|Volume 5 Issue 07 | July 2011|
The People Problem
DR. MOHAMMAD MAINUL ISLAM delves into the population problem and suggests ways to handle it.
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:
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.
Fertility and family planning
Figure 1: Trends in Total Fertility Rate (Number of Children per Women)
In Bangladesh, although knowledge of family planning is universal, only half of married women are currently using a modern method of family planning (Figure 3). Use of modern methods has increased dramatically since the 1980s, but has remained relatively stable since 2004. However, use of modern family planning varies by residence -- 52% of married women in urban areas, compared to 46% in rural areas.
Figure 2: Trends in Use of Contraception (Percentage of currently married women currently using a modern method of family planning)
BDHS 2007 reveals that 17% of married women have an unmet need for family planning (the percentage of married women who want to space their next birth or stop childbearing entirely but are not using contraception) of which about 7% for spacing and 11% for limiting.
Bangladesh Population Policy (2004) and National Health Policy (2009) refer to ensure adequate availability and access of reproductive health services, especially family planning services to all including information, counseling and services for adolescents. But in reality, availability of contraceptives and access to required services at the grassroots level are inadequate. Twenty percent of currently married women age 15-49 were visited by a fieldworker for family planning services in the six months before the survey as reported, the picture is not impressive at all. Although three in four women reported a satellite clinic in their community in the three months before the survey (BDHS 2007), about only one-third visited the clinic.
Age at marriage, age at first birth and teenage fertility
Child mortality, maternal mortality and nutrition
Bangladesh children and women face nutritional challenges. According to the 2007 BDHS, 43% of children under five are stunted or too short for their age which indicates chronic malnutrition. Stunting is more common in rural areas (45%) than urban areas (36%). Seventeen percent of children are wasted (thin for height), and 41% of children are underweight. Stunting is most common in the poorest households, where more than half of children are too short for their age. Although stunting and underweight have decreased since 2004, wasting has increased slightly.
Women's poor nutritional status has also been evidenced in BDHS 2007 where 30% of women are thin (BMI <18.5), and 12% are moderately and severely thin (BMI <17.0). On the other end of the spectrum, 12% of Bangladeshi women are overweight or obese (BMI =25.0).
Age structure, youth and old aged population
Latest World Population Prospects: The 2010 Revision of UN Population Division (2011) shows the percentage of total population in Bangladesh by age groups/sex where the shape of population pyramid is changing over time (Figure 3). In 1991 and 2001 Census, population aged 60 and above was 5.4% and 6.1% respectively in Bangladesh. Due to declining birth rate and increasing life expectancy at birth, age 60 and above population will reach 8% in 2030 where as the life expectancy at birth in 2020 and 2030 will be 69.7 and 72.5 years respectively (World Population Prospects: The 2008 Revision). Government will face a huge challenge in dealing with the issue of increasing number of elderly in coming days. Old-age pensions and other social security support should be provided which will not be easy to handle for Bangladesh being a developing country with low income.
Figure 3: Population by Age groups/Sex in Bangladesh (Percentage of total population)
Note: The dotted line indicates the excess male or female population in certain age groups. Age groups are in percent of the total population in 1950, 2010, 2050 and 2100, respectively.
Source: United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division (2011): World Population Prospects: The 2010 Revision. New York
Population and poverty
Household Income and Expenditure Survey for 2005 also refers to a declining trend of absolute poverty (2122 k.cal/capita/day) since 1991-92 at national level. It was estimated at 47.7%, 47.5%, 47.5%, 44.3 % and 40.4% in 1991-92, 1995-96, 2000 and 2005 respectively whereas the number of persons falling below the absolute poverty line was estimated at 49.7 million, 51.6 million, 55.3 million and 56.0 million in 1991, 1995-96, 2000 and 2005 respectively. This contrasting feature was due to higher population growth rate than the rate of poverty reduction during this period.
Effective and timely design of policies and their effective implementation is crucial to alleviate poverty for the betterment of population. In addition to the already existing Food for Work (FFW), VGD, VGF, OMS, Old Age Support Scheme, Social Security for the Retarded and Physically Handicapped programmes, the government has to undertake newer schemes to protect the vulnerable population, with a view to the overall improvement of the population of the country.
Population and climate change
As the Bangladesh population is becoming gradually more urban and older, household sizes are getting smaller. These changes have to be truly accounted for in climate change models although energy consumption patterns differ between rural and urban population, younger and older populations, and large versus fewer household sizes. Future population growth in Bangladesh could accentuate climate change whereas a reduction in growth rates would help mitigate climate change speeding up poverty reduction and development. We sincerely hope that the government of Bangladesh will take effective steps associated with population: how population factors are linked to climate changes' causes and effects, and how they can be a component of addressing the challenge. Understanding the complex relationship between population and climate change and examining the links between population size and other factors related to mitigation and adaptation should be the priority in addressing climate change and its consequences. Analysing population dynamics can illuminate who is most vulnerable, why, and how interventions can most effectively reach them.
Recommended strategies towards population control
Photo: PRITO REZA
--To reopen the previously established Family Planning Ministry and to strengthen its capacity.
--To take necessary steps to popularise the slogan, “Not more than Two Children, One is Even Better” and to encourage the mass population.
--To recruit skilled manpower at field-level for home visit, to provide services and to bring discipline in administration.
--To encourage to marry at older age, to have children later and to have sufficient gap between two children. In this context, steps can be taken to provide special facilities, e.g., health insurance to the parents of one child.
--To take necessary steps to provide financial benefits at an increasing rate to those adopting permanent and long term methods of family planning.
--To improve the quality of service by improving the standard of health and family planning centres at Union level.
--To expand the activities of Satellite clinic while satisfying mother-child health care at village level.
--To change the method of communication for conveying information about family planning for newly wed couples. To utilise TV channels, cell phones, radio, etc., as the means of communication on priority basis and to increase public awareness at individual level and also to increase interpersonal communication.
--To incorporate the eligible couples living in slums, barrages, char-land and remote areas within the realm of service provision and to satisfy their requirements.
--To incorporate reproductive health, mother and child health, vulnerable people's education and employment into social safety net programmes.
--To give priority to population control and health sector in the allocation of national budget.
--To implement PPP in health sector and to effectively plan population control policies.
--To take necessary steps towards poverty alleviation through population control and to mitigate the consequences of climate change through acceleration of development efforts. Controlling the size of population and to emphasise examining the links between population size and other factors related to mitigation and adaptation should be the priority in addressing climate change and its consequences.
In conclusion, we can say that, for the development of the country, it is not only important to control the size of the population, but also to develop/improve the quality of it through education, training and other skill development mechanisms. Both the government as well as the opposition have to consider it as a challenge for the nation and to come forward to attain this target of population control and human resource development. The strategies and policies of the present government in the context of population control are still not quite clear. Integrated initiative is imperative to reduce the high rate of population growth and to improve the quality of manpower. In this regard, strong political commitment and the effective and timely implementation of such commitment are crucial.
Mohammad Mainul Islam, PhD, is Assistant Professor in the Department of Population Sciences of the University of Dhaka (E-mail: email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org).
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