Md Ashraful Alam Sagar
Sustainable development is directly linked to population
Sustainable development – “environmental, economic, and social well-being for today and tomorrow,” is defined as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” Both the Rio Declaration and Program of Action – acknowledged at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) and International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) respectively – have recognised the links between sustainable development and population dynamics.
Bangladesh is the most densely populated country in the world. In response to a rapidly growing population, the country has achieved remarkable progress in meeting development goals and reducing the population growth rate to 1.37% from 3% in 1973. But, for the population momentum effect and social norms, Bangladesh will continue to have an increasingly growing population until 2050. It is predicted that only after 2050, the growth will be stable. It is estimated, by that time the population will reach about 250 million.
The population size and density of Bangladesh are creating immense pressure on every sector for which sustainability is not being ensured. About 30% of the population live in extreme poverty with poor quality of life in slums, lack regular work and livelihood, and suffer from food insecurity and lack of access to potable water and basic public services. For improving the vulnerable condition of these people, measures are being taken to reduce poverty, create new employment, and ensure food security, for which economic output is gradually rising.
This rise in the economic output is increasing pressure on the limited natural resources, making it absolutely difficult to ensure the sustainable use of these limited resources to better the well-being of such a large and growing population. As a result, Bangladesh is suffering from rapid land degradation, deforestation, water pollution and water shortages, wetland degradation, industrial pollution, air pollution, and many other problems. These problems are indiscriminate – affecting the most vulnerable and the most affluent within this country.
To address the increasing population and growing labour pool, more extractive and carbon-intensive industries are being set up which demand an increasing amount of raw materials including energy and minerals. To meet the ongoing acute energy crisis, more power plants are under way to set up without considering their negative impact on the environment.
The construction of a power plant near the world’s largest mangrove forest, Sundarbans, is currently under way which lacks proper environmental impact assessment. The natural gas reserve of Bangladesh will meet the demand for only one more decade if new gas fields are not discovered. So, the population holds the responsibility for depleting the natural resource base of Bangladesh while degrading all elements of the environment through industrial pollution and increased consumption.
Another major challenge for maintaining such a large population is sourcing alternative fuel and building materials sources, while clearing more land for agriculture. Due to this, large-scale illegal deforestation has occurred over the last several decades, and forest coverage has shrunk to less than 10% of land mass. Now the annual deforestation rate is about 3.3% which is affecting every species and every eco-system of Bangladesh, and biodiversity and wildlife are at stake.
People are converting the forests into croplands, and this unsustainable pattern of agricultural production and forestry management are responsible for water depletion, soil degradation, and degradation of other natural resources. Moreover, the lack of forests means poorer air quality as there are fewer forests to absorb carbon dioxide and clean the surrounding polluted air.
The urban population in Bangladesh is growing at a faster rate. About 30% of the Dhaka city dwellers are living in over 1,200 slums. Rapid urbanisation is creating vulnerabilities for the population in all areas including health, resiliency, and human security.
Urban slum dwellers rarely enjoy any civic amenities or personal decencies such as housing, safe drinking water, gas, electricity, sanitation, transport, and health facilities. They are exposed to various pollutants, which are exacerbating many communicable and non-communicable health risks.
Sustainable development is directly linked to population in every way. Population growth itself is a force in the development process that sometimes promotes development and sometimes hinders it. The present situation of Bangladesh reveals that population growth is posing a major threat for ensuring the sustainability of development activities and constraining all social, environmental, and economic resources.
Pursuit of higher economic growth to provide better livelihood and ensuring an improved standard of living of an increasingly growing population are creating a huge amount of pressure on the quickly disappearing natural resources of Bangladesh. This pressure on essential and irreplaceable natural resources is jeopardising the sustainability of the environment.