Pakistan has been undergoing multifarious socio-politico-economic challenges since its inception, but the most hazardous of them is population explosion which can beget various economic and environmental issues for Pakistan such as reduction of capital formation, the necessity of more investment, adverse effect on per capita income, unemployment, food insecurity, and the vicious circle of poverty.
Population explosion also causes a decline in social infrastructure, antagonist effect on the environment, low standard of living, overuse of resources, urbanization, deforestation, water pollution to eutrophication, climate change, scarcity of potable water, and dearth of pure air. Dolefully, Pakistan has been facing many of the above-given problems and there is a possibility of exacerbating the prevailing situation.
In accordance with the census of 2017, Pakistan has a 207.8 million population with an annual growth rate of 2.4%, which according to the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics, is a 60 percent rise in population from the last census that took place in 1998. Moreover, United Nations Population Division projected that if the population grows at the same rate annually, Pakistan will have 335 million by 2050 and this figure could approach 460 million as well.
There are various rationales behind rocketing population such as high fertility rate, low contraceptive prevalence rate, high unmet needs of family planning, the custom of early marriage, son preference, poverty, illiteracy exclusively of women and lack of women empowerment, beliefs, customs, traditions, and lack of recreational activities.
Besides, since Pakistan is a Muslim state, family planning is deemed as against the teachings of Islam. But, one should infer the ground reality of family planning. People conceive it as murdering a life (child). However, family planning is a step to prevent even the creation of the life (child). If one utilizes contraceptives, means there are no chances of birth of a child thereby it cannot be against Islamic injunctions.
Apart from this, killing a person mentally and socially is equal to bumping off a person. So, if one cannot educate and provide fundamental facilities to its children, one should adopt family planning to save the country rather than decimating its resources.
Read more: The reality of family planning in Pakistan
Economic problems for Pakistan
The increasing population has resulted in the destabilization of the country’s economy. Pakistan has a high unemployment rate, and more than 30 percent of the nation is living below the poverty line, and furthermore, external debt has entrapped Pakistan.
Pakistan requires 6 to 7 percent growth in economy annually, but we can hardly manage to grow 1 to 4 percent growth. However, recent 4 percent growth is a dubious figure for the opposition as World Bank’s and IMF’s projected figures have been surpassed.
Pakistan, due to high population growth, remains incapable to meet the basic necessities of the nation as it does not have enough resources and in other cases, our government does not know how to utilize our resources properly. Our country spends more than it earns, thereby our country faces a deficit.
If Pakistan does not expand its economy 6 to 7 percent, as suggested by economic experts, it cannot satisfy the needs of the growing population. Consequently, expanding population will be a devastating bomb for Pakistan.
To add, the State Bank of Pakistan in its third quarterly report entitled “The state of Pakistan’s economy – 2019-20” portrayed, “When it comes to productivity, the poor state of human capital development is cited as one of the major binding constraints for Pakistan. With education and training on the lower side, the existing and incoming labor force does not have the desired level of capacity to efficiently participate in economic activities, whereas 1.8 million people enter the job market annually in Pakistan.”
According to this report, our participants for improving the economy are incompetent to make our country economically advanced. So, Pakistan should maintain check and balance on its education and training system to groom existing and incoming labor force so that they can be competent enough to give their best in boosting the economy or it should control the growing population so that Pakistan can tackle with existing and coming economic problems.
Negative impacts on the environment and health
Moreover, the growing population has also negatively impacted the environment. According to US Air Quality Index, Pakistan is the 2nd most polluted country with PM 2.5 concentration in Pakistan’s air which is currently 5 times above than WHO exposure recommendation.
Lahore is the most polluted city in Pakistan. Scientists vocalize that simply breathing one day in Lahore is equal to smoking one packet of cigarettes. Whilst, we also contribute to multifarious other environmental issues such as river pollution due to inflow of poisonous chemicals, waste material, global warming, shrinkage of underground water, oil and gas reserves, and natural resources.
Basically, the main causes of pollution are vehicles, factories, brick kilns, and steel mills –because they burn fossil fuel which impacts our environment adversely. All these causes will exceed the need of the hour as the population grows because all these are connected with human needs.
Inter alia, air pollution leads to various health issues including all respiratory ailments, with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) very likely to develop, which includes respiratory diseases such as pneumonia, bronchitis, emphysema, and asthma attacks.
