Academic journal article Journal of International Affairs

Women, Population and Sustainable Development in South Asia

Academic journal article Journal of International Affairs

Women, Population and Sustainable Development in South Asia

Article excerpt


According to the recently released 1996 revision of the official United Nations population estimates and projections, at mid-1996, world population stood at 5.77 billion persons.(1) Between 1990 and 1995, the world population grew at 1.48 percent per annum, with an average of 81 million persons added each year. This is considerably slower than the 1.72 percent per annum growth rate of the 1975 to 1990 period. Additionally, the annual increment is notably less than the 87 million persons added each year between 1985 and 1990.(2)

In South Asia--Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka--the population exceeded 1.2 billion people in 1996, which is more than one-fifth of humankind. Table 1 presents selected population and socio-economic indicators for countries in South Asia. The sharp decline in South Asia's death rates in the post-Second World War era has been accompanied by a much slower reduction in birth rates. As a consequence, the region's population has grown rapidly, adding significantly to its large population base. This rate of growth continues to challenge and constrain the ability of governments to improve the quality of life, with the result that South Asia has the bulk of the world's poor in its midst as well as the highest concentration of need for reproductive health (RH) and family planning (FP) information and services. Therefore, the provision of comprehensive reproductive health services, the empowerment of women, improved education for girls and a commitment to gender equality and equity will be critical to achieving sustainable development.

Table 1: Selected population and Socio-economic indicators for countries in South Asia

Country         Population     Crude Birth   Infant Mortality
               (thousands)        Rate        Rate (per 1000
              1995 Estimates    (Per 1000      live births)
                               population)   1990-95 Estimates

Afghanistan       19,661          49.7              163

Bangladesh       118,229          26.7               91
Bhutan             1,770          41.6              117
India            929,005          27.5               78
Maldives             254          41.6               60
Nepal             21,456          39.6               96
Pakistan         136,257          39.4               85
Sri Lanka         17,928          18.6               18

Country       Total Illiteracy Rate (percent)(*)    GNP Per

                     Total   Male   Female

Afghanistan          68.5    52.8    85.0              Not
Bangladesh           61.9    50.6    73.9              220
Bhutan               57.8    43.8    71.9              180
India                48.0    34.5    62.3              310
Maldives              6.8     6.7     7.0              500
Nepal                72.5    59.1    86.0              170
Pakistan             62.2    50.0    75.6              410
Sri Lanka             9.8     6.6    12.8              540

Source: United Nations, World Population Prospects: The 1996 Revision (New York: United Nations, 1996).

(*) Adult Illiteracy Rate (UNESCO) and GNP Per Capita (World Bank database) - in UNESCO, World Education Report 1995. (A person defined as illiterate is unable both t8 read and write a short simple statement on everyday life with understanding.)

It is clear that on the eve of the 21st century the countries of South Asia face several challenges in the area of population and sustainable development. According to the Programme of Action, which emerged from the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD), sustainable development is defined as, inter alia,

   long-term sustainability in production and consumption relating to all
   economic activities including industry, energy, agriculture, forestry,
   fisheries, transport, tourism and infrastructure in order to optimize
   ecologically sound resource use and minimize waste. … 
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