By Suzanne Beukes
LUANDA, Angola, 31 October 2011 – Today, as the world welcomes its 7 billionth person, Angola is straining to address the needs of its rapidly expanding population.
|VIDEO: UNICEF correspondent Suzanne Beukes reports on the weak social services in Angola that are struggling to keep pace with the population boom. Watch in RealPlayer|
The country has almost 19 million people, more than half of whom are children. It also has one of the highest birth rates in the world.
In Luanda, the capital, high-rise buildings and cranes clutter the skyline, and below, the streets are choked with traffic – evidence of the country's breakneck growth.
Yet in spite of this visible development – results of Angola's vast oil wealth – the country still struggles to provide essential services to its citizens, and to keep pace with its swelling population.
Waiting to be registered
Five-month old Armando Antonio sits on the lap of his mother, Inha Antonio, as she waits patiently to receive his birth certificate in a government office. This is the third day she has come to collect this vital document. She knows that without it, her son stands little chance of accessing any form of health care, schooling or other critical services.
Armando’s problem is a common one.
|© UNICEF video|
|Almost a decade after the end of year civil war, Angola still working to catch up with its rapidly growing population.|
“The war has destroyed the infrastructure,” said Edina Kozma, UNICEF Chief of Child Protection in Angola, explaining the country’s difficulty registering babies and young children. The war also destroyed existing government documents, affecting the status of children who were registered before or during the war.
As more Angolans are born, sorting out this backlog of civil registration while accounting for new citizens is proving to be a major challenge. Currently less than a third of all children under age five have been registered; some 2.2 million children under five have not.
In addition, because of population movement away from war-stricken areas, the country must now adjust to accommodate new population patterns, explained Ms. Kozma. Social services are straining to adapt to these changes.
Many challenges ahead
Birth registration is the first of many challenges that lie ahead for young Angolans like Armando. Obtaining a quality education will be another.
|© UNICEF video|
|Make-shift outdoor classes are evidence of a system unable to cater to the millions of children eager to study.|
According to Américo Chicote, provincial director of education in Huila Province, the education sector is simply unable to meet the demand for schools and teachers. Many schools have resorted to holding classes outdoors or in makeshift structures.
“'We are still teaching 40 per cent of our pupils under trees, and the school-age population is estimated to be growing at a rate of 3 per cent per year. Results are suffering,” Mr. Chicote said. “There are 171 days in the school year but there are not 171 days of good weather.”
Building blocks for a better future
In response, the Government is implementing a host of education reforms and has identified school access and quality as key issues.
UNICEF is supporting many of the Government’s efforts, including the drafting of a national early childhood development policy, the creation of child-friendly schools, the development of an accelerated learning programme, and a European Union-funded teacher training programme.
But as the population continues to grow, so will the demands. Additional efforts will be required to ensure all of Angola’s children grow up healthy, safe, educated – and able to fulfil the promise of being born into one of Africa’s richest nations.