Is Sri Lanka ready for a future of demographic decline?

Published On: June 22, 2024 07:52 AM NPT By: Republica  | @RepublicaNepal

Sri Lanka stands at a critical juncture, grappling with a demographic shift that poses significant future challenges. In the past few weeks, reports from Gynaecologists and Obstetricians that were publicized in the media, reveal alarming trends: the number of births has plummeted by more than 100,000 over the past five years, while the annual death rate has surged by 35,000. Such statistics demand immediate attention and prompt us to question whether the nation is adequately prepared for the repercussions of this demographic transition.

In 2017, Sri Lanka recorded 325,000 births. Fast forward to 2023 and this number has dwindled to 247,000. Concurrently, annual deaths rose from 146,000 to 181,000. Gynaecologists attribute the declining birth rate primarily to the exodus of many married couples during their prime reproductive years. The prevailing economic crisis has also led to delays in childbearing as couples postpone starting families amidst financial uncertainty. 

When speaking to the youth, it is evident that they are extremely frustrated with the skyrocketing cost of living, low salaries, rising housing prices and the extreme struggle to raise children and provide them with proper education. As a result, many of them have opted not to have children.

This demographic shift is further exacerbated by a notable decline in marriage rates, which have decreased by 12.5% over the past five years. The long-term implications of this trend are profound. 

With fewer births and an increasing death rate, Sri Lanka faces the dual challenge of a shrinking workforce and a growing elderly population. The economic and social fabric of the nation could be severely strained if these trends continue unchecked.

A declining birth rate coupled with a rising death rate suggests a future where the working-age population diminishes, potentially leading to a labour shortage. This scenario could stifle economic growth, strain public resources and increase the dependency ratio, placing a heavier burden on the younger generation to support an aging populace. The healthcare system, already under pressure, may struggle to meet the needs of a growing number of elderly citizens, necessitating increased investment in geriatric care and social support systems.

The question arises: is Sri Lanka ready to tackle these impending challenges? Addressing the demographic decline requires a multifaceted approach. Policies to stabilize and stimulate the birth rate must be prioritized. This could include financial incentives for young families, improved access to affordable housing, and comprehensive support for working parents, such as childcare services and flexible work arrangements.

Moreover, reversing the trend of emigration among young couples is crucial. Creating a stable and prosperous economic environment that offers ample opportunities for career growth and personal development can encourage citizens to build their lives and families within the country. Investment in education, infrastructure and job creation is essential to retain and attract talent, fostering a sense of optimism and stability.

Additionally, the country must prepare for an aging population by strengthening social security systems and healthcare infrastructure. Policies that promote healthy aging, encourage lifelong learning and facilitate community engagement for the elderly can help mitigate some of the challenges associated with an older demographic.

The decline in birth rates and increase in death rates signal more than just numbers; they reflect underlying socio economic issues that need urgent and sustained attention. Experts have repeatedly warned about the potential crises resulting from this demographic decline. Now, the ball is in the hands of the government and policymakers!

Source: Ceylon Today (Sri Lanka)

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