Time to take population policy seriouslyby Md Shariful Islam
IT IS terrifying that we are involved in resolving social problems such as poverty, dowry system, child labour, corruption, crime, power outage, traffic congestion, water scarcity and food shortage but neglect the mother of all these — population. This is a topic which is often overlooked by both our policymakers and popular media. Children are urged to think about this issue since grade 7 through essays such as ‘Population Problem in Bangladesh’. But, I ask, is it really a problem for our policymakers? If so, why do we not seem concerned enough about it? Why are we not working towards controlling our population? Is population a matter of discussion only on World Population Day?
I agreed that population is not a problem, but an asset instead when it becomes human resource. But the question is: are we able to turn the population issue from a problem to an asset? Have we considered how many students enter the job market every year, or the ratio of jobs to competing students? How many students, upon completing graduation, are able to feed their families? How many children are born in the streets every night? How many children are deprived from their right to education? How many children go hungry every day? Have the policymakers noticed the bustling crowds on the public buses, hospitals, schools, colleges, universities? The long queues of people waiting to collect water from different areas in the city?
It is estimated that the current population is about 150 million, making Bangladesh one of the most-densely populated countries in the world. It is worrisome that 1.8 to 2.0 million people are added to the total population every year with a growth rate of 1.34 per cent per annum. It is important to note that, according to various projections, the population will be 222 million by 2051, and 250 million by 2081.
Crowds at bus stops, rail stations, over bridges, shopping malls, schools, and hospitals in Dhaka prove that the population density is beyond acceptable. It is undoubtedly the mother of all other problems such as food shortage, communication disruption, education, deterioration of law and order, accommodation shortage, health hazards, lack of medicine, environmental pollution, water crisis, load shedding, traffic, poverty.
Since its independence, Bangladesh has been experiencing a remarkable rate of urban growth. For instance, the proportion of urban population has increased from 5.2 per cent in 1961 to 25.1 per cent in 2008, and most of the urban growth is taking place in Dhaka, Chittagong, Rajshahi and Khulna. Dhaka alone contains just about one-third of the total urban population and the four largest cities account for over half of the total. Furthermore, it is predicted that by 2050, 57 per cent of people will be living in cities in Bangladesh. One estimate indicates that by 2015, Dhaka may become one of the densest cities of the world. According to reports, more than 35.24 per cent of the population lives in the slums of six major cities. Out of 9,048 slums identified in six cities, 75 per cent of them are in Dhaka, and accommodate around 63 per cent of the slum population. It is staggering that the population density in the slums is roughly 200 times greater, at 531,000 persons per square mile. The proportion of the population of Dhaka living in slums has increased from 20 to 37 per cent. Some studies have reported even a higher figure of people living in slums in Dhaka city (47%). Cities and towns are thus in a state of chronic poverty and poor health condition with limited access to safe water, shelter, employment, food, livelihoods, sanitation and drainage system, mismanagement of household and solid waste, poor transportation systems and air pollution. Such conditions will unquestionably lead to increased crimes.
Furthermore, we could be close to the day when the country will witness inter- and intra-state conflicts over access to scarce natural resources like water. Such a prediction is better understood when looked through the lens of availability and demand of water in our country. Bangladesh was once known as the land of rivers but today it has become more a land of deserts. According to the Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority, among the 310 rivers in the country, 117 are either dead or have lost navigability. Moreover, our rivers, canals, lakes and other water bodies have become polluted, hence increasing the pressure on groundwater every year. It is concerning that approximately 1.3 million cubic metres of waste from 7,000 industrial units of Dhaka city and an unspecified volume of human waste get dumped into the river daily, causing immense water pollution. Besides, excessive use of groundwater during the boro season may also have an adverse effect on the availability of safe drinking water.
Furthermore, groundwater level is depleting every day due to excessive extraction in order to meet growing demands, indiscriminate pollution of our rivers, and waste of water in the water abundant areas. The ground water level is falling between an alarming 2-3 metres every year.
In order to take care of the problem of an escalating population, our foreign policy’s topmost priority should be to train the youths and send them to countries demanding labours. In Japan and a lot of Western countries, much of the female population prioritise making a career over making a family, hence opting out of taking children. This will call for a huge demand for labourers in the coming decades. And, as a nation with an abundance of workers, we should avail this opportunity. If we can export about a million educated, trained, enthusiastic workers, we can soon become a prosperous, hunger free country.
We should think about the population problem in terms of the future, not just present. We must take concrete measures regarding population control soon. The media needs to take the issue of population control seriously, and not only as a routine on every World Population Day. The media is a powerful tool and can bring a revolutionary change.
Md Shariful Islam is a post-graduate student in international relations at Dhaka University. email@example.com.
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