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Population Challenges of Bangladesh

Bangladesh is the 8th largest country in the world with a population of 142.3 million in 2011 (BBS, Population and Housing Census 2011, Preliminary Results) living in an area of 147,570 sq km. The population density of the country is 964 per sq km that makes it the most populous country in the world with the exception of island nations/territories such as Singapore and Hong Kong. Early policy makers of the country identified population as the number one problem of the country and devised policies and strategies to control population growth. Consequently, the population growth rate declined from 2.48 percent per annum in 1974 to 1.34 percent per annum in 2011. TFR has decreased from 5.04 in 1981 to 2.15 per woman in 2009 with 2.28 in rural and 1.65 in urban areas (BBS, Report on Sample Vital Registration System – 2009). These are commendable achievements for a least developed country like Bangladesh but it is far from what the country needs to achieve for sustainability particularly social sustainability.
The effects of high population growth rate and a large population are obvious. Despite sustained economic growth and significant progress in social indicators, big challenges lie ahead. A huge population lives below the poverty line. Inadequate and poor health services, poor quality education and skills, inadequate protection against risks and vulnerability, high unemployment and underemployment rate, poor governance, excessive use of natural resources such as land, water including ground water, and forest, and water pollution are some of the important features of the country which are related to high population growth rate relative to country’s resources and their exploitation. It is interesting to note that the benefit of declining population growth is also obvious. Reduced population growth has resulted in relatively higher per capita income growth and higher per capita income with associated benefits for income poverty reduction and improvement of social indicators.

The challenge facing the country is to reduce the population growth at a faster rate so that population creates less stress on natural and built resources and basic services. The current age structure of the population suggests the proportion of women in reproductive age group will continue to grow, i.e., the population momentum will continue to add population to the existing population. In this context, population management policies become very important for achieving replacement level fertility at an earlier date which will result in lower stable population size. Two other aspects of population need to be mentioned here. First, the demographic transition results in an increase in working age population which enhances growth known as demographic dividend. Second, a new challenge is emerging - the gradual increase in old age population resulting from increased life expectancy at birth will require greater provision of services for old age population.