Photo : Collected
Despite arguments that overpopulation is an exaggerated notion and newer concepts such as demographic dividends, economic growth outpacing population growth, and the sustainable capacity of a larger population, the spectre of overpopulation remains potent.
The centuries-old Malthusian theory of overpopulation still holds relevance, as highlighted by Malthus, stating that a population larger than the resources needed to support it is neither rational, feasible, nor sustainable. Bangladesh is not immune to such Malthusian considerations.
A recent UNFPA special report revealed that Bangladesh’s population is increasing at an alarming rate, contradicting the government’s official figure of 140 million by placing the current population at 160.4 million. Realistically, the population is projected to reach 170.2 million as early as 2020 at the current unbridled growth rate. Such a substantial population, given the limited means for its sustenance, could exert overwhelming multi-faceted stresses on the economy, social and political stability, and the environment in the long run.
While the government bears some responsibility for not curbing population growth, it is fueled not only by governmental actions, but also by biological urges and social and cultural practices. In the past, even today’s developed countries had large families as part of the social scene. The shift towards smaller families in these countries happened organically as people became wiser over time, without extensive government interventions.
Blaming poverty as a factor for the population surge is not entirely tenable, as birth control materials are generally affordable for the poor in Bangladesh. The high birth rate is more a result of irresponsibility or a casual approach among some 55.8 fertile couples who do not practice any form of birth control.
Contrasting this with our neighbors in Asia, such as China, Vietnam, Thailand, and Singapore, we observe a positive trend. Urbanisation and increased awareness led to a decline in population growth in these countries. However, in Bangladesh, the population growth remains high, particularly in South Asia.
Apart from population growth, there are other aspects of modernisation where Bangladesh lags behind its competing neighbours.
Addressing the population growth issue requires acknowledging underlying social, religious, and cultural practices. Over 50% of couples with reproductive abilities do not practice family planning, and a significant number of couples are very young. Initiatives by social organisations, NGOs, and potential legislation are essential to curb the alarming trend of early marriages and bring this issue to the national limelight.