Saturday, August 13, 2011

Not enough money to make babies

PETALING JAYA: There are more people living in Malaysia today than ever before. At least 28 million people reside within its shores. Selangor and Kuala Lumpur combined take the lion’s share with a total population of 7,136,762.
But these staggering numbers – made public through the Population and Census Report 2010- also highlight a disturbing trend.
We may have more Malaysians today, but we are making less babies. And the economy may have something to do with it.
International Islamic University of Malaysia (IIUM) professor and urban planner Alias Abdullah said that the country’s growth rate was on a steady decline since the 1990s.

“The current growth rate is considered low,” he said, commenting on Selangor’s average annual population growth rate.
The government-prepared Prelimary Count Report 2010 revealed that from 1991 to 2000, Selangor had an average growth rate of 6.03%.
This was halved to 3.17% in the next decade, before coming down to 2.7% in 2010.
“This is due to the fact that we have more young people who are getting married at later stages, maybe at about 25 or 27 years old.”
“They will also have low household family (meaning) less kids, due to the increase in the cost of living and that the salary rate is not that high,” Alias told FMT.
He said that parents in new Malaysian families -with a combined salary of between RM3,000 and RM5,000 – may probably limit their themselves to one or two children per household.

Bleak future
Alias’s analysis does not come as a surprise. Malaysians, despite government-hyped announcements, have not had much to shout about.
Salaries have barely changed in the last decade. FMT previously reported that the average salary increase was only 2.6% from 1994 to 2007.
Counting from the 1997 economic crisis paints an even bleaker picture: a 1.9% wage increase.
On top of that, Malaysians also appeared to lose their buying power, with inflation on a steady climb.
In June, the inflation rate was recorded at 2.9% from January to April 2001. This was further exacerbated by the petroleum subsidy rationalisation and the 7.12% increase in electricity tariffs.
Property and automobile prices are also at an all-time high, with some having to take decade-long loans just to pay off their debts.
These revelations have hardly come as good news for cash-strapped urban families.
According to the Federal Territories and Urban Well-Being Ministry, a combined household income of less than RM3,000 is regarded as urban poverty.
It does not help either that thousands of Malaysians are already earning less than RM720 a month – below the poverty line.
More old people
The reluctance to make babies, Alias pointed out also brought about another interesting trend: Malaysia had a larger aging population.
According to the census report, the proportion of Malaysians below the age of 15 years decreased to 27.6% from 33.3% in 2000.
Those between 15 to 64 years on the other hand, increased to 67.3% from 62.8% in 2000. The number of senior citizens aged 65 and above also went up to 5.1% from 3.9% a decade ago.
“If this is the case, let’s say you have this number of 10 to 30-year-olds in 2010, then in 2020, you’ll be seeing this bar moving upwards,” he told FMT, pointing to the age groups that had the largest proportion in the census report.
“The number of new children born has decreased … (Soon) you’re going to have more older people than youngsters.”
A higher aging population, the IIUM professor said, meant that the government needed to look into building more hospitals.
“They’re going to need more hospitals, medical facilities, better insurance coverage and care homes. The government is going to have to look into sports areas for an aging society as some developed countries (might have),” he said.
However, looking at currently available facilities, Alias doubted that the government was ready in providing such services.
According to the US Global Health Policy website, Malaysia has a mere 18 hospital beds per a population of 10,000. Thailand and Singapore in comparison, were recorded at 22 and 32 respectively.
Malaysia’s increasing population however, was not so much a matter of concern for the IIUM professor, despite 28 million people residing in the country.
Alias said that the best population numbers for the country hovered between the 30 to 35-million mark.
“According to the size of Malaysia, the growth (we have) is okay. With 30 to 35 million, we can sustain our own economy by buying our own products,” he said, using Japan as an example of a self-sustaining economy.
An urban planner by trade, Alias said that a population below 20 million was inadequate. However, he said that numbers surpassing the 60-million mark were “dangerous”.
“It’s quite dangerous in terms of many things. To what extent are we able to supply our population?” he asked, and cited water, food and energy as factors.
“If we are too big, we will need to change the way we get our electricity. Maybe we will need a nuclear plant, and maybe we will need to buy our water from somewhere, or (resort to) desalination.”
Though agreeing with Alias, Monash University professor and sociologist Phua Kai Lit argued that overpopulation was more a matter of managing resources than anything else.
“Unless you have a very big population like China or India, I don’t think 50 million is a problem. It depends on the size of the economy, and how well you manage resources, consumption patterns and so on,” he said.
Using Singapore and The Netherlands as examples, Phua said that these small countries were able to manage high population densities, generate jobs and handle economies very well.
Overcrowded megacities like Tokyo, he added, were another instance of well-run administrations. “You have millions and millions of people there, but they don’t have a problem there.”
“Public facilities, public transport, sanitation and water supply are good,” he said.
Phua then added that overcrowding only became a problem when governments tended to be badly run, and pointed out Mexico City as a textbook case of poor administration.
“Besides, if things get really bad in terms of overcrowding, people will be rational and they’ll move elsewhere,” he said.
In 1982, then Prime Minister of Malaysia Tun Mahathir Mohammad unveiled the National Population Policy, and boasted of Malaysia achieving a population of 70 million by 2100.

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