Home Opinion Op-Ed Population explosion: A bomb as dangerous as nukes

Population explosion: A bomb as dangerous as nukes

explosion

Dr.Zeeshan Khan |

Pakistan’s population in 1947 was 34.4 million which has increased to 207.800 million according to the provisional figures of the 2017 census. The Cumulative Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) which was 2.69 percent for 17 years from 1981-1998, slowed down with a marginal 0.29 percent in 19 years to 2.40 percent in 2016. If this trend continues, the calculation on the population of Pakistan shall be anything between 359 million to 371 million by 2050.

The Economic Survey of Pakistan, 2010-11, estimated the population growth rate at 2.10 percent which increased to 2.56 percent in the 2011-12 survey and then reduced to 1.58 percent in the 2012-13 Economic Survey. This indicates the lack of detailed calculations of government officials estimating the national population.

In terms of land area Pakistan is 34th and shares 0.6% of the world area and in terms of the Human Development Index, it has 150th position in the world. Each family in Pakistan on average has 3.1 children.

Amidst intense political wrangling and a show of national indignation over International Bigwigs, a more important issue affecting the future of this country has gone almost unheeded. Pakistan inherited many chronic problems at the time of its inception. Problems like illiteracy, poverty, unemployment, corruption, lawlessness, political instability, poor infrastructure etc. were uncalled gifts for Pakistan. As with most socioeconomic issues of the country lack of attention, procrastination and complacency have managed to bring a fairly manageable problem to an unsustainable level.

Pakistan’s population growth rate is at a staggering 2.4% that is at least double of other regional countries like India, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka. Pakistan being one of the high-fertility countries with a large proportion of young adults and children had a population of 33 million in 1950 and its rank was 14th in the world but today, its population has reached around 210 million making Pakistan 5th most populous country of the world, after China, India, USA, Indonesia, and surpassed Brazil, Japan, Bangladesh, Nigeria, South Korea, Russia etc.

Read more: Khyber to Karachi: How will Pakistan match its population boom? –…

In terms of land area Pakistan is 34th and shares 0.6% of the world area and in terms of the Human Development Index, it has 150th position in the world. Each family in Pakistan on average has 3.1 children.

With abysmal human development indicators, this population explosion presents a most serious challenge to the socioeconomic stability and security of this country. With 60-65pc of the population under the age of 30 and fewer job opportunities, it is a disaster in the making. What is most worrisome is that this population explosion and its implications have drawn little attention from the political leadership that is engaged in a fierce power struggle.

Despite the gravity of the situation, the issue has hardly figured in the national discourse. It is not surprising that the decennial population count, a constitutional obligation, was delayed by almost two decades and was held only on the intervention of the apex court.

Free distribution of contraceptives, increased access to sterilization and edicts from religious leaders is doable given the right amount of government/institutional backing is provided.

The whole world is in the grip of overpopulation. It has crossed the seven billion mark. After terrorism, the population explosion can be called the biggest problem the world is facing today. Every day, we come across the often repeated phrase, “Population Bomb is ticking”.Pakistan is facing a formidable challenge of tackling the issues of economic development and poverty reduction.

If the population of the country continues to grow with the same rate I.e.2.4%, it is likely to double in next 37 years, making Pakistan 3rd most populous country of the world; whereas land area will remain the same rather will be reduced due to residential plans.

Major factors responsible for high population growth in Pakistan are high fertility, low contraceptive prevalence rate, high unmet need of family planning, declining mortality, custom of early marriages, son preference, poverty, illiteracy especially of women and lack of women empowerment, religious constraints, beliefs, customs, traditions and lack of recreational activities.

Read more: Large scale financial embezzlement revealed in Punjab Population Innovation Fund

Failure of proper implementation of the government’s population planning policies is the major cause of population growth as our contraceptive prevalence rate instead of increasing is decreasing and at present, it is 30-35%.

Another reason is that government did not have a monitoring system in place to regulate health centers or keep records of the population growth despite the fact that population welfare programme of Pakistan is one of the oldest in the world but it has not yielded the kind of progress as compared to other countries like Bangladesh and Indonesia.

Successive governments have ignored this vital issue while opposition parties of the past and present have not bothered to highlight it much either and have rather focused on the more mainstream kosher topics like load-shedding, corruption etc. And that is where the problem lies: starting the conversation, which due to social and religious taboos has become unnecessarily impossible.

