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close this bookSouth-East Asia's Environmental Future: The Search for Sustainability (UNU, 1993, 422 pages)
close this folderPart I - The driving forces of change
close this folder2. Population growth in south-east Asia: Pushing the limits
View the document(introductory text...)
View the documentIntroduction
View the documentThe population situation
View the documentPopulation growth and the environment
View the documentThe future

The population situation

Demographic Trends and Contrasts

The countries comprising the South-East Asian region-Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam and Papua New Guine'-vary in terms of population size and land area. The fastest-growing among these countries is Brunei which recorded an increase of 44 per cent during 198(}90. At the other extreme is Singapore with a change of 13 per cent over the same period. Cambodia, Laos and the Philippines each grew by about 29 per cent in the 1980s.

In 1980, the region's population stood at 363.1 million. The smallest contribution to this total (5 per cent) came from Brunei's 185,000 people, and the largest (42 per cent) was accounted for by Indonesia's 151 million. Vietnam's 53.7 million and the Philippines' 48.3 million were the next largest populations. By 1990, the region was estimated to have a population in excess of 450 million. Three countries-Indonesia, Vietnam and the Philippines- provided 70 per cent of this total (Table 2.1). At the turn of the century, the contribution of these three countries will remain unchanged at 70 per cent and will be maintained at that level even to the year 2010.

TABLE 2. 1 Total Population by ESCAP Subregion and by Country in South-East Asia, 1980-2010 ('000)

Subregion / Country 1980 1990 2000 2010
ESCAP 2,487,936 2,983,731 3,542,191 4,024,472
East Asia 1,176,349 1,335,605 1,510,009 1,616,039
South-East Asiaa 360,063 447,767 535,057 616,405
Brunei 185 266 333 377
Cambodia 6,400 8,246 10,046 11,539
Indonesia 150,958 184,283 218,661 246,680
Laos 3,205 4,139 5,463 6,838
Malaysia 13,763 17,891 21,983 25,169
Myanmar 33,821 41,675 51,129 60,567
Philippines 48,317 62,413 77,473 92,095
Singapore 2,415 2,723 2,997 3,170
Thailand 46,718 55,702 63,670 71,594
Vietnam 53,700 66,693 82,427 97,396
Papua New Guinea 3,086 3,874 4,845 5,846
South Asia 948,413 1,200,569 1,495,500 1,790,533
Oceaniab 22,799 26,481 30,144 33,582

Source: UN ( 1991c).
Notes: Totals may not he exact in this and following fables because of rounding. Figures from 1990 onwards are from the 'medium variant
a Subregional totals for South-East Asia do no' include Papua New Guinea. hut for the purposes of this review it has been listed under South-East Asia.
b Subregional totals for Oceania include Papua New Guinea.

The demographic diversity of the region is underscored in terms of the crude density ratios (Table 2.2). In 1980, Papua New Guinea had around 7 persons inhabiting a square kilometre of land while Singapore's corresponding people-to-land ratio was 3,908. Ten years later, the crude densities were 8 and 4,406 respectively. Although not close to Singapore's crowded city conditions, the Philippines and Vietnam were the two nations with the next highest densities, ranging from about 160 persons per square kilometre in 1980 to a projected figure of between 294 and 307 persons per square kilometre three decades later. Among the subregions of ESCAP, it can be seen that South Asia is the most densely populated while Oceania averages 3 persons per square kilometre (but this masks considerable inter-country variations: 2 for Australia to over 400 for Nauru).

TABLE 2.2 Crude Density Ratios by ESCAP Subregion and by Country in South-East Asia, 1980 2010

   

Persons per Square Kilometre

Subregion/Country Land Area (square kilometres) 1980 1990 2000 2010
East Asia 11,763,000 100 114 128 137
South-East Asiaa 4,493,000 80 100 119 137
Brunei 5,765 32 46 58 65
Cambodia 181,035 35 46 55 64
Indonesia 1,904,569 79 97 115 130
Laos 236,800 13 17 23 29
Malaysia 329,749 42 54 67 76
Myanmar 676,578 50 62 76 90
Philippines 300,000 161 208 258 307
Singapore 618 3,908 4,406 4,850 5,129
Thailand 513,115 91 109 124 140
Vietnam 331,689 162 201 249 294
Papua New Guinea 462,840 7 8 10 13
South Asia 6,781,000 140 177 220 264
Oceaniab 8,509,000 3 3 4 4

Source: U N (1991a)
a Subregional ratios for South-East Asia do not include Papua New Guinea.
b Subregional ratios for Oceania include Papua New Guinea.

