According to the latest population statistics, Pakistan is the sixth largest country in the world. The UN’s projection is that Pakistan will become the third most populated country in the world by the year 2050. Experts say that in view of the limited resources available, such a high population growth rate has serious implications for the future well being of Pakistani people in all walks of life.
As per a recent UN survey, Pakistan’s ranking is 149 among 188 countries in the first global assessment of countries’ progress towards the United Nations’ health-related Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The ranking shows our abysmal performance in the health and other sectors. Among other things, overpopulation lies at the root of Pakistan’s failure to reach SDGs goals as a whole.
In 1960 Pakistan’s population was 46 million. But due to lack of family planning measures, it rose to 190 million in 2015 – a 400 percent increase. The latest census results have not yet been compiled but expert opinion is that our population is close to 220 million. Because of runaway population growth, there is a shortage of everything. All plans for provision of jobs, houses, transport, schools, hospitals come to naught, and the poverty index and deprivation of the lower strata of society keeps on relentlessly increasing.
Rising population has not only put tremendous pressure on the existing resources, but also put in jeopardy the prospects of future growth. The country is experiencing growing scarcity of food and water, while basic health, education, housing and related facilities are proving increasingly inadequate to meet the needs of the people. The factor of overpopulation is also the root cause of unemployment, land fragmentation, overcrowding and proliferation of katchi abadis, poverty, crime and environmental degradation. Rolling blackouts, dwindling water supplies and electricity and natural gas shortages are incontrovertible proof of a worsening equation between the country’s growing population and available resources.
The World Population Data Sheet 2013 projects Pakistan’s population to rise to 363 million by 2050. The population growth rate in Pakistan at 2.0 percent is among the highest in the world. In the South Asian region too we are ahead of other countries by a big margin. Pakistan is fighting a losing battle in its race to balance its dwindling resources against a growing population. Take the man-land ratio, for example. According to an estimate, during the last 25 years, the size of cultivable land in Pakistan has increased by 27 percent as compared to over 100 percent increase in population. This has resulted in a steep decline in the number of individual land holdings in the country in recent years.
Given Pakistan’s high birth rate, the urban population is expected to double in the next 20 years causing more and more forests to be cut to make way for new human settlements. Figures show that deforestation is continuing apace at the alarmingly high rate of 2.5 percent which has no precedent anywhere in the world. Environmental degradation is a natural offshoot of overpopulation. Falling water tables due to excessive pumping, lack of sewerage facilities, over-motorization and emission of monoxide gas and increasing numbers of factories gobbling up green fields have increased the pace of environmental degradation. The problem of overpopulation becomes even more serious in an era of shortage of safe drinking water and climate change due to the depletion of the ozone layer. Other forms of environmental pollution associated with population are marine pollution, noise pollution, depletion of agrarian resources, etc. The alarming situation in the water sector is a prime example of the dangers posed by unchecked population growth. At the time of independence in 1947, water availability was 5,000 cubic meters per capita but it has now declined to about 1000 cubic meters. The annual water demand is expected to exceed availability by 100 billion cubic meters by 2025, if not earlier. All projections show that Pakistan will be a water-scarce nation in the next few years.
A high birth rate is also the cause of poor nourishment and inadequate healthcare suffered by a majority of the population. Recent studies suggest that lack of proper nourishment and health care has led to a situation where children grow up without attaining their full mental and physical capacity. Experts believe that if conditions don’t improve, we would soon reach a point where food and medical care would not be available to a large proportion of the country’s population.
More and more young people enter the job market every year, but there are fewer opportunities for them than before. Large scale and growing unemployment is a socio-economic phenomenon directly related to our failure to plan our population. According to the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics, during the last three decades, the number of employed persons increased, twice from 18.5 million to 38.3 million, while the number of the unemployed rose eight times from 0.4 million to 3.3 million in 2002.
Although various governments in the past have tried to tackle the issue of high population growth rate with programs like Family Welfare Centres, Reproductive Health Services Centres, Regional Training Institutes and Mobile Services Units, their efforts did not yield the desired results. These programs could not succeed in their objectives mainly because of corruption and inefficiency and lack of necessary social and technical skills on
the part of the family planning staff as well as cultural and religious constraints and a low literacy level, particularly among women in the rural areas. The first family planning program in the public sector was started in the 60s under the ministries of health and social welfare with the help of budgetary allocations made in successive five-year development plans. But, according to the population ministry, the population welfare programs in Pakistan did not yield the kind of results achieved in other Muslim countries like Bangladesh and Indonesia.
The concerned authorities blame the failure of population planning programs on the lack of support from the community due to religious, social and cultural factors and the low literacy rate in the rural hinterland. But this is not the whole story. The government is also to blame for not allocating sufficient resources to the sector and failing to mobilize the concerned departments to vigorously sell a potentially unpopular program to an illiterate and unwilling population.
The problem of high population growth calls for new policy measures by the government to comprehensively deal with the issue. The need is not only to increase the budgetary allocation and treat family planning as part of the overall health care program, but also to create a new publicprivate partnership framework under which civil society activists and NGOs work in close cooperation with the government departments to provide better health services to the people. To this end, the primary healthcare system needs to be ramped up with the reactivation of family welfare clinics and BHUs at the union council level. The media also needs to be fully harnessed to create mass awareness about the benefits of population planning both for the individual and the nation.
A high birth rate is also the cause of poor nourishment and inadequate healthcare suffered by a majority of the population. Recent studies suggest that lack of proper nourishment and health care has led to a situation where children grow up without attaining their full mental and physical capacity. Experts believe that if conditions don’t improve, we would soon reach a point where food and medical care would not be available to a large proportion of the country’s population