KARACHI: Speakers at a seminar on population control and urbanisation have urged policymakers to fast-track their steps to bring down the population growth rate from 2.4 per cent per annum as it is hampering the country’s progress.
The programme was organised by the Population Council, a non-profit organisation working to address population issues, at a Karachi hotel on Tuesday.
Dr Noman Ahmed, chairman of the department of architecture and planning at the NED University of Engineering and Technology, explained how excessive urbanisation resulted in the loss of agricultural land to unplanned settlements.
“In 1973, Karachi was producing 19 per cent of the fruits and vegetables it consumed. This has reduced to only 4pc in 2012, signalling a drop in agricultural activity in the city and dependence on other cities for its food requirement,” he said.
Excessive urbanisation said to have resulted in agricultural land loss
Karachi’s population much higher than official figures
Expressing reservations on the counting methodology in the census 2017, he said that it was unbelievable that a city full of opportunities like Karachi, registered an increase in population by only four million since the 1998 census which put the city’s population at around 10m.
“In contrast, Lahore has nearly doubled in size in terms of population,” he said. “It is unfortunate that the Sindh government in the Council of Common Interests (CCI) had given up on its demand of the audit of five per cent of census blocks in Karachi.”
Quoting a World Bank study, Dr Ahmed said that as per estimates in 2014, Karachi’s population was nearly 22m.
“The World Bank study was innovative and had used satellite mapping technology to monitor the patterns of light movement in the nights,” he said. “These are conservative estimates and that too only of urban Karachi. The population of Karachi region is much higher than the official figures released by the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics (PBS).”
Comparing the population density of various areas of the city, he said that the population density in Defence was 160 people per acre, whereas it was much higher ie 3,000 persons per acre in Lyari.
Dr Ahmed said that China had a strict policy on migration which restricted free migration from one region to the other.
“Certain regions and cities are not allowed to take in any more migrants so that the already-burdened areas are not stressed anymore,” he said, suggesting that a similar approach could be adopted in Pakistan where the 85pc of country’s urban population was only concentrated in 10 large cities.
Spending on family planning
Samia Ali Shah, the project director of Population Council, said that there were nearly 18,000 public health facilities across the country whereas only 3,000 clinics of the Population Welfare Department (PWD) which provided family planning advice and facilities to the public.
She said that Pakistan’s spending on family planning was the least among other Muslim nations of the world, which resulted in a high fertility rate.
The event was informed that Pakistan had the highest fertility rate in South Asian countries at 3.6pc. If the population growth rate remains constant, the country’s population could double by 2046. The host of issues that follow the high fertility rate are more maternal deaths, high infant mortality rate, and prevalent malnutrition and stunting of children. Even if the growth rate is brought down to 2pc per annum, Pakistan would need 120m more jobs and 19m more houses by the year 2040.
Published in Dawn, December 6th, 2018