Dhaka, Bangladesh (BBN) – A top US research group has disputed the official estimate of the Bangladesh population, saying 162 million now live in the country, up around 20 million than the government figure.

The Population Research Bureau (PRB)’s 2009 World Population Data Sheet has projected this week that the country’s population would approach 222 million in mid-2050, a 37 percent rise.

The Washington-based group said the Bangladesh population is growing at 1.6 percent a year – a 0.34 percent higher than the government’s estimates.

Some 32 percent of the population is aged below 15, meaning the country would continue to enjoy demographic dividend for years to come. Only five per cent of the population is aged above 65, which is far lower than the developed nations.

The research group’s estimate came at a sharp contrast with the government’s Economic Survey, which puts the country’s provisional population figure at 144.2 million at the end of June, 2009.

The sate-run Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS) has also projected that the population would top 153 million in 2011.

Dr Ahmed Al Sabir, who heads a state-run population research group, urged the policy makers to take the PRB’s figure seriously.

“The PRB is a highly respected research organization and its latest figures remind us of the urgency, a rapid response,” Mr. Sabir was quoted by the Financial Express (FE), a local newspaper, as saying.

Since 2004, total fertility rate (TFR) or the number of children born per couple has started declining and reached 2.7 in 2007 after a decade-long flat growth of 3.0, according to the government’s latest Demographic and Health Survey.

“It’s pretty serious,” Peter Kim Streatfield, head of Population Division at International Centre for Diarrhoeal Diseases and Research, Bangladesh (ICDDR,B), told the FE.

The PRB figures mean Bangladesh’s population jumped by nearly one-fourth or additional 32 million in less than a decade. The 2001 Population Census put the number of Bangladeshis at 130 million and its revised estimates in 2005 were 139.8 million.

“We’re still facing millions before stabilising, unless fertility can soon decline to below the replacement level,” Mr Streatfield, formerly of the Population Council, added.

The ICDDR, B researcher said that Bangladesh’s rural growth would be halted in 2025, meaning the future growth would be mainly driven by the urban centers.

PRB has said global population numbers are on track to reach seven billion in 2011, just 12 years after reaching six billion in 1999. “Virtually all of the growth is in the developing countries,” the PRB said.

BBN/SS/SI/AD-24August09-2:09 am (BST)