Understanding the Sahelian challenge through data
It is significant to note that the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic occurred just as UNFPA and regional governments in West and Central Africa were preparing for the 2020 round of population and housing census.
While the pandemic slowed and led to the postponement of the 2020 Round of census, it has unveiled new opportunities, unfurled a new frontier for the integration of demographic health data in humanitarian settings, and stratified its importance.
All of UNFPA’s previous interventions in humanitarian situations in the Sahel, Mano and Niger Rivers riparian bowls, Liptarko Gourma area and the Lake Chad Basins whether from conflict or Ebola Virus Disease and Covid-19 pandemics were data-driven.
This is because when one unpacks the figures and crunches the numbers they can be able to illustrate a needs-assessment position accurately using the various demographic clusters and patterns.
This information is suitable to apprise decision-making, define resource mobilisation and measure the impact of involvement in precise terms.
The dynamics around population information, including geographical spread, are crucial statistical sources informing political management decisions, and influencing administrative and governance interventions.
Demographic indicators remain the only tool with which economic planners evaluate, monitor, intervene and quantify national progress.
They serve as benchmarking advancement yardsticks in fulfilling continental and global development goals as captured in the African Union’s (AU) Agenda 2063 and the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
By breaking down the numbers, development planning can easily identify sectoral progress and challenges in education, health, financial, labour, housing, communications, transport, agriculture, trade and security, among others.
Demographic data not only provides authorities with all this information for proper development planning scenarios, but also serves as an early warning system.
The ongoing humanitarian crisis in the Sahel, which has impacted negatively on national and regional development and compromised public safety did not come as a surprise to the UNFPA who had forecasted on the impending predicament.
In its 2018 Annual Report, UNFPA-WCARO noted that “high population growth rates, maintained by some of the highest fertility rates in the world, will be the most pressing challenge in the near future.
UNFPA is fully conversant and engaged in alleviating the volatile crises within the Sahel.
It has for the last five years gathered information covering all aspects of demographics meta-data even in complex humanitarian crises settings stretching from preparedness to the post-crisis phases continues to monitor and evaluate the same in the entire region.
In recent years’ UNFPA and development partners invested heavily in retooling data disaggregation on population spread, health access and universal education suffrage by refining methodologies to combine the enhancement of regional and national demographic data-collection systems.
The modernization of information gathering systems is not isolated as a stand-alone aspect; instead, it is insulated by upgrades of rapid data analysis and swift interpretation capacities for complementarity.
Will economic development automatically lead to lower fertility? Will lower fertility automatically lead to higher economic growth?
These two fundamental questions informed UNFPA’s direction and with the support of the Regional Centre of Excellence in Generational Economics (CREG). - The writer is the Regional Director of the UNFPA-West and Central African Regional Office (UNFPA-WCARO).