Population: Asset or burden | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, July 21, 2011 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, July 21, 2011

Population: Asset or burden

Photo: Amirul Rajiv

World Population Day-2011 was observed on July 11 throughout the world under the leadership of United Nations (UN), as well as in Bangladesh through different programmes, to raise awareness on global population issues. In 1989, the governing council of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) recommended that, in order to focus attention on the urgency and importance of population issues in the context of overall development plans and programmes and the need to find solutions for these issues, July 11 should be observed by the international communities as World Population Day.
The theme of this year's commemoration is "The World at 7 Billion," set by UNFPA to call attention of governments, communities and individuals to understand the global population issues for taking remedial actions. This Day is observed annually to reaffirm the right to plan for a family. It encourages activities, events and information to help make this right a reality throughout the world.
The unprecedented decrease in mortality, which began to accelerate in the more developed parts of the world in the nineteenth century and spread to all parts of the world in the twentieth century, is one of the major achievements of humanity. Also, life expectancy has increased from 46.5 years in 1950 to 66 years in 2000-2005, and is expected to rise to 76 years by the year 2045-2050 (WPP, 2008).
It is estimated that in 1 AD, there were 300 million people in the world. This number was 400 million and 500 million in 1250 and 1500 respectively. According to a United Nations (UN) estimate, the world population reached 1 billion in 1804; rose to 2 billion 123 years later, in 1927; to 3 billion in 1960; to 4 billion in 1974; to 5 billion in 1987; and to 6 billion 12 years after that in 1999. It was nearly 7 billion in 2010 (U.S. Census Bureau, 2010) and is projected to reach 7 billion on October 31this year.
The scenario in Bangladesh is quite similar to the depiction of the rest of the world. According to the United States Census Bureau, in 2010 Bangladesh's population was 156.12 million while the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) estimated that it was164.4 million. At present, the total population is 142.3 million and the growth rate is 1.34% according to the Fifth Population Census (BBS, 2011).
These differences in the estimated total population are creating a huge debate throughout the country and are also a serious matter for the development planning of the country. But, it is hoped that this number may be in between these figures. The average age at marriage (especially for females) is still lower than expected. When women are married at an earlier age, they have longer reproductive life span, leading to the birth of more children. In 2010, Bangladesh's National Population Policy aimed to achieve the replacement level of fertility of 2.2, but it still hovered at 2.5.
Notwithstanding the debate about the size of the population, the reality is that the population is increasing at an accelerated pace. Whether this large population is an asset or a problem remains the main concern. When population increases, it demands various basic components (e.g. food, shelter, health facilities, educational institution etc.) for the fulfillment of basic necessities. Therefore, it creates complex problems for a country like Bangladesh, where 31.5% of the population is still living under the poverty line (HIES, 2010).
On the other hand, when the people are provided with education, training and other skill enhancement facilities, they become a resource and can participate in the overall development of the country.
The total number of manpower of the country is 57.1 million. Of them, 54.5 million are employed and 2.6 million are unemployed, or looking for jobs (MS, 2010). If we provide employment for the 2.6 million people, they can easily participate in the country's development. Contraceptive prevalence rate (CPR) is still not so high (55.8%) and 17.6% have unmet need for contraception (BDHS, 2007).
More than 40% of the population are illiterate (HIES, 2010). As a least developed country, Bangladesh has made a considerable progress since independence in 1971 due to the various initiatives taken by the successive governments. However, progress is much slower than expected.
The population is increasing, and it will be difficult to manage unless efforts are accelerated. No government has been able to find a solution to this vital issue. Theoretically, many strategic documents and policy papers seem to be sound and implementable but, in reality, outcomes are yet to be discernible. If we can treat our population as a resource, and can properly utilise their potentiality, the overall development of the country might become possible. We should think of them as them an asset rather than a burden.
Though it is difficult to provide employment opportunities for such a large population in a country like Bangladesh, the government should try to solve it by empowering them. It is also difficult to control the population growth through contraception methods or other family planning methods because of the conservative society.
Considering these issues, the government should control the population growth by effective implementation of various policies and programmes related to family planning and population (like greater incentives for those having one child). A law fixing the minimum age for marriage should be enacted.
Also, the government should try to create employment opportunities in the development sector by training skilled manpower through various effective skill enhancement programmes.
Hence, the governments needs to be inventive in renewing and revising the strategies and approaches (e.g. family planning programmes, population policy, skills enhancement programmes etc.) to meet the current challenges, and not merely resort to the failed old policies packaged in new covers.
Policy makers, planners, social scientists, statisticians and the authorities concerned should formulate the policies and plans, speed up the effort in limiting population, and evaluate the population dynamics and its impact on the development goals and vision. Only then can the population of the country become an asset.

The writers are Researcher, Unnayan Onneshan (E-mail: mustafiz.rahman@unnayan.org), and Lecturer, Department of Population Science & HRD, Rajshahi University, (E-mail: nasrin_hrd@yahoo.com), respectively.

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