TOPICS : Population policy in development plans

Population components before the formulation and implementation of the Third Plan (1965-70) were given no importance in national development documents. This plan, therefore, marked an epochal development in population planning in Nepal by envisaging the provision of family planning as an integral part of maternal and child health. The then family planning had two-fold objective: birth averting/spacing through promotion of contraception practice and reducing total fertility rate of the married women of reproductive age. The start of family planning and child health service during the Third Plan through the inception of a semi-autonomous body called Family Planning Maternity and Child Health (FP-MCH) Project under the Ministry of Health was the beginning of institutionalisation of reproductive health programmes.

Every development plan from the Third Plan onwards has embraced population, family planning, child and mother health as inseparable components of socio-economic development. Most important of all these plans, the Sixth Plan (1980-85), brought fourth a long-term population strategy in 1983 followed by institutional measures like the reinforcement of erstwhile National Commission on Population through organisational restructuring and proper coordination among different line Ministries, NGOs and relevant stakeholders. But the dissolution of the then efficiently functioning Population Commission by the 1990 interim government and merging of the same into National Planning Commission marked the beginning of deinstitutionalisation of population management.

Though the Ministry of Population and Environment was created in 1995 as pressure mounted from national and international levels, the ministry, unfortunately, also got fragmented by merging of environment part to the Ministry of Science and Technology and the population part to the Ministry of Health. The interrelationship that exists between population and development constitutes the main rationale of population policy. Nepal is quick to adopt and initiate policy measures in population and population-related health and development sectors compared to many of her counterparts but lags behind in implementing the programmes.

Thailand would have been the 12th most populous county in world but now is 18th due to successful implementation of population and family planning. Thai policies and programmes were started almost simultaneous as those of Nepal in late 1960s. The other indicator of Thai success is that her population is expected to double in 61 years compared with 31 years for Nepal at the current rate of population growths. Thus the soon-to-be formed government (s) should place due priority on population management, family planning/reproductive health programmes under a visible institutional structure manned by capable leadership both at policy and operational level instead of operating on ad hoc basis.

The author is a development professional