Dhaka, Bangladesh (BBN) – The country’s population hit 164.4 million in mid-2010, up by 18 million from the official estimates, top US population think tank said.

The Population Reference Bureau (PRB)’s 2010 population data sheet said the country’s population is growing at 1.5 percent a year, 0.18 percent higher than the government figures.

“I think PRB data are consistent. Today our policymakers say population is 160 million. This suggests an implicit support for the PRB estimates,” Subrata K Bhadra, deputy director at National Institute of Population Research and Training (NIPORT), was quoted by the Financial Express (FE), a local newspaper, as saying.

Right population projection is important to get social policies right, he said, adding it would help the government procure contraceptives in an appropriate way.

Top demographer at the International Centre for Diarrhoeal Diseases and Research, Bangladesh (ICDDR,B) ruled out the latest international estimates, saying both figures by the PRB and United Nations are “little bit higher,” the newspaper reported on Sunday.

Peter Kim Streatfield, who heads the centre’s Population Division, believed that the population figure could be closer to 160 million, neither 164 million, nor 162 million as estimated by the bureau and UN Population Division respectively.

He, however, noted that the projection is “pretty important,” because “When you get large figures, there are large implications.” “You’ve issues like food security, housing and schooling-all are linked to higher population.”

The PRB figures mean Bangladesh’s population ballooned by 34 million in less than a decade. The last Population Census, in 2001, put the number of Bangladeshis at 130 million and its revised estimates in 2005 were 139.8 million.

The research group’s estimate came at a sharp contrast with the government’s latest Economic Survey, which puts the country’s population figure at 146 million at the end of June.

BBN/SI/AD-26Sept10-11:24 am (BST)