Uganda vs. Oregon: Size Does Matter (when you’re talking about population)

As a reference point for how big Uganda is, one frequent comparison is that it is about the same size as the State of Oregon in the U.S. (not that that means anything to anyone outside the United States).  Usually I quote this statistic to talk about how amazing the birding is in this country:  “Did you know that Uganda, which is only the size of Oregon, has over 1,000 bird species and all of North America only has 810?) or something like that.

However, it came up in a new context recently in a conversation about the population pressures in Uganda.  The current population of Uganda is just over 33 million.  I tried to picture 33 million people in Oregon, but I had no idea how many people actually do live there, so I had to look it up.  It turns out that there are only 3.8 million people in Oregon.  That means that Uganda has nearly 10 times as many people living in slightly less space than Oregon, not even factoring in that Uganda’s surface area is about 20% water, which can’t be lived on or farmed.  Combine that with the second highest population growth rate in the world and there is a crisis afoot.  Now try to imagine 100 million people living in that same space, which is Uganda’s projected population in 2050.  Yikes.

This little bit of research made me curious about how these two entities compare on other measures, and here is what I came up with:


Oregon Uganda
Total area 254,810 sq. km. 241,038 sq. km.
Highest point 3,426 m – Mt. Hood 5,110 m – Margherita Peak
Lowest Point Sea Level at Pacific Ocean 621 m at Lake Albert


Oregon Uganda
Total Budget $30.3 billion $3.9 billion
Gross Domestic Product $161.6 billion $41.7 billion (adjusted for Purchasing Power Parity)
$17.12 billion (at official exchange rate)
Per capita income $38,801 per year $1,200 per year adjusted for PPP
$410 per year at official exchange rate
Total debt $26,365,021,034 $4 billion (I am not sure how accurate this is)
Percent of budget spent on education 15% 3.3%


Portland, Oregon’s largest city, has more breweries than any other city in the United States Uganda has the highest per capita alcohol consumption of any country in the world according to the World Health Organization


Oregon Uganda
# of National Parks 1 10
# of bird species nearly 500 about 1,065
# of mammal species 136 345


Oregon Uganda
Electricity production 46,971,120 megawatt hours/year 2,256,000 megawatt hours/year – As of 2007 – should increase dramatically with the new hydro projects underway
CO2 emissions per capita 11.71 metric tons/year 4.6 metric tons/year


Oregon Uganda
Arrival of first humans 15,000 years ago 40,000 years ago (much earlier for proto-humans)
Arrival of first European explorer Late 1600s 1862
Total Population (2010) 3.8 million 33.4 million
Percentage urban 78% 12%
Percentage rural 22% 88%
Annual population growth rate Approx. 1.5% Approx. 3.563% (2nd fastest in the world by some measurements, with 6.7 children per mother on average)
Average life expectancy 77.8 (but on some Indian Reservations in Oregon, the life expectancy is below 50) 53
Projected population in 2050 5.8 million 96 – 120 million


There are a few other comparisons that I wasn’t able to get specific figures for.  One is the overall growth of the economy.  Even in this time of global financial stress, Uganda’s economy continues to grow at about 5.6%.  I couldn’t get an exact statistic for Oregon’s economic growth, but I would imagine it is much lower than Uganda’s, if not a negative curve.

An interesting similarity is the cultural divide in each place.  In Uganda, the division is between north and south, with ethnic, language, livelihood, and landscape differences.  In Oregon, the division is east-west, with the Cascades dividing the wet, liberal, urban west from the dry, conservative, rural, agricultural east.

There are bright spots and dark spots in this comparison.  It is great that Uganda’s economic growth rate is higher and its debt lower than Oregon’s.  Uganda’s carbon footprint is much lower, and it has far more abundant biodiversity.

On the other hand, there is the one big factor that might trump any advances this country makes – a population heading towards 100 million people on a landscape that isn’t getting any bigger.  How can the government possibly provide health services, water and power, security, transport, etc, to so many people when it can’t even provide those things to the current population?

Uganda has amazing potential as a nation.  It has abundant natural resources, enormous agricultural potential and a population that is ready to work hard when opportunities are presented.  Getting this population growth under control, though, needs to be Uganda’s top priority.  Without addressing this time-bomb, the rest is just rearranging deck chairs on the titanic.

