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Is our population growth sustainable?

Finally, the report from the Population & Housing Census of Bhutan conducted in May 2017 (PHCB-2017) is released. The total population as recorded on the census reference date (30 May 2018) is 735,553, which include 53,833 non-Bhutanese, among which 8,408 are tourists who were on the move that day.

The report states that all the analysis was carried out based on the population of 727,145 (Male-380, 435; Female-346, 692) after excluding those 8,408 tourists from whom limited data could be compiled. After excluding the non-Bhutanese population (53,833), the effective total Bhutanese population counted on the census day is 681,720 only (Males-341, 881; Female-339, 839) resulting to the overall sex ratio of the Bhutanese population to 101 males per 100 females. The spread of the Bhutanese population between urban and rural is 37.6% (31% in 2005) and 62.4% (69% in 2005) respectively, confirming the increasing rural-urban migration. As per the Bhutan at a Glance Report 2017 (BGR-2017)published by NSB, the total population of the country in 2017 was 779,666; meaning that almost 97,946 Bhutanese were not counted during PHCB 2017; presumably they were out of the country that day.

By considering all the people that were counted on the census day, the population size has increased by 100,571 from that of 634,982 (Male-333, 595 & Female-301, 387), which was recorded in 2005. Over the last 12 years (2005-2017), our population grew at the rate of 1.3% per annum which appears marginally higher than world average (1.09%), however, in absolute figures; the growth was only around 8,400 people annually. With the total country size of 38,394 sq.km, the population distribution is around 19 people per sq.km of land area, which is an increase of just two persons from that in 2005. This is very small compared to population densities in other countries, (Nepal-207 person/km2; Srilanka-334 person/km2; Singapore- 8,274 person/km2; Japan-349 person/km2; Bangladesh-1, 300 person/km2; India-455person/km2.).

As per the projections made by NSB in 2005, the Bhutanese population is slated to touch 887,000 by 2030 over the period of 25 years (2005-2030). If we were to achieve this projection by 2030 than the growth rate must be around 1.6% (12,220 people) per annum for next 13 years. Some critics may argue that Bhutan has less inhabitable land and hence slower growth is justifiable.  Yet, too slow a growth is also not preferable as it would mean the country will not have adequate workforce to drive economic growth; limited market for produce; slowed manufacturing sector as domestic markets remain stunted while exports will be unviable owing to competition from other countries. Fewer entrepreneurs will result to reduced creativity and hence lesser innovations.  When more people don’t come with creativity and innovative ideas, the country will fall behind in producing common goods and services produced by other countries and hence our reliance on imports. Also, fewer people with most of the creation and innovation demeans competition and hence the rise in prices. Thus, it’s important to plan and create conducive environment for a sustained demographic growth in conjunction with the economic and other parallel growths.

However, as per the findings from the PHCB-2017, the population growth is on the decline over the years.  For instance, the Crude Birth Rate (CBR) of Bhutan in 2017 is 15.5 (around 16 births for every 1000 population) which was 19.7 (around 20 births for every 1000 population) in 2005. Likewise, the General Fertility Rate (GFR), which denotes number of births in a year per 1000 women of reproductive age, has also fallen from 79.4 in 2005 to 57.3 in 2017. Similarly, the General Marital Fertility Rate (GMFR) has also dropped from 126.5 in 2005 to 92.4 in 2017. The GMFR represents number of births during a year for every 1000 women of reproductive age who are married. The story is not so different with the Total Fertility Rate (TFR), which too has shrunk to 1.7 in 2017 from 2.5 in 2005.  The TFR outlines how many children will a women bear during her reproductive life. The TFR is important for determining population growth and it’s crucial to maintain it above the replacement level of 2.1 for a sustained population growth. The report states that our TFR has dropped below this level which if prolonged would lead to more ageing population thereby increasing total dependency ratio and fall in total labor force.

Over the last couple of years we have seen many people, especially the urbanites, either delaying their marriage and even when married, most chose to have only one or two children.  This has happened despite the state providing all sorts of medical assistance and support to all expectant parents. Most rural people I talked to say that rising living costs and expensive educational expenses are the two common things, which discourage them to have more kids. In urban areas, most people say that difficulty in getting someone to take care of their child while they attend to works (office/business) is the main factor that determines the family size. They also say that increasingly young people either delay their marriage or at times even forgo marrying for the fear of not getting someone to take care of their children at the tender age.

On government’s part, they have over the years strived hard to outline some mechanisms, like the enhancement of maternity leave to six months, extension of breastfeeding duration to two years. Few government and corporate agencies even went step-ahead and opened crèches in office premises. But such mechanisms have benefited only few, especially those working in the civil service and few corporate entities. People in the private and most corporate sector, which forms the major chunk of working force, are yet to realize the benefits from the enhanced maternity leave. A young couple shared that everything has to be considered before deciding a family. And like many others, for them too, fear of not finding someone to look after their child while they go for work is a matter of serious concern. If something is not done to overcome this problem, most of our future generations may remain unborn.

It’s of utmost importance for the government to outline strategies and long term plans to overcome the persistence unavailability of childcare givers. A solution to this problem will surely encourage our people, mostly the working class to have more children. Among others, it’s important to firstly extend the six months maternity leave to all working women and also look into the possibility of providing flexible working time so that working parents can adjust accordingly.

A sustained population growth is crucial for the betterment and enhanced socio-economic growth of this great nation!

 

Contributed by  Passangyt

Thimphu

The writer blogs at http://pelldrukpas.blogspot.com/and can be reached at pyt.doe@gmail.com

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