The projections of the National Statistical Bureau provide a lot of information, crucial for planning and setting our development agenda.
As a small landlocked country, we have always thought that a small population will be easier to manage and feed. However, the findings of the report are disturbing. We had been experiencing steep decline in the fertility rate in the recent past. If that is bad news, it is worse from what the NSB had found out. It is projected that the total fertility rate has declined from 2.5 in 2005 to 1.7 child per woman during her reproductive age in 2017.
This means, if there is no intervention, Bhutan will have population related crisis. We will have no hands to work while we will be burdened with a larger aging population. The problem is being faced in some developed countries like Japan, where aging population is higher than the working population.
As it is Bhutan is already depended on expatriate workers. The sliding birth rate means that this dependence will increase in the future. There are already concerns of agriculture land being left fallow. Shortage of labour is one factor. The gungtong or empty houses in rural Bhutan is another problem related to dwindling population. Our projection says that we will not reach the million mark in the next 30 years.
There is a window of hope. It is projected that the population in working age will be the highest, 70 percent and above in the mid 2020s through mid 2040s. The NSB rightly pointed put that this period will yield demographic dividend. They have suggested the policy makers to make investment in education and provide scope for utilization of the increased labour force.
The statistics are clear and it is the responsibility of the government and future governments to pay heed to the findings of the report. Dropping birth rate is not considered an urgent issue, as the impacts are not felt immediately. It is not like increasing external debt, but the long-term consequences are greater than most of us think.
Today, Bhutanese parents are planning their family. At the most many will have two or three children. Young people are delaying marriages or not having children. This is because ether is economic pressure. With unemployment almost a crisis in the country, most parents think having more than two children is not wise.
The projection comes at the right time. We will have to look for interventions. The government’s initiative to provide maternity allowance came under a lot of criticism; perhaps, it is one good initiative to encourage to make babies. The government will also have to convince parents that there children will have a bright future in Bhutan if they are to encourage them to improve the fertility rate.
The statistics are clear on our table, if we don’t act we will regret.