This miracle can be achieved in a generation. The United Nations Population Division estimates that “by 2025 nearly` half the country’s population will live in urban areas.”

But it is not as if Pakistan is the only Muslim majority country in the world with a population explosion problem. Iran and Bangladesh managed to keep happy their most conservative ultra-right religious factions by including them in the process and providing incentives to get the job done. It is very much achievable as long as the will to do it is there.

Unfortunately, the public sector outlay on education is so little and reforms in education so low on the list of the government’s priorities that the battle seems a losing one. Yes, such macro, structural changes will come with time but there are measures that can be taken now. Free distribution of contraceptives, increased access to sterilization and edicts from religious leaders is doable given the right amount of government/institutional backing is provided.

Otherwise, if this already out of hand growth rate is allowed to increase further then sustainable economic growth will remain little more than a pipe dream. Remarkably, while so many parts of the world have seen a reduction in fertility rates and population growth, Pakistan’s growth rate has increased. Pakistan’s fertility rate is among the highest in the region. Indeed, this is a scary situation. But is anyone bothered?

Read more: Guantanamo geriatrics? Detainee population quietly ages

Agriculture is another sector, which has been adversely affected by the rapid increase of population. About 70% of Pakistan’s population relies on the agricultural sector. Overpopulation is even having an adverse effect on the agricultural outcome. More population means smaller farms and that leads to a decline in productivity. The same would happen with the forests and also with the availability of fresh water. We are already a water-stressed country with no big dams and water reservoirs.

Pakistan will have to reduce its current population growth rate to half in the next 30 years to achieve the status of a high middle-income country, as the current pace of increase in population is a barrier to becoming a prosperous nation, said World Bank Country Director Patchamuthu Illango.

“Pakistan will remain a low-income country even after 30 years when it turns 100 if it does not control the exploding population bomb,” said Illango while speaking at a seminar.

Despite the adverse effects of a rapidly growing population, the government of Pakistan can mitigate these effects and can achieve control on the population.

For the next 30 years, there are two possible pathways for Pakistan’s economy and two different futures, he added. The recent population census revealed a number of 210 million. If we project that to 2047, then Pakistan’s population will be 405 million people, he added.

The World Bank official said that the next 10 years are critical to lay the foundation for a more prosperous economy when Pakistan turns 100 years old. This miracle can be achieved in a generation. The United Nations Population Division estimates that “by 2025 nearly` half the country’s population will live in urban areas.”

Pakistan, being one of the countries most vulnerable to the effects of climate change, has to bear the consequences of the increasing population. The existing environmental management capacity cannot sustain such a large population if it is to provide a good quality of life.

Read more: How we became more than 7 billion – humanity’s population explosion

Meanwhile, for a country confronting violent extremism, such a high population growth rate and huge youth bulge with apparently shrinking economic opportunities make it far more difficult to deal with the rising menace of militancy. There may not be a direct link between radicalization and poverty but some studies show illiteracy as one of the major causes of youth being attracted to extremist religious groups. An illiterate and unemployed population provides readymade volunteers for militant groups of all hues.

With the shift of new government, Prime Minister Imran Khan, hopefully, and all the political parties will reach a consensus that the overall framework of the economy should be consistent, irrespective of which political party is in power.

Despite the adverse effects of a rapidly growing population, the government of Pakistan can mitigate these effects and can achieve control on the population. Following are some suggestions:

  • Family planning facilities be made a part of health facilities.
  • There should be a greater role for local and provincial governments.
  • Role of NGOs and doctors in the disbursement of Aid received for family planning should be increased.
  • Males should be urged to cooperate more.
  • Status of women be raised in society by providing more economic opportunities.
  • Better health and educational facilities be provided for women.
  • the issue to be taken as a national crisis.
  • Role of media be encouraged especially in rural areas.
  • Government programs should involve Ulemas and NGOs
  • Greater participation of landlords.

Dr. Zeeshan Khan is a medical doctor by profession, a content writer, freelance writer, certified trainer, and Poet. He is a motivational speaker, Cultural-cum-Political Analyst, and columnist and has written for a number of English and Urdu dailies like Dawn, Express Tribune, The Business, The Educationist and Roznama Pakistan etc. He is also Alumni of LUMS and  Winner of all Pakistan Ubqari story Writing Competition. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space. 


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