Census result and after

According to the provisional census results, the country’s population has increased by 30pc since the 1998 census. Excluding Azad Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan, Pakistan’s population now stands at 207.8 million, showing an increase of 75.4 million people in 19 years. The population was just over 130 million in 1998, the year when the fifth census was conducted. This means the country has seen a 57% increase in the population at an annual rate of 2.4%. The majority of the people – 52.9% to be exact – live in Punjab, but its share in the total population has declined as compared with the 1998 census results. Balochistan and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa are the beneficiaries of the reduction in Punjab’s share, as Sindh’s share in the total population remains unchanged – at 23%. In absolute numbers, Punjab has the largest population – at around 110 million. Sindh is second with almost 48 million while Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa are home to 12 million and 30.5 million respectively.
These numbers will be important for the next NFC Award and distribution of resources. The new population statistics might result in a proportionate reduction in the allocation of the National Assembly seats of Punjab, as well as its share in the federal divisible pool, although the overall number of seats of all the federating units would increase due to a 75.4 million increase in population over the past 19 years. About 82% of the federal divisible pool is distributed on the basis of population. In the months to come, more detailed information will be released about the population breakdown and give us a better idea of whether there has been any improvement in literacy rates, infant mortality and other vital metrics.
According to the summary results, the country’s predominant majority – 132.189 million or 63.6% – still lives in rural areas. This ratio was 65.6% in 1998 when the last headcount was conducted. The urban population stands at 75.58 million or over 36 percent. In 1998, the share of the urban population was 32.52%. The census reports that Sindh is 52 percent urbanized. This could result in a rearrangement of rural-urban quotas of the provincial assembly seats and jobs. Of the total urban population of the province, 68% is concentrated in three major cities – Karachi, Hyderabad and Sukkur. Urbanisation-wise, Punjab stands second where 36.71% population lives in cities. The least urbanised province is K-P. Surprisingly, Islamabad’s urban population has decreased from 67 percent to almost 50 percent since the last census. An interesting fact to emerge is a growing gender gap. There are almost five million more men in Pakistan than women. This is perhaps explained by the well known preference for male children along with the lack of women’s access to healthcare.
The population growth rate at 2.4 percent suggests that all family planning programmes undertaken by the state failed to produce the desired results. Since the last 1998 census, the government has claimed that the population growth rate has come down to 1.8pc — a figure quoted in successive Economic Survey documents. That assumption now stands reversed, presenting the authorities with a hard task in making family planning policies a success. Above all, it means the Rs8bn that the government has been allocating for population welfare programmes in recent years will need to be increased substantially. With a growth rate of 2.4pc the population will double again in less than 30 years. The new population figure is a challenge for our policy makers who will be required to reformulate their strategies to feed, house, clothe and provide job opportunities to the burgeoning mass of humanity across the land.
Already our human development indicators are among the worst in the world. Pakistan is ranked 147th in the Human Development Index with close to 30pc of the population living below the poverty line. The literacy rate is only 58pc. With thousands of newborns added to the population each day, even this ranking on the development index is feared to slide further in the days ahead. With 60pc of the population under the age of 30 and fewer job opportunities, we are heading towards a cataclysm.
The decennial population count was delayed by almost two decades and was held only on the intervention of the Supreme Court. We have lost much precious time. But it is doubtful that necessary follow-up measures will be taken because the provisional results have already become a subject of dispute between the Centre and the provinces. Sindh has described the census results as a deliberate attempt to understate the population of the province. There is also an outcry from MQM over the low figure of 10.7 million shown for Karachi’s population. By contrast, surprisingly, the population of Lahore is shown to have more than doubled in the same period.
Then there are also question marks about the unexpected rise in the population of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The higher than average national growth of the population in Balochistan has also raised eyebrows. Given these political controversies, it is doubtful if the government can come up with a comprehensive plan of action soon to grapple with the vast array of socio-economic challenges posed by the population bulge.