During the first half of the 1980s, the region's annual rate of population growth was reported to be 2.2 per cent (Table 2.3). The variation in rates is illustrated by the difference between the highest (3.8 per cent for Brunei) and the lowest (1.2 per cent for Singapore). If Brunei maintains this rate, its 1980 population can easily double by the year 1998. Declines in the rates of change are expected in the first half of the 1990s with the region's growth rate projected to drop by 0.24 percentage points to 1.9 per cent. The largest decline will be in Brunei ( 1.3 percentage points), followed by Thailand with 0.6. However, the projected faster growth rates of Laos and Vietnam during 1990-5 should be noted. In 20 years, all annual rates of population growth are anticipated to fall below 1.9 per cent, except that of Laos which will stay around 2.4 per cent and Papua New Guinea at close to 2 per cent. The slowest-growing ESCAP subregion is East Asia; the fastest, South Asia.

Focusing on the components of growth, both South-East and South Asia had crude birth-rates in excess of the ESCAP regional average of 28 per thousand population over 1980-5 (Table 2.4). This gap narrows considerably by 1990-5 and, at least for South-East Asia, is down to 0.7 per thousand by 2000-5. However, intraregional variations in birth-rates were evident for 1980-5, with Singapore's 17 births per thousand at one extreme and Cambodia's 46 per thousand at the other. The wide disparity will still exist ten years later but Laos will have the highest rate of 44 births per thousand. By the twenty-first century, seven of the ten countries are predicted to still have crude birth-rates in excess of 20 per thousand. East Asia and Oceania both have lower than average birthrates over the whole period.

TABLE 2.3 Annual Rates of Population Growth by ESCAP Subregion and by Country in South-East Asia, 1980-5, 1990 5 and 2000 5 (per cent)

Subregion/Country 1980-5 1990-5 2000-5
ESCAP 1.81 1.80 1.38
East Asia 1.20 1.41 0.83
South-East Asiaa 2.18 1.94 1.51
Brunei 3.80 2.50 1.50
Cambodia 2.59 2.20 1.42
Indonesia 2.06 1.82 1.30
Laos 2.29 2.92 2.41
Malaysia 2.60 2.27 1.48
Myanmar 2.09 2.09 1.80
Philippines 2.63 2.28 1.84
Singapore 1.15 1.07 0.63
Thailand 1.99 1.35 1.23
Vietnam 2.19 2.21 1.80
Papua New Guinea 2.29 2.27 1.97
South Asia 2.42 2.28 1.91
Oceaniab 1.51 1.36 1.13

Source: As for Table 2. 1.
Note: Rates shown are from the 'medium variant' .
a Subregional rates for South-East Asia do not include Papua New Guinea.
b Subregional rates for Oceania include Papua New Guinea.

The notable diversity in fertility within the region can be attributed to two factors: rising age at marriage and organized family-planning programmes. However, the contribution of the former is fast approaching a limit; hence, any further declines in fertility will be dependent on the extent and quality of family-planning practices among couples of childbearing age.