Apart from this, PM 2.5 enters in to the bloodstream via alveoli in the lungs, the small sacs that are responsible for allowing oxygen to enter the blood. It can be an evenly ruinous issue such as ischemic heart disease, which arises when the heart does not receive enough blood to keep the issue function at full capacity.
Air pollution also leads to many other cardiac issues such as the risk of stroke, heart attacks, arrhythmias, and damage to blood vessels as well as damages to filtration organs such as the liver and kidneys.
Read more: Pakistan’s struggle with air pollution
Additionally, the hiking population causes eutrophication, which causes a dense growth of plant life that consumes oxygen, in consequence, aquatic animals die. Other major sources of it are industry and sewage disposal both are related to population growth.
Apart from this, overpopulation also originates ecological degradation which occurs due to deforestation, decreased biodiversity, and a spike in pollution and emission will exacerbate climate change as well. It clarifies that rocketing population is a hazardous bomb not only for human beings but also for other living things.
Past efforts for controlling the population
To counter the increasing population, Pakistan had taken many measures. Regretfully, measures could not bear the desired result. Firstly, measures were taken during the first Five Year Plan Period (1955-60) but failed. Then in 1960, the Ministry of Health took over this task but failed because the matter had involved human prejudices, habits, attitudes, beliefs which did not respond to official orders.
After 1969, under the Zulfikar Ali Bhutto government, the population planning programs were recognized and revitalized, but due to the use of contraceptives, pills, etc – which was offensive for some families and distasteful for many others- the program again failed.
After that, in July 1977, under General Zia-ul-Haq’s coup d’état, the population control program efforts halted due to his orthodox and unreasonable Islamic views. In all these periods funds went to waste, thereby international organizations also cut down funding to Pakistan for population control and the population kept growing.
Learning lessons from China, Bangladesh, and Iran
We can also learn lessons from China, Bangladesh, and Iran who reduced their population growth rate rapidly. China initially allowed families to keep just one child per family with the permission of the government. The task of monitoring was given to the local government. Servants who were not fulfilling their duties used to be penalized.
This is why China could control the population drastically. When China made enough resources for its citizens, it allowed two children per family and most recently it has allowed three children per family.
Taking Bangladesh, which reduced its fifty percent fertility rate from six children per woman in the early 1970s to fewer than three children per woman today, it has been providing contraceptives to women for decades. Bangladesh’s Director General of Family planning showed in a publication that only 8% of women of the nation’s total population were using contraceptives in 1975, but the figure increased to 63.1% by 2018.
Read more: Sex education; tool to tackle rape
Also, in Iran, a religiously strict country, Fatwas confirmed a woman’s right to control her fertility. Consequently, between 1988 and 1996 the average family halved in size from 5.2 to 2.6 children after authorities launched a family planning campaign.
In rural areas, the fertility rate dropped from 8.1 to 2.1 children per family only in one generation in 1988. Additionally, women were encouraged to wait three to four years between pregnancies and discouraged childbearing for women younger than 18 and older than 35.
Following the Chinese model can be a herculean task for Pakistan, but it can follow the Bangladeshi and Iranian models for controlling the population as they have succeeded in controlling their rapid population growth.
What should Pakistan do?
There are two key methods for a prosperous Pakistan. Firstly, the population should be brought under control by providing contraceptives, and people should be educated to be aware of standard life as they do not perceive it offensive or distasteful, and second is human development by providing cornerstone facilities such as education, health, and food, but for this Pakistan needs enough resources.
Further, Pakistan should create conditions under which people feel urged, motivated, inspired, convinced, and also constrained by circumstances to develop a culture of having smaller families. People should be educated so that they can be acquainted to higher values of life and standard of living. Then people can better understand their best interest.
For monitoring education and awareness progress and use of contraceptives, tasks should be entrusted to local government so that funds should not be misused, but should be properly utilized for the purpose.
Read more: Challenges of Governance in the New Decade
To cap it, a population can be an asset and encumbrance. It depends on the government that how does it use people to make more resources for human development so that no one can be a stumbling block and be an asset for the country instead.
If population growth remains constant and people are not fully educated and trained to participate in economic activities efficiently, rocketing the population can be a hazardous bomb to diffuse like other bombs but decimates gradually.
The author is an advocate by profession and is based in Karachi. The views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.