Population planning imperative | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, April 09, 2012 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, April 09, 2012

Population planning imperative

The current high population growth rate is absorbing resources required for increased productivity and sustained economic development. Conversely, economic development, improved education and alleviation of poverty are pre-requisites for reduction in child mortality and fertility levels. Arable land, capital and skills are necessary inputs to achieve increased productivity and job creation.
Pressure on arable land is already high at 1,950 people per sq. km., which will rise to 2,600 in the next 12 years. The landless population, currently between 54% 60 %, will increase further. Food production is increasing but progress towards the government's objective of a minimally adequate 16 oz of food grains per capita day, about 1,500 calories, is slow. Investment per potential new work is one of the lowest in the world. Education resources are already fully extended to meet a primary school enrolment ratio of 64%. Around 3.25 million children will be added to the primary school population by 2021, depending on rate of fertility decline. This increased demand on resources will greatly diminish any capacity to extend coverage or improve standards. The rate of unemployment (40%) will be changed. Between now and the year 2021, about 22 million persons will be added to the labour force, aggravating further the existing unfavourable labour market.
Our per capita income is one of the lowest in the world. Estimates have shown that if population continues to grow at the current level of 1.74% (unofficial estimate 1.86%) gross domestic product (GDP) would need to grow at the rate of 12.5% per annum within 2021 to reach the threshold per capita income level of $1,150 by 2021. The generation of adequate resources for investment to achieve the growth rate of 12.5% per annum is a Herculean task for a country faced with serious internal resources constraints and where nearly 48% of development budget is financed out of the external assistance.
It is evident that without a substantial decrease in fertility, improvement in socio-economic conditions will be difficult if not possible to achieve. A significant change in fertility pattern will not occur unless overall development strategies are designed to equally involve both men and women. It is needless to mention here that all our economic effort for development is being negated by the ever-growing mass of population every year. And in the next decades, if steps are not taken now, we will not have sufficient arable land to cultivate to meet our increasing demand for food grains, industry, energy and urban expansion.
Bangladesh has wisely incorporated population planning and services into its planning for socio-economic development. The government addressed broad socio-economic issues from the perspective of population and family planning related services. Population and family planning services have been integrated into sectoral development process. These developments indicate the importance that the government places on the rapid diffusion of small-family norms. But population and family planning (FP) services are ineffective both in rural and urban areas. The people in rural areas do not find any FP workers in their areas. The field workers (from upazila and below) draw salaries without any work. Irregular staff at family welfare centres operate the health and family planning programme.
It is impossible to achieve success in population programmes with the present structure and staff. The government seems to be reluctant to run this programme. We do not find any intensive supervision and monitoring conducted by the government or any other agency for achieving the target. Dual administration prevails, which makes FP officials ineffective. No significant progress has yet been made in respect of population programme. A crucial factor is the government's strong commitment to economic and political stability, upon which all population policies and programmes rely. Without such stability the population programme would be subject to uncertainties and risks, which could inhibit its success.
The two greatest challenges facing Bangladesh are economic backwardness and political instability. In such a situation it is almost impossible to pursue economic development without sacrificing some degree of community welfare. The government has consistently pursued a three-pronged development strategy emphasising stability, growth and equitable distribution of resources. It is the essence of the political pledge. It is no less true that the success of the population programme will contribute to the development of economy as well as improvement in living standards. Economic development cannot be achieved without solving the population problem.
The family planning or population programmes may be bifurcated from the health ministry and a separate ministry or division may be created for it. The Directorate of Family Planning should be manned by demographic or population background people, not from the administrative cadre, and should be given the mandate to coordinate all FP activities performed by both the government and non-government organisations. Present integrated approach should be withdrawn.
The proposed ministry/ division is to provide socio-economic welfare to the remote areas through population planning and FP assistance. Donor driven programmes should not be encouraged. The directorate of FP should be engaged to reduce the fertility rate directly by offering contraceptive information (through door to door approach) and services; and by institutionalising the idea of FP. It may launch family nutrition improvement programme, intensive service delivery programme, income-generating programme to FP acceptors, corporate FP programme, integrated MCH-FP & Health programme, family programme, etc to achieve economic development.
Bangladesh needs to have proactive population policy and family planning programmes if it is to achieve the goal of replacement level fertility. The transition from high to low fertility can be prompted by various events. It can result from strong political commitment to population programme, the creation of separate ministry/division, the introduction of new birth control methods and new source of supply in the remote areas with intensive supervision, innovative efforts to reach populations at risk of unwanted births, targeting of new groups, specially young population, and improvement in policies and programmes. No less important is a strong commitment to economic and political stability, without which programmes face major risks and uncertain outcomes.

The writer is a former Joint Chief, (PRL), Planning Commission.
Email: dr.abdullah.bd@gmail.com

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