The crude death-rate for the ESCAP region was close to 10 deaths per thousand in 1980-5, is projected to decline to below 9 in the following decade, and is forecast to drop to less than 8 during 2000-5. Again, it will be noted that East Asia and Oceania reported death-rates that were close to the minimum level. Health-related programmes undertaken in the 1950s and 1960s were mainly focused on the control of selected infectious diseases. Such programmes did not require substantial investments in health infrastructure and personnel training. Some of the measures adopted in the control of disease and mortality could be administered almost independently of the country's stage of social and economic development. The varied methods used by countries in the control of disease and mortality, as well as their diverse patterns of social and economic change, resulted in considerable variations in the pace of mortality decline inter- and intra-regionally. Pronounced inter-country variations in deathrates were manifest in 1980-5 (Table 2.5). The difference was about 14 deaths between the highest ( 19.7 deaths per thousand Cambodians) and the lowest (5.4 deaths per thousand Singaporeans). The gap is expected to narrow somewhat in 1990-5 when the difference between the highest (15.1 for Laos) and the lowest (5.1 for Malaysia) will be 10 deaths. By the beginning of the twenty-first century, only Cambodia and Laos are expected to have death-rates of around 11 per thousand.

TABLE 2.4 Crude Birth-rates by ESCAP Subregion and by Country in South-East Asia, 1981-5, 1990-5 and 2000-5 (per thousand)

Subregion/Country 1980-5 1990-5 2000-5
ESCAP 28.0 26.5 21.3
East Asia 18.5 19.8 14.7
South-East Asiaa 32.8 27.5 22.0
Cambodia 45.5 36.5 25.3
Indonesia 31.8 26.6 20.2
Laos 45.1 44.2 35.4
Malaysia 32.0 27.7 19.6
Myanmar 34.3 29.7 25.1
Philippines 35.6 30.4 24.7
Singapore 17.0 16.3 12.4
Thailand 27.8 20.0 18.6
Vietnam 34.7 30.3 24.3
Papua New Guinea 35.4 33.3 28.3
South Asia 37.6 33.5 27.5
Oceaniab 20.0 18.6 16.9

Source: As for Table 2.1.
Note: Comparable figures for Brunei are not available.
a Subregional rates for South-East Asia do not include Papua New Guinea.
b Subregional rates for Oceania include Papua New Guinea.

Consequences of the Changing Age Distribution

With the projected declines in fertility and mortality, it is anticipated that the age structure of South-East Asian populations will undergo some transformation. The situation in mid1990 was reassessed by the United Nations (UN) (Table 2.6). It is obvious that only Singapore, which had achieved replacement fertility in 1975, has experienced an upward shift in age structure. Thailand's later fertility decline is evident in the low level of child dependency but a sizeable youth component. The other countries still have significant proportions of infants and young children as well as juvenile entrants into the labour force.

TABLE 2.5 Crude Death-rates by ESCAP Subregion and by Country in South-East Asia, 1980-5, 1990 5 and 2000 5 (per thousand)

Subregion/Country 1980-5 1990-5 2000-5
ESCAP 9.8 8.5 7.5
East Asia 6.6 6.6 6.8
South-East Asiaa 10.4 8.1 6.8
Cambodia 19.7 14.6 11.1
Indonesia 11.2 8.5 7.2
Laos 18.7 15.1 11.3
Malaysia 6.0 5.1 4.7
Myanmar 11.0 8.7 7.1
Philippines 8.5 7.1 6.0
Singapore 5.4 5.5 6.1
Thailand 8.0 6.5 6.3
Vietnam 11.1 8.2 6.4
Papua New Guinea 12.5 10.6 8.6
South Asia 13.3 10.6 8.4
Oceania b 8.2 8.0 7.8

Source: As for Table 2.1.
Note: Comparable figures for Brunei are not available.
a Subregional rates for South-East Asia do not include Papua New Guinea.
b Subregional rates for Oceania include Papua New Guinea.

The number entering the working-age population of 15 years and above is determined by the levels of fertility and mortality 15 years earlier. Since past fertility has been high, the growth in labour force will remain higher than the rate of natural increase (births minus deaths), and is projected to exceed the population growth rate in those countries of South-East Asia where fertility has declined (Table 2.7). However, a note of caution must be sounded here. The labour-force projections in Table 2.7 have been based on earlier optimistic projections of the UN and have not been revised in line with the 1990 reassessment undertaken by the UN Secretariat.

