The people problem | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, July 03, 2011 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, July 03, 2011

The people problem


Photo: Prito Reza

Every year when the Population Day (July 11) approaches, people show an enthusiasm about the country's population problem. But after a while such discussions fade away, just like the government's population policies. Although high population is the prime problem of Bangladesh, population control has not been given due importance and neither has the government taken any effective steps in this regard. On the contrary, on June 2, 2010, in the Parliament, what the honorable Prime Minster said is really frustrating. She neither considers the population of one of the most highly dense countries of the world as a burden, nor is she concerned about the high growth rate of its population. She vowed to transform the population into skilled manpower -- which of course we all appreciate -- but without keeping it within a manageable and tolerable limit, is it really feasible? Is population in Bangladesh a development challenge or a development opportunity? The fact remains that, high population growth is a serious impediment towards the development efforts of the country and therefore it is crucial to realise the seriousness of the issue and to take necessary steps in this regard as uncontrolled population could very well spoil all development efforts. We must develop the nation but the increasing population of Bangladesh may act as a formidable obstacle.

Population in Bangladesh
and national budget
There exist differences in opinion about the exact size of the population of Bangladesh and in this context the government and the UNFPA differ. Given the fact that the result of the census that took place between March 15-19 has not yet been published, it is difficult to ascertain the exact figure. But according to the UN Population Division, at the moment the population of Bangladesh is more than 16 crore (2008 revision). According to the Vision 2021 of the present government, by the end of 2020, population of Bangladesh will exceed 18 crore, of which 8.2% will be of over 60 years of age. In each square kilometer, 1,289 people will be living whereDR. MOHAMMAD MAINUL ISLAM the corresponding figure at present is 1,142 people. Growth rate of population will be reduced to 1.15% from 1.42% and every year there will be an addition of more than 20 lakh people.
Following this trend of population, in 2050 the population of Bangladesh is projected to reach as high as 22 crore. Therefore, we can be said to be moving towards an uncertain future and if we do not control population now, our future looks bleak. In spite of such an alarming situation, it is a matter of great regret that the population programmes of the country lack required momentum. In the national budget, we neither find any specific plan of action nor the required allotment. Such a negligence has also been reflected in the fiscal year 2012 national budget. Although in the 18(1) section of the constituency of Bangladesh, improving the nutritional as well as the health status of its citizens have been referred to as one of the primary duties of the nation, in the 1,63,589 crore taka budget of FY 2012, only 8,898 crore taka or 5.10% of the budget has been allotted to the health sector, which is about 7.5% of development and 4.2% non-development expenditure and 1.13% of gross domestic product (GDP), for the health and population sector. This allotment is even 0.90% lower than FY 2011 budget.
Although the budget speech has given importance to the health sector, when it comes to the question of allotment, such importance cannot be observed. Just like before, instead of social sector, infrastructure development has been given greater importance. As a result, improvement of health status and health care services will face various challenges. Against the backdrop of lagged behind health system, inefficient family planning, badly affected upazila hospitals from the scarcity of good doctors, and as a whole the deprivation of the mass population from efficient and modern health care services, the allotment given in the health and family planning sector is surprisingly low. No doubt, more budgetary allocation was needed in the sector, particularly for population control. However, we also do not observe any clear vision or clear cut strategies in the FY 2012 budget. In this context, even if agricultural production increases significantly, if the present growth rate of population continues, the target of self sufficiency in food can simply be considered as a fairy tale story.
Although the budget speech has given importance to the health sector, when it comes to the question of allotment, such importance cannot be observed.

For the full version of this article please read this month's Forum, available free with The Daily Star on July 4.
Mohammad Mainul Islam, PhD, is Assistant Professor in the Department of Population Sciences of the University of Dhaka (E-mail: mainulbdcn@gmail.com, mainul@pku.edu.cn).

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