Continued and unchecked increase in the human population has emerged as the major internal threat which has been constantly ignored by the successive governments in Pakistan. Pakistan has one of the highest birth as well as child mortality rates in the world which is a matter of concern. The population explosion has created many problems for the policy makers including unemployment, poverty and raging terrorism.
Punjab the population-wise largest province is the real victim of this problem, while the province of Balochistan is the most scarcely populated. Punjab’s population has increased five times in the last 67 years, and is estimated to be close to more than 103 million today. Based on present growth patterns, the demographic experts believe that the population of Punjab is expected to double after 36 years. Population density at present in the Punjab is estimated at 490 persons per square kilometers. Such a heavy human load in the presence of low socio-economic indicators, has not only diluted the results of various development efforts, but has also created an unacceptable level of demand on limited resources. A majority of Punjab’s population is under the age of 30 years which means they all need quality education and jobs to become useful citizens and to contribute to national prosperity. De-
mographic experts contend that there is an opportunity for economic growth by reducing the fertility rate and, consequently, the population growth rate.
Future fertility levels, contingent upon family planning efforts, will determine whether the population of Punjab will rise to 140 million or 188 million by 2050. In this situation, the provincial government will also seek to improve the performance of Lady Health Workers Program by improving their incentives, monitoring their activities and providing them with adequate supply of inputs. To meet the growing needs of family planning and to tackle inequality within the province, engagement of population welfare mobile units, community volunteers and subcontractors is also important.
Keeping in view the prevailing situation in the Punjab, investing in rapid fertility decline through a strong family planning programme could make a difference of 48 million people by 2050. Different studies have shown that family planning is closely related to human development and economic growth. Fortunately, there is an opportunity today because most married couples in Punjab do want to space their families. There is a growing realization that family planning is a viable, affordable and effective mechanism to improve health and educational outcomes; capture the demographic dividend and escape poverty. Punjab remains committed to provide universal access to quality reproductive healthcare and has taken different steps for youth development and women’s empowerment. It has aimed to adopt an integrated approach to service delivery involving the public and private sectors, knowledge sharing, innovative approaches and strategic partnerships to achieve the Family Planning-2020 Goals. It is good to note that since 2012, the Punjab government’s spending on family planning has increased sevenfold to $8.6 million. It has established the Punjab Population Innovation Fund with an allocation of 4.3 million dollars to award grants supporting innovative, locally responsive, sustainable family planning and reproductive health initiatives.
The provincial government’s health system with its wide network of services is now more involved in the delivery of family planning services to people in the Punjab. Meanwhile, the services of 45,000 community outreach workers of primary healthcare have also been regularized throughout the country. The social franchising of clinical services is being piloted in collaboration with Non-Governmental Organizations and the private sector. Mobile Service Units are being used to reach far-flung and more remote areas of the Punjab. Similarly, the role of males in the family planning equation is very important. Traditional attitudes have to be modified. The Punjab government has, therefore, spent almost two million dollars on an awareness campaign with strong endorsement from eminent religious scholars.
But, more is required to deal with the five million families in the Punjab. The government alone cannot perform enough to achieve the cherished goals of reduced population. Several sectors must work together in an integrated fashion to meet the rising population challenges. The government should remain determined to ensure cross-sectoral synergies between different departments, including population welfare, health, education, planning and development and especial involvement of the private sector. In remote areas of the Punjab, the government is providing family planning services along with necessary poverty reduction initiatives. And, above all, the value of investing in the empowerment of women is important. Quite a number of Punjab government-sponsored programmes are underway for education, skills development and employment generation f or the women. The Punjab Women Empowerment Package 2012, requires a quota of 15% for women in all public sector jobs. Free of cost skills training and interest-free loans are being provided to deserving women to make them financially independent; all of this will empower them to make voluntary decisions about their proposed family size and family planning.
The China Pakistan Economic Corridor has opened many new opportunities for the Pakistani nation, but in order to maximize benefits from these opportunities, Pakistan must first educate its youth according to market needs so that trained human resource could be available for meeting future needs. Pakistan must work together with China to achieve these goals. Innovative approaches, integrated strategies and strategic partnerships will be critical in meeting demographic goals and building healthier and more prosperous societies across the country.