The data suggest that in countries where fertility has fallen rapidly, the growth of the labour force soon drops behind that of the total population. The exception is Malaysia, which changed its policy in 1984 to one of encouraging population growth. In countries where the birth-rates continue to be high, the yearly rate of increase in the population of working age is expected to surpass 2 per cent in the twenty-first century. Governments in the region will be hard-pressed to provide employment for all these entrants into the labour market.

The changes in age structure will be accompanied by modifications in the causes of death, which are related in part to industrialization. The risks of road accidents and occupational hazards will grow. At the same time, age, sex and socio-economic factors must be considered in the occurrence of particular diseases. Farm workers and labourers may be exposed to a greater risk of infectious and parasitic diseases while professionals, managers and other white-collar workers may succumb to mental disorders, cerebro-vascular and cardiovascular diseases and malignant neoplasms. Policy makers wishing to improve the health of the working-age population will need to address these issues.

TABLE 2.6 Share of Population in Selected Age-groups by ESCAP Subregion and by Country in South-East Asia, 1990 (per cent)

 

Age-group (years)

Subregion/Country 0-4 15-24 65+
ESCAP 12 20 5
East Asia 9 22 6
South-East Asiaa 13 21 4
Cambodia 16 20 3
Indonesia 12 21 4
Laos 18 19 3
Malaysia 15 20 4
Myanmar 13 21 4
Philippines 15 20 3
Singapore 9 17 6
Thailand 10 22 4
Vietnam 14 21 4
Papua New Guinea 15 21 2
South Asia 14 19 4
Oceaniab 9 18 9

Source: As for Table 2.1.
Note: Comparable figures for Brunei are not available.
a Subregional percentages for South-East Asia do not include Papua New Guinea.
b Subregional percentages for Oceania include Papua New Guinea.

The still high population growth in South-East Asia as a whole in 1990-5 (estimated at over 1.9 per cent, see Table 2.3) is an outcome of high fertility and falling mortality in the past three decades. This means that women entering the childbearing ages constitute a major part of the total female population. These proportions will rise until beyond the turn of the twenty-first century for a number of countries (Table 2.8). Therefore, the size of the next generation of childbearing women can be expected to surpass the preceding one. Even if the number of births per woman diminished, the total number of births will still be greater than previous generations. Consequently, the rate of decline in the birthrates of these countries may decelerate, possibly stalling the reduction in growth rates unless countered by a rapid drop in the fertility of the younger married women. The latter should be the target of more effective family-planning programmes and other associated socio-economic changes.

TABLE 2.7 Annual Growth Rates of Population and of the Labour Force by ESCAP Subregion and by Country in South-East Asia, 1980-5, 1990-5 and 2000-5

 

1980-5

1990-5

2000-5

Subregion/Country Population Labour Force Population Labour Force Population Labour Force
East Asia 1.20 2.34 1.41 1.31 0.83 0.72
South-East Asiaa 2.18 2.47 1.94 2.19 1.51 1.85
Cambodia 2.59 1.77 2.20 0.56 1.42 2.00
Indonesia 2.06 2.43 1.82 2.20 1.30 1.76
Laos 2.29 1.84 2.92 2.17 2.41 2.15
Malaysia 2.60 2.95 2.27 2.67 1.48 2.39
Myanmar 2.09 1.94 2.09 1.81 1.80 1.71
Philippines 2.63 2.54 2.28 2.52 1.84 2.24
Singapore 1.15 1.88 1.07 0.69 0.63 0.39
Thailand 1.99 2.48 1.35 1.70 1.23 1.19
Vietnam 2.19 2.90 2.21 2.74 1.80 2.24
Papua New Guinea 2.29 2.18 2.27 2.00 1.97 1.94
South Asia 2.42 2.32 2.28 2.18 1.91 1.94
Oceaniab 1.51 1.87 1.36 1.43 1.13 1.20

Sources: See Table 2.3 for population growth rates. Labour force rates of growth were obtained from UN (1988).
Note: Comparable figures for Brunei are not available.
a Subregional rates for South-East Asia do not include Papua New Guinea.
b Subregional rates for Oceania include Papua New Guinea.

