitation, roads or education – will deliver the best return on human development?

Photo: The Namibian
Photo: The Namibian

Low levels of access to traditional infrastructure like sanitation, electricity and transportation, for example, form one of Namibia’s most pressing problems. The country has made ‘limited or no progress’ on achieving its Millennium Development Goal of access to sanitation.

Currently, only a third of Namibians have access to adequate sanitation facilities. According to the ISS forecast, some progress is to be expected. By 2030, 52% of Namibians are likely to enjoy improved sanitation facilities. This will reduce the prevalence of communicable diseases and malnutrition, especially among children, but is still significantly below the goal of universal access, as set out in the government’s national development plan.

Given limited financial resources, addressing Namibia’s infrastructure challenges comes with trade-offs that have far-reaching consequences for the future of the country. For example, achieving universal access to water, sanitation, electricity and transportation by 2030 will make it difficult for Namibia to maintain its above-average levels of education investment.

Pupils writing examination for their respective subject Photo: kaitpcnamibia.blogspot
Pupils writing examination for their respective subject Photo: kaitpcnamibia.blogspot

In turn, lower levels of spending on education will impact upon the fertility forecast, since (secondary) female education is a driving force behind declining fertility rates. Likewise, the health implications of increased sanitation will change the life expectancy forecast for the better. Pursuing these development targets will thus alter the population assumptions used to set the targets in the first place. This is why integrated planning in development is so crucial, and why planning can only be understood as an iterative process.

There is no silver bullet to advancing human development – all choices have long-term implications and wide-reaching consequences. And while it is impossible to predict all of the effects of every decision, it is important to recognise that these connections do exist and to structure development planning accordingly.

This article was first published by the Institute for Security Studies and is republished here with their permission.

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