Anchor Lisa Mullins speaks with John Bongaarts of the Population Council about efforts in individual countries to contain population growth.
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Lisa Mullins: As we just heard in Rhitu’s report, Bangladesh stands out as a country where the population growth rate has fallen significantly in recent years. John Bongaarts is vice-president of the non-profit Population Council in New York. What makes Bangladesh such a success story when it comes to population control?
John Bongaarts: Bangladesh is one of the poorest countries in the world but it did one thing right. And that was to implement a family planning program and it did so very early, in the 1970′s. There was a great deal of skepticism then, particularly among economists, that such a poor society would want to limit its family size, but, in fact, that’s what happened. And in late ’70′s, the government implemented a experiment where they tried a family planning program in one area and within a year in the area where services were provided, 30% of women were using contraception.
Mullins: And the men went along with it?
Bongaarts: That’s correct.
Mullins: Now, let me ask you this: Bangladesh makes an interesting contrast to its neighbor to the west, Pakistan, when it comes to population trends. I wonder if you can make that contrast for us and tell us how it came to be because until about 40 years ago, they were part of the same country.
Bongaarts: Precisely. So they’re very similar cultural settings. The key difference, for this discussion, is that Bangladesh implemented a family planning program while, in Pakistan, no such program was implemented. There have recently been some improvements in [??], but generally speaking, there’s twice as many women using contraception in Bangladesh than in Pakistan. And what that means is that, in Pakistan, we have many more women who’d like to use contraception but either they can not get to it, or there are social obstacles, like families or husbands who object to them using contraception.
Mullins: But I want to know a little more about that because the two countries in recent years have seen a divergence, Pakistan and Bangladesh, when it comes to social conflict and political stability and I wonder if there is a connection, in your view, between those trends and a country’s demographic trends.
Bongaarts: I think there is a link, although it’s, of course, very difficult pinpoint a single cause for any phenomenon. But, generally speaking, in Pakistan and many other countries where you have a very large young population, Yemen and some African countries come to mind, half the population is under age 18 so that a country has to produce schools and clinics and infrastructure and jobs at a very rapid rate just to stay even. And that, of course, is not always successful so you end up with a large number of young people who are unemployed, unhappy and that is a recipe for social and political unrest.
Mullins: So what is the larger lesson to be learned from these two countries, Pakistan and Bangladesh, for other countries?
Bongaarts: Well, Africa is now the place where population is growing very, very rapidly despite the AIDS epidemic. The governments have very often ignored the issue and we now have countries like Niger or Uganda and others that are expected to double in 20 years and many of these countries are already on the edge of famine. So this is a recipe for very low levels of standards of living, more famine and more poverty, etc.
Mullins: So why would any country then, if it feels it might be facing famine if the population grows out of control, why would any country’s government not want to take some steps, regardless of the pressures?
Bongaarts: Take the Ugandan government, the President of Uganda has said that having many Ugandans is a good thing. So there are histories of tribal conflict in these regions where large numbers are seen as a good thing. And the problems that come from very rapid population growth are either ignored or down-played.
Mullins: John Bongaarts is vice-president of the Population Council, which is a non-governmental organization based in New York City. Thank you for your time.
Bongaarts: OK. Thank you.
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