TABLE 2.8 Share of Female Population Aged 15-49 Years by ESCAP Subregion and by Country in South-East Asia, 1980-2010 (per cent)

Subregion/Country 1980 1990 2000 2010
ESCAP 48.5 52.0 52.1 52.9
East Asia 49.4 55.8 53.8 53.3
South-East Asiaa 47.9 50.9 53.6 54.7
Cambodia 56.2 53.8 48.9 52.6
Indonesia 48.0 51.3 53.9 55.4
Laos 47.1 45.8 45.7 49.9
Malaysia 49.8 50.5 52.4 55.8
Myanmar 47.2 50.0 52.0 53.3
Philippines 48.1 49.5 52.1 53.8
Singapore 58.8 59.5 55.2 49.0
Thailand 49.0 54.3 58.0 55.0
Vietnam 45.2 48.5 53.0 54.8
Papua New Guinea 46.7 48.6 49.9 53.2
South Asia 47.4 48.2 49.8 52.0
Oceaniab 49.0 51.6 51.0 49.5

Source: Computed from UN (1991b).
Note: Percentages are from the 'medium variant' . Comparable figures for Brunei are no' available.
a Subregional percentages for South-East Asia do not include Papua New Guinea.
b Subregional percentages for Oceania include Papua New Guinea.

Changes in Spatial Distribution

The spatial distribution of population is an issue of national importance because of its manifold implications for development and the environment. Internal migration and urbanization, the most prominent aspects of spatial distribution, are of considerable concern to every government in the region. In mid-1990, the fraction of urban residents in South-East Asia varied from a low of 12 per cent in Cambodia to 100 per cent in Singapore's city-state. Brunei had nearly 60 per cent of its inhabitants dwelling in cities while the corresponding proportion for Malaysia and the Philippines was over 40 per cent. Migration to the cities will account for as much as 50 per cent of future urban growth. Indeed, the impact of migrants on urban growth may be greater than just a mere tabulation of their numbers. The selectivity of migration is such that flows into urban areas are predominantly made up of young adults whose birth-rates may exceed those of city dwellers.

The population in rural areas is not only growing at a pace very much below that of urban sectors but in some countries these rates are projected to become negative by the beginning of the twenty-first century (Table 2.9). From the annual growth rates estimated for towns and cities, it is evident that their populations will easily double in less than 15 years. Meanwhile, the rural populations will hardly grow and may even reduce in numbers in the coming century. These trends will clearly affect the balance of population between town and country. The social costs of such an imbalance may prove to be unacceptable in the long run.

TABLE 2.9 Rural and Urban Population Growth Rates by ESCAP Subregion and by Country in South-East Asia, 1980-5,1990-5 and 2000-5 (average annual percentage)

 

1980-5

1990-5

2000-5

Subregional/Country Rural Urban Rural Urban Rural Urban
ESCAP 0.80 4.50 0.51 4.16 0.08 3.08
East Asia 0.38 4.85 0.91 4.31 1.17 2.49
South-East Asiaa 1.45 4.33 0.95 4.09 0.28 3.47
Cambodia 2.48 3.54 1.92 4.19 0.88 4.30
Indonesia 1.00 5.37 0.48 4.56 0.17 3.36
Laos 1.73 5.58 2.14 6.00 1.42 5.12
Malaysia 1.29 4.87 0.74 4.11 -0.09 2.88
Myanmar 2.08 2.13 1.71 3.23 0.93 3.84
Philippines 1.79 3.97 1.22 3.61 0.48 3.17
Singapore 8.11 1.15 0.00 1.07 -8.11 0.63
Thailand 1.38 4.66 0.50 4.02 0.11 3.70
Vietnam 1.93 3.22 1.62 4.16 0.74 4.39
Papua New Guinea 2.01 4.06 1.80 4.62 1.21 4.70
South Asia 1.87 4.15 1.59 4.03 0.88 3.87
Oceaniab 1.84 1.38 1.24 1.40 0.54 1.36

Source: As for Table 2.1.
Note: Comparable figures for Brunei are not available.
a Subregional rates for South-East Asia do not include Papua New Guinea.
b Subregional rates for Oceania include Papua New Guinea.