The new census report, released on Friday, indicated substantial changes in Nepal's population structure and distribution. Demographic changes caused by factors such as birth rates, migration, and ageing can have both short- and long-term effects on our economy and government, requiring our leaders to make informed decisions in order to address all challenges and capitalise on new opportunities for the greater good of our society.
The announcement of fresh census results, however, cannot be called comprehensive as they omitted cultural data, rendering the findings partially incomplete. Due to certain political and non-political hurdles, the National Statistics Office did not publish full results that included cultural data such as ethnicities, languages, and religious faiths. The NSO's officials indicated that they were unable to publish the statistics because some segments of the population asked that they be excluded from specific ethnic or linguistic categories, making the situation problematic for them.
Notwithstanding the absence of cultural data, Census 2021 has significant aspects that reveal critical shifts in our demographic structure. According to the recent figures, the country's total population is 29,164,578 people, with 48.98 per cent males and 51.02 per cent females. The rate of population growth is 0.29 per cent, down from 1.35 per cent in 2011 and 2.25 per cent in 2001. The population under the age of 14 has decreased to 27.83 per cent, down from 34.91 per cent in the 2011 census, while the population aged 60 and more has increased to 10.12 per cent, up from 8.13 per cent in 2011. 34.7 per cent of the population is not engaged in economic activity. Nevertheless, the literacy rate is 76.3 per cent, which must have worried officials because they expected the number to be somewhere between 85 and 90 per cent as they have invested billions of rupees to reach the global development objectives.
Agriculture, forestry, and fisheries still employ half of the country's population (50.1 per cent), while primary professions employ just 23 per cent of the workforce. The service and merchandise industries employ just 5.6 per cent of the workforce, which is much lower than in China and India, where these sectors employ 30 per cent and 45 per cent of the workforce, respectively. According to the census, 34.7 per cent of the population is not engaged in any economic activity, and 6.9 per cent are jobless. Those aged 15 to 59, considered the productive age group, account for 61.96 per cent of the population, providing some hope that the nation's economy will not collapse in the coming months.
Another source of worry in Nepal is the movement of people from the hills and mountains to the Terai plains. The population of the hill and mountain areas has declined, while the population of the Terai plains has grown. People live in the Terai plains (53.61 per cent), the hills (40.31 per cent), and the mountains (6.08 per cent). The Terai plains, which account for only 17 per cent of the country's overall land area, are recognised as the nation's food bowl. High migration might reduce the amount of arable, productive land in the plains, necessitating the implementation of specific measures by the government. This shift in population concentration may hand Terai districts more weightage in political representation and will call for these areas focused special programmes.
The government must intervene quickly and decisively to halt this migration trend or satisfy the requirements of the rising population in the plains, Kathmandu Valley and other cities. Potential interventions include the construction of new towns, cities, and highways in the hills, education, health infrastructure as well as the creation of new jobs. The government must address these issues if rural and urbanisation are to result in inclusive growth and development for all inhabitants.
This census has also revealed a rise in migration, both within and outside our nation. The desire of Nepalis to migrate overseas in search of better pastures has not waned. Presently, there are 2,190,592 Nepalis living overseas, the majority of them are of economically active age. To halt this tendency, which might have a detrimental influence on economic growth, the government must identify measures to improve job possibilities in the country.
The fall in the population of children under the age of 14 and the growth in the elderly population can have a long-term impact on the country's economics. Governments must adopt policies to successfully manage migration and guarantee that it results in beneficial consequences for both migrants and citizens.
Several nations, including China, Japan, South Korea, Singapore, and others, have recently struggled with the issues of low childbearing and an increase in the number of old people. Experts predict that numerous nations, notably China and Japan, will see a large decline in their workforce owing to demographic shifts. As a result, these countries have tried a variety of strategies to improve birth rates. China has loosened its one-child policy and now enables its residents to have more than one kid. The drop in the number of people under the age of 14 and the growth in the senior population, on the other hand, may provide economic issues.
In Nepal, 34 districts, primarily in hilly and mountainous areas, are experiencing negative population growth, whereas districts in the Kathmandu Valley and the plains are seeing positive growth. As a result, while developing new plans and programmes, the government must examine the most recent demographic changes that might have a substantial influence on communities, economies, and authorities. These changes include slow population growth, including internal and external migration, an ageing population, and a potential future labour shortage.
Governments must handle these demographic shifts in order to continue providing adequate services and promoting economic growth and development. To address these issues, governments may need to establish new regulations as well as invest in new infrastructure and services. They may guarantee that they are appropriately prepared for future demographic shifts and that they can continue to support the well-being of their population by doing so.
(Upadhyay is Managing Editor of this daily.)