Population: From boom to doom

Population: From boom to doom
GLOBAL population is expected to increase from 6.5 billion today to 9.1 billion by 2050, and the population of the 50 poorest countries will more than double to reach 1.7 billion. Almost all of the net increase in population is occurring in developing countries, and in many of them, the number of people living in poverty is rising — UNFPA

There is plenty of insensibility in the manner the population is increasing in this poor country, no matter what development economists or social scientists may have to say from the academic point of view. Books, research papers, statistical figures, seminars and workshops on population and human resource development belong to a lustrous world far away from the real world, where mindless procreation only adds more hungry mouths everyday.

This is a world where life has no purpose, just as much as death has no profound meaning. In fact, this is a world where only a very thin line separates life and death. In such a cruel world "human resource" is but a fancy word found only in the dictionary of the privileged.

In the countryside and in the low-income residential areas one will be surprised to see a young man in early thirties holding the hands of two children with another in the lap of his very young wife, maybe twenty-two, looking uncertainly at the future. What motivated him to have three children? Are those three children only his responsibility or the responsibility of the state as well? If the state will have to provide for the children’s free education and health care, and also ensure their protection, basic rights etc., then why should the state allow him to have three children? Who is there to tell him and millions like him out there that they must not procreate mindlessly? Therefore, from all practical angles and from the point of view of millions of poverty stricken caught in the perpetuity of socio-economic traps, the country is heading towards doomsday.

Let us substantiate the argument. In the ’70s, the population was around 75 million. In thirty years, it has doubled to the present 150 million. But the land and its resources have not doubled. The population is increasing diligently following the Malthusian theory, but job opportunities are not increasing proportionately, and as a result the number of the unemployed is increasing by leaps and bound.

The fallout is — young people are risking their life in the high seas or deserts, trying to find work in foreign countries; or their labour is being bought by employers in rich countries against meager wages. But then again the number of people working abroad is much less than the number staying back in the country. What happens to them?

Obviously, the unemployed desperate people will get pulled into the underground criminal world to peddle drugs, guns, contraband goods and counterfeit money. Some of them will join corrupt politicians to work as their cadres in the locality. Some will turn into hardcore criminals like highway robbers and inter-district dacoits. So, we can easily visualise the law and order situation in the near future, which will prove to be impossible to control.

Just read the UNFPA report once again. If global population increases from 6.5 billion today to 9.1 billion by 2050, and if the population of the 50 poorest countries double to reach 1.7 billion, then the number of people living in poverty will also rise frighteningly. Just think for a while dear readers, what will transpire when the population of Bangladesh reaches 300 million in 2050!! Where will you house them! What will you feed them! How will you provide them with education, work, health care, nutrition, cloth and protection?

It has been established beyond doubt that burgeoning population and poverty are intricately related. So, let us see what an UNFPA report has to say about it:

"Some 1.2 billion people live in extreme poverty, on less than a dollar a day. Another 2.7 billion struggle to survive on less than $2 a day. 852 million people are chronically or acutely malnourished, some 300 million of them children. Every year 11 million children die before their fifth birthday. Life expectancy at birth in the least developed countries is 51, compared to 76 in richer countries. 114 million children do not get basic education, and 584 million women are illiterate.

"The countries where poverty levels are the highest are generally those that have the most rapid increases in population and the highest fertility levels. Countries that have reduced fertility and mortality by investing in universal health care, including reproductive health, as well as education and gender equality, have made economic gains. A 2001 study of 45 countries, for example, found that if they had reduced fertility by five births per 1,000 people in the 1980s, the average national incidence of poverty of 18.9 percent in the mid-1980s would have been reduced to 12.6 percent between 1990 and 1995.

"The Un report goes on to say that enabling people to have fewer children contributes to upward mobility and helps to stimulate development. When women can negotiate their reproductive health decisions with men, this exercise of their rights leads to an increased decision-making role within families and communities that benefits all. Because smaller families share income among fewer people, average per-capita income increases.

"It further says that fewer pregnancies lead to lower maternal mortality and morbidity, and often to more education and economic opportunities for women. These, in turn, can lead to higher family income. As women become more educated, they tend to have fewer children, and participate more in the labour market. Families with lower fertility are better able to invest in the health and education of each child. Spaced births and fewer pregnancies overall improve child survival. Sexual and reproductive health services are key to curbing HIV. The pandemic is killing large numbers of people in their most productive years, increasing the ratio of dependents to the working-age population.

"Many developing countries have large youth populations. Reproductive health programs that address the greater vulnerability of adolescents to unprotected sex, sexual coercion, HIV and other sexually transmitted infections, unintended early pregnancies and unsafe abortions, and enable young women to delay pregnancy and marriage are important factors in breaking the intergenerational cycle of poverty."

Here is an interesting finding in the report that will be worth mentioning here for the discerning readers.

It is said by researchers that investment in reproductive health, especially in family planning, will result in lowered fertility, and this can open a one-time only "demographic window" of economic opportunity.

The demographic window
"Lower fertility and slower population growth temporarily increase the relative size of the workplace, opening the one-time only demographic window. With fewer dependent children and older dependents, relative to a larger, healthier working-age population, countries can make additional investments that can spur economic growth and help reduce poverty. Within another generation, the window closes again, as the population ages and dependency increase once more. If jobs are generated for the population, this demographic bonus results in higher productivity, savings and growth. In the poorest countries, where fertility remains high, the demographic window will not open for some time, but investments now in reproductive health services can hasten its arrival and ensure future dividends."

The bottom line is — population is the first and foremost impediment to developing Bangladesh into a modern, scientifically progressive nation, that we yearn to do. Unfortunately, besides the mundane programs and promises, nothing substantial is being done to save the

country from the population doom that looms large. There is no time to lose, therefore, policy makers ought to put their foot down and take difficult decisions to address the problem if they want to save the country from sinking into the Bay under the weight of 300 million people.

Shahnoor Wahid is a Senior Assistant Editor of The Daily Star. News Source

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