Mark D. Jordahl – Kampala

Some of the Sources:

Uganda Bureau of Statistics
CIA Factbook – Uganda
Oregon Fact Sheet
Uganda’s GDP Since 2003

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About Mark D. Jordahl

Mark Jordahl is a writer, trip leader and naturalist who has lived much of the last 7 years in Uganda and currently calls Colorado home.
This entry was posted in Environment, Musings, Society and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

17 Responses to Uganda vs. Oregon: Size Does Matter (when you’re talking about population)

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  5. Mark Sankey says:

    We were told to multiply and replenish the earth. Who are you to tell people to “control” their population? Are you God? Don’t you know that whenever we go to that issue we begin to travel a road that is a dead end? It only leaads to abortion, euthanasia, and us deciding who lives and dies, and when it happens. That is not our place. Don’t go there, and so please don’t suggest putting that on the people of Uganda. I have been there and I love them all.

    • Mark Jordahl says:

      “Be fruitful and multiply” was written about a time when the world had a couple of dozen people on it.That’s no longer the case. By not controlling population, Uganda is making the choice for many people to die. Is that what you recommend? Since you have been there, you should realize how dependent on small-scale agriculture the country is. What solution do you see in the bible besides making loaves and fishes appear once there isn’t enough land to feed everyone? What about the availability of medicines and health care professionals that is already too little to serve the needs of the current population? What about the schools that already can’t educate the kids? It’s nice to just say “God will make it all ok.” But sometimes he doesn’t. Sometimes maybe he actually wants us to take responsibility for our actions. Choosing not to have over 6 children per mother is not the same as abortion or euthanasia. You are right about heading towards a dead end, but you are dead wrong about what will bring the planet there. NOT controlling population will bring us to a dead end when disease, starvation and conflict cause millions of innocent people to die.

      • Bonnie Bzdok says:

        Well said Mark, thank you for your views and for pointing out obvious changes in the world, environment and cultures. Uganda needs more people like you, speaking truths instead of ancient biblical beliefs to lead them into a healthier and sustainable future. Thank you!

  6. Michelle Peterson says:

    Just curious how you propose to control the population? I know there is a big movement advocating family planning here. Would you advocate a larger emphasis on this??? Or would you bring back the president’s wife’s abstinence campaign??? Just curious … what plan you would instigate here …

    • Mark Jordahl says:

      Hi Michelle – there’s no easy answer to that. So much of the population growth, as I’m sure you know, comes down to cultural values. The value of the woman, in particular, comes from having children. There is also the need to have a number of children because there is no Social Security or other safety net for when you are older if you don’t have kids to take care of you.

      I am a believer in public education. The original ABC (Abstinence, Be Faithful and Use Condoms) was incredibly effective until Janet started a campaign against the “C” part of the equation. And I happen to believe that the condoms were the main drivers in the reduction of AIDS at the time. The rate of new infections has skyrocketed since that campaign ended.

      Abstinence as a way to prevent teen pregnancy, the spread of STDs or anything else has never worked anywhere and it won’t work in Uganda. The human race is just too darn sexual for that to work. And if pretending to be abstinent means you can’t walk openly into a store and buy a condom, the challenges will only get worse.

      I would like to see a public outreach campaign focused on three things that I think would strike a chord in Uganda:

      1. How expensive it is to raise kids with school fees, medical care, etc. Get people to do the math and think “oh, if I want to send my kids to school, I better only have 2 or 3 or I will go broke”

      2. It is “modern” to have fewer kids. The hip urbanites are having fewer kids. Have Bebe Cool and others speak out about population.

      3. In the rural areas, show billboards of the postage-stamp sized pieces of land that you will be handing down to your kids. It is traditional in many parts of Uganda to divide your land evenly between your sons. If you are struggling to survive on 4 acres, imagine what it will be like for your 4 sons when they are each supporting a family on 1 acre.

      I’m not an expert in this, so I could be way off base. And with the President supporting a high birth rate, I can’t imagine anything will be done anytime soon.

      I’d love to hear what you think would work!


