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Exploit the bulge

July 11, 2013

“THE annual labour of every nation is the fund which originally supplies it with all the necessaries and conveniences of life…” Adam Smith (“Wealth of Nations)

ADAM Smith was more concerned about how men progress and behave under economic compulsions. Malthus, a British cleric and a leading scholar in the fields of political economy and demography, painted a gloomy picture in his essay on population published in 1789.

Malthus postulated that since population increases exponentially and the means of production only in arithmetic progression, the number of mouths to feed would eventually outweigh the resources available.

Malthus’ theory has since been discredited by many, mainly the Marxists who considered Malthus a clergyman rather than a demographist or political economist. In the early 20th century, the Marxist social anthropologists proved that whereas the population in areas under study had risen exponentially, the yield of crops increased much faster than the population growth, thereby denying the Malthusian assumption.

Amartya Sen, agreeing with the Marxists, improved on their findings and gave a better scientific explanation. After the mid 20th-century, social anthropologists are seeing the problem of population explosion from the more multi-dimensional perspective of the effect on natural resources, faster consumption of resources and pressure on land. Land scarcity pushes people into ecologically sensitive areas resulting in environmental damage in various forms such as overgrazing, cutting of forests, over-cultivation and pollution. Simply put, as political economist Just Faaland said, there is a clear link between population, resource use and environmental deterioration, and the relationship of all these to development itself — a useful reminder on World Population Day.

According to the National Institute of Population Studies report 2011-2012, the population of Pakistan is currently 180.71 million with a growth rate of 2.03pc, making Pakistan the sixth most populous country in the world. Pakistan’s population constitutes 2.58pc of the world’s numbers, and the country occupies 0.6pc of the area.

Such a bulging population bodes ill for a low developed country such as Pakistan. It can place overwhelming strain on the sluggish economy, cause environmental damage and lead to the diversion of resources, besides exacerbating socioeconomic issues such as education, poverty, health and gender inequality.

Pakistan’s population has increased more than five times since independence, when the head count was merely 32.5 million. Pakistan’s growth rate of 2.03pc is much higher than Asia’s average of 1.2pc, India’s 1.3pc and Sri Lanka’s 0.8pc per year.

A more serious cause for concern is the statistic which places the number of under-15 population in Pakistan at 62 million, and the figure of the working age population (15-59 years) at 104 million. At the current rate, it is estimated that the population of people below 30 will be 53pc by 2030. According to another estimate, if the current growth rate persists, by 2030 the number of unemployed among the working age population in our country will be a staggering 80 million.

The implications of such unchecked growth, unless harnessed, are devastating, with potentially adverse effects on the economy. Unchecked population growth means faster consumption and higher demand, which puts a strain on the supply of basic necessities, leading in turn to increased expenses, lowering of per capita income and decreased private savings.

This lowers the standard of living across the board. As the supply of labour increases, incomes decrease and there is mass unemployment if enough jobs are not created. According to an estimate, to absorb the youth bulge, 36 million jobs will need to be created in the next 10 years alone.

Influx into urban centres creates pollution and places stress on scarce water resources. Overpopulation also results in the diversion of resources from essential sectors that fuel the economy in the short run to meet the needs of a growing populace. There are more mouths to feed and more infrastructure to provide such as schools, hospitals, roads, water connections, and buildings.

Pakistan’s various socioeconomic problems such as poverty, illiteracy, gender inequality, a failing health sector, energy crisis, ethnic tension, terrorism and a weakening economy have already come to a crisis point. A bulging population will only aggravate these problems.

Unesco’s Country Facts and Statistics Report 2011 puts Pakistan’s literacy rate at 58pc, with the male and female rates being 69pc and 45pc respectively. Pakistan has the second highest number of out-of-school girls. The scale and quality of education needs to be improved by achieving full primary enrolment, then moving on to higher enrolment in secondary and higher education. Special attention should be given to technical training and skill development. Improving female education, promoting greater participation of women in the workforce, and sustained efforts towards lowering the fertility rate are crucial factors that can produce a demographic bonus. Until and unless women are not accorded equal status in society, they will lack the ability to take their own decisions regarding marriage and children.

Pakistan has to develop its human resource by investing in human capital, raising the literacy rate, improving the quality of education, empowering women, controlling the growth rate by investing in health and introducing effective policies to tackle the problem.

Several Asian countries have turned their bulging populations into prized assets. India, for instance, employs a labour force of one million in only the big five IT service companies, fuelling the economy with revenues of $35 billion. Pakistan can also exploit its human resource and export its technical expertise. It can also export skilled labour to countries with declining populations such as Austria, Finland, and Germany to name a few. Others, such as New Zealand, USA, Canada, and Australia still have their doors open for skilled migrants from other countries.

The writer is a lawyer and legal consultant on immigration matters.