An acute shortage of capital, energy, water, skilled and educated manpower, healthcare facilities, housing and transport facilities have come together to keep the national economy in a perpetual state of under development. On the other hand the country’s galloping population continues to render these shortages even more acute seemingly making it impossible for Pakistan’s economy to arrest its free fall.
The ever-increasing population is a matter of great concern as being a developing country whose economy Pakistan cannot afford the prevailing population growth rate. In fact high population rate is extremely detrimental to Pakistan because it nullifies all efforts towards socio-economic development and puts a tight break on economic growth.
According to the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics, our population was 188.2 million in 2014, representing 2.56 percent of the world´s total population which means that one person in every 39 people on the planet is a resident of Pakistan. With an overwhelming growth rate of three percent plus (3% +) until 1990s (Economic Survey of Pakistan 1995-96) Pakistan within a span of just 30 years reached the 7th position on the list of world’s most populous countries.
Around the time Zarb-e-Azb was being launched the population of North Waziristan was officially estimated at no more than 700,000. But the number of displaced persons that arrived at the Internally Displaced Persons’ (IDPs) camps had exceeded one million by the second week of the military campaign. This is an abnormally large margin of error between the official estimate of the population in this miniscule part of the country and the actual number that is yet to be estimated with any degree of accuracy.
Just imagine the horrendous possibilities that we would be facing if it were to transpire at some future date that a similar stupendous of error had already rendered the official estimates of the country’s population of 182 million inaccurate by say more than 20 million. If true, this would in turn render inaccurate by the same vast degree every important official statistics based on which our officials are making plans for meeting our current and future demands of our basic and not so basic needs.
So, the immediate challenge facing the government is to hold the much delayed census at the earliest. This will enable the government to calculate with a degree of accuracy the population growth rate (which currently is officially estimated at around 2.1 percent) and the fertility rate (officially estimated to be 4.1 births per woman) both of which are currently lagging behind the data for the same in all the South Asian countries except Afghanistan.
Indeed, the possibility of under-estimation of both the official population growth and fertility rates cannot be ruled out in view of the presumed under-estimation of the country’s population by the government. That is perhaps why it is becoming increasingly difficult for Pakistan to make the most of its available economic resources. As a consequence, the very fabric of our society is facing a serious threat with the writ of the state seemingly vanishing rapidly.
With dwindling water resources, a yawning energy deficit, and an expanding population with higher expectations – and an acute security problem to boot – Pakistan needs a fresh census to give planners the essential tools for future projections. Without the census data, they would be operating in a vacuum.
Consider the important issues that are built around the availability of census data: the NFC Award, delimitation of electoral constituencies, seat shares in parliament, local bodies’ polls, targeted subsidies, and all other policy matters that rest on population data.
With the census data from 1998 practically obsolete, it is fair to suppose that all of these important matters today are actually based on suppositions that have no grounding in reality. Without a census, we don’t really know the real face of the country that we are trying to run and govern.
While attempts are being made to gather the accurate number of heads that need to be fed, clothed and housed within the resources available to the nation, it is also as much important at the same time to simultaneously mount a nation-wide campaign to improve the quality of life of each of our citizens.
Education and health are considered to be the two most important ingredients for enriching the quality of an individual’s life. That is why developed societies spend so much on health and education. And these two social instruments also contribute decisively towards spreading awareness about affordable size of the family and how to use healthcare to keep it within the limits of the resources available to maintain an acceptable quality of life.
Population planning is the only way to avoid the social, economic and large scale psychological hazards of over-population. The benefits of population planning touch all levels – individual, family, and community, national and even global. It enhances the quality of life by reducing infant mortality, improving maternal health and alleviating pressures on governments to meet social and economic needs. In addition, access to family planning can be seen as a human right and as a means to enlarge women’s life options.
The Population Council of Pakistan has estimated that only 35.4% of women in the country are currently practicing contraception and that more than 20 percent of married women want to practice contraception to space or limit their family size but are unable to do so. This is mainly because of wide-spread illiteracy, cultural taboos and inaccessibility to high quality family planning/birth spacing services. Also, there appears to be some kind of aversion or a strong disinclination on the part of the successive governments since General Zia’s days towards the matter of population planning.
This needs to be reversed with the current government and its successors making a commitment to treat this matter as number one priority of the nation, following up with setting in place a strong family planning programme and increasing contraceptive prevalence rates. Due consideration should also be given to the sensible suggestion that the population planning department should be merged with the health ministry. But the government alone would not be able to do the needful with any degree of success. The civil society, the private sector and the media, especially the broadcast media, also need to join in the effort wholeheartedly.
All private maternity homes and clinics as well as all big and small private hospitals should set up population planning units on their premises as it is the duty of all private commercial enterprises, under what is called the corporate social responsibility principle, to protect the interest of society at large. And the private broadcast media too under the same principle should broadcast regular programmes promoting population planning as a public service.
In some parts of Pakistan, misperceptions prevail regarding the permissibility of using contraception to space or limit births in Islam. The past two years have seen Pakistan’s most eminent religious leaders and scholars come together to endorse the concept of birth spacing, and the use of contraceptive methods to enable healthy timing and spacing of pregnancies, thereby improving the health and wellbeing of families.