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  8. Buck Eichler says:

    Hi Mark, I’m a fellow Muzungu from Oregon, in fact, married to a Ugandan, who spends a lot of time in Uganda. I appreciate your comparisons and hadn’t seen many of these before.
    I also am very concerned about the birth rate in Uganda. As you know, it is deeply ingrained in the cultures here, but is beginning to change, and I certainly hope Uganda does not rise in population anywhere near to those projections.
    I will share that I am an evangelical Christian, and do not think it is a Christian mandate to overpopulate the earth, and as you know, it is not Christianity that really brought this obsession with producing many children but is rooted in the agrarian culture that developed their work force through child bearing. High infant and childhood mortality rates also fueled the desire to have many children.
    Many women are now becoming career minded and years spent in college and career development are helping lower the birth rate through delaying pregnancy.
    Oregon is very sparsely populated in most of the eastern half of the state. In places you can drive for hours without seeing any houses. 70% of Oregons population lives in 11% of it’s area (Willamette Valley). With Uganda having almost 10 times Oregon’s population, some would be very surprised to see the vast open areas in Ugandan Forest, agriculture, and grazing land.
    Uganda is now our second home, is dearly loved, and we hope to retire here.

  9. Rebecca says:

    Sounds like you take offense, with Oregon. (Where I was conceived, born, and raised), and Uganda being compared. There’s no comparison. They’re both spectacular variations of the gorgeous planet we live on. It, like Uganda, is a beautiful and wonderful place, with some of the friendliest people in the entire U.S.A.
    I am sure Uganda is amazing. I’d love to travel there some day. It’s sad to see your biased opinions come through in your comparison. I guess I don’t understand why you’re so offended that people say Uganda is about the same size as Oregon. That means people also say, Oregon is about the same size as Uganda. Which means they’re a compliment to one another, in both their unique shades of splendor and beauty. Not a competition. Quit hatin’ on Oregon. We wouldn’t hate on Nigeria. Peace and love.

    • Rebecca says:

      By the way..
      There’s no such thing as over population. Mother, (Earth), is MORE than capable of sustaining us ALL.. That is a lie by those in positions of power trying to scare and control us. Our planet is MORE than capable of sustaining and feeding us all. As well as medical care. (Every pharmaceutical drug is derived from plants/something found in nature). We humans everywhere on the planet, are simply too egotistical, stupid, greedy, and materialistic, insecure and born with giant holes in our hearts, that we’ve simply forgotten HOW to live in harmony with nature.
      & we’d better figure it out soon, or Mother Nature will have to kill us for her own survival, as we’ve become nothing but fleas on her back.. Just like we use medicine to kill viruses that make us sick, so may earth have to do to us, for Her own life..
      But that’s not because there’s too many of us. No. This planet is MORE than able to take care of us all.. We’ve simply rejected nature and grown out of touch with Her, and don’t know how to live in harmony, cuz we’re full of what I stated above. THATS what we need to change. THATS what’ll cure the root of the issue. Not your proposition. Truth..

    • Mark Jordahl says:

      Hmmm…I’m really not sure where you get the idea that I’m “hatin’ on Oregon” here. I love the state, and the Pacific Northwest in general is my favorite eco-region in the world. My “home” is in the Puget Sound. If you are referring to where I state that the economic curve is probably negative in Oregon, look at when I wrote this post – 2011. Things were pretty bleak at the time in the US economy in general. I am listing comparative statistics here – the only place I put forth a judgment of one over the other is that the population growth rate in Uganda is something to be concerned about, and it isn’t a problem in Oregon.

      I strongly disagree with you that the earth can handle an infinite number of people. Populations grow exponentially, and the earth can’t grow any bigger. I agree that the earth could handle the current population if we treated her better. But the laws of physics disagree with you that there is no limit to the number of people who can live here. At some point, the finite space available on the earth would simply run out.

  10. Lesa says:

    What. Are. You. Talking. About?
    Go back to bed Rebecca, and get up on the right side please!
    There was no hatin in this article. You either read a different one than everyone else or your looking for a fight.

    • Joshua Agaba says:

      I commend family planning strongly for our beloved Ugandan population
      Coz even China the most populous country on earth with about 1.5 billion people has had a one child family policy till of recent when they have allowed two.
      Meaning quality people whose government can afford quality services
      Too many children per family is unrealistic given our GDP.

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