FeaturedNationalVOLUME 17 ISSUE # 35

Overpopulation: A gathering storm

Pakistan’s resources are shrinking fast and it is struggling to provide basic facilities to its people. Besides poor planning, corruption, a lack of a political will to address public issues, a rapidly growing population is a big problem hindering national development. Pakistan is facing shortages of food, electricity, gas, job opportunities and they will continue to worsen with the passage of time if an out-of-the-box solution is not found in the near future.

It is a fact that sustainable growth and inclusive socio-economic development are not possible without addressing the population issue. A recent report by the United Nations on Pakistan’s population should wake up all stakeholders and it must be realised that the issue can no longer be left unaddressed. Pakistan’s population is expected to increase by 56pc to 366 million by the year 2050. The UN report: “World Population Prospects 2022,” also projected that the global population, which currently stands at 7.7 billion, will reach 8 billion by the end of 2022.

The report also attributes Pakistan as one of the leading contributors to population growth. In 1990, the country, with 114 million people, stood at eighth position in the list of the world’s most populous countries. It has climbed up three spots to reach fifth place. A 56pc increase in the population means that Pakistan will need to generate more revenue for its healthcare and education budget and other public services. It is also one of the 10 destination countries for refugees and asylum seekers. The country has reported a net outflow of 16.5 million migrant labour between 2010 and 2021.

However, despite the declining trend in the overall population growth by one percent, the population peak will hit in 2080, with the world population growing to 10.4 billion. Earlier, the peak was estimated to be hit after the year 2100. India is projected to surpass China as the world’s most populous country next year, according to the report. The world’s two most populous regions in 2022 were Eastern and South-Eastern Asia, with 2.3 billion people, representing 29pc of the global population, and Central and Southern Asia, with 2.1 billion, representing 26pc of the total world population. China and India accounted for the largest populations in these regions, with more than 1.4 billion each in 2022.

More than half of the projected increase in global population up to 2050 will be concentrated in just eight countries of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Egypt, Ethiopia, India, Nigeria, Pakistan, the Philippines and Tanzania. “Disparate population growth rates among the world’s largest countries will change their ranking by size: for example, India is projected to surpass China as the world’s most populous country in 2023,” the report said. “This year’s World Population Day falls during a milestone year, when we anticipate the birth of the Earth’s eight billionth inhabitant. This is an occasion to celebrate our diversity, recognise our common humanity, and marvel at advancements in health that have extended lifespans and dramatically reduced maternal and child mortality rates,” UN Secretary-General António Guterres said. “At the same time, it is a reminder of our shared responsibility to care for our planet and a moment to reflect on where we still fall short of our commitments to one another,” he added.

The report added that ten countries experienced a net outflow of more than 1 million migrants between 2010 and 2021. In many of these countries, these outflows were due to temporary labour movements, such as for Pakistan (net outflow of -16.5 million during 2010-2021), India (-3.5 million), Bangladesh (-2.9 million), Nepal (-1.6 million) and Sri Lanka (-1 million).

Global life expectancy at birth reached 72.8 years in 2019, an improvement of almost 9 years since 1990. Further reductions in mortality are projected to result in an average global longevity of around 77.2 years in 2050. Yet in 2021, life expectancy for the least developed countries lagged 7 years behind the global average.

Pakistan faces a long recessionary phase and it needs massive resources to rebuild its economy, revive businesses, create jobs and improve social safety nets. The job becomes more difficult in the wake of a large population, which is still growing at a rate of 2.4pc. The smartest way for Pakistan to resolve its longstanding issues is to check the population growth.

According to a recent report of the Population Council, a cut in the population growth could be the most cost-effective and expeditious intervention to achieve Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for Pakistan. “Increased investment in family planning programmes could accelerate Pakistan’s progress across social, economic and environmental areas of sustainable development,” it said. In February 2015, the Pakistan government adopted the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) through a unanimous parliamentary resolution. The strategic shift put considerable responsibility on the government and its development partners to address the unmet agenda of Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), while initiating the SDGs through development cooperation for strengthening public institutions, social policies and planning development programmes.

The current pace of the population growth at 2.4pc directly hampers Pakistan’s efforts to meet 12 out of 17 SDGs. “In Pakistan, every $1 spent on contraceptive services saves $2.50 in maternal and newborn healthcare. By investing in robust family planning programmes, Pakistan can significantly pull more people out of poverty by improving maternal and infant survival, nutrition, educational attainment and the status of girls and women. The rapid population growth, therefore, is one of the biggest challenges confronting Pakistan that impedes achieving Sustainable Development Goals in the country,” the report observed.

Explaining the impact of the rapid population growth, the report reveals that Pakistan ranks 78th out of 113 countries on the Global Food Security Index (2019). One out of three children is out of school in Pakistan. Its population is growing so fast that it can’t achieve Universal Primary Education until 2075. It is one of the third most water-stressed countries in the world. Per capita water availability in Pakistan has dropped from 5,600 cubic meters at the time of independence to the current level of 861 cubic meters and it is projected to decline further.

If the contraceptive prevalence rate rises from the current 34pc to 54pc, it can save 4,900 mothers and 140,000 infants from dying every year. If Pakistan is closer to the fertility levels of the rest of the region i.e. 2.1pc, a total of 40 million fewer Pakistanis would be living in poverty and only 1.6 million children would be out of school. To harness its demographic dividends, Pakistan will need to break out of stagflation and venture into sustained growth; creating more and better jobs for women and men; and profiting from the “youth bulge” by investing in them. By 2050, 224 million more people will be looking for jobs.

The level of urbanization in Pakistan is the highest in South Asia. The urban population of Pakistan is likely to cross the proportion of the rural population by 2050. The report said that family planning is one of the smartest SDG priorities, with sweeping social, economic, and environmental benefits. “Socioeconomic reforms combined with family planning investment provide the largest benefits to Pakistan,” it added. The report further said that one of the SDGs pertaining to good health and well-being aims to ensure universal access to reproductive healthcare services, including family planning—considered one of the most cost-effective targets. It suggests investing in family planning as a necessary step for achieving many of the SDGs.

Pakistan faces serious challenges and the most cost-effective and expeditious way to meet them is to slow down the population growth. It can help the country achieve Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in order to attain universal healthcare and education standards and pull people out of poverty.