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People bomb

Updated December 10, 2018


THE problem may take as much time to resolve as the nearly 2m currently pending court cases in Pakistan, but there’s no disputing the views of the country’s top judge about our runaway population.

At a symposium in Islamabad, Justice Saqib Nisar observed that Pakistan’s population growth rate is potentially the “most disastrous issue” facing this nation and a “menace” that has barely been addressed for the last six decades.

The problem, as he spelled out, is a simple one of supply and demand, with dwindling resources unable to cater to an increasing number of mouths to feed.

Read: Family planning may be our last hope

Prime Minister Imran Khan, on the same occasion, emphasised that curbing the population growth was a priority for his government and one it had already begun working on. He recalled the effectiveness of family planning TV campaigns in the 1960s in keeping the numbers down.

One wonders what successive governments in our history were thinking when, at the cost of the people’s future, they put family planning on the back burner, acquiescing to preposterous right-wing propaganda linking the issue with promoting ‘obscenity’.

The Pakistani youth bulge: a ticking time bomb

When mentioned at all, ‘family planning’ became ‘population welfare’, and the message was so watered down and sanitised as to be scarcely comprehensible to its target audience.

In fact, the prime minister’s remark at a public forum about the delivery of contraceptives being a problem in dealing with controlling population growth was a refreshing dose of plain speaking; we cannot afford to beat about the bush anymore.

Climate change is well under way, and Pakistan is one of 10 countries most vulnerable to global warming.

Mr Khan rightly pointed out at the symposium that the clergy in Iran and Bangladesh plays an active role in their countries’ extremely successful population control campaigns. There are NGOs in Pakistan already engaging with local clerics on this score but a far bigger, more holistic, government-owned initiative is needed.

This is a complex issue that touches upon many aspects; and one of the most significant is the status of women. The less empowered a woman, the less likely she is to have any say in the frequency or spacing of pregnancies — and Pakistan consistently features at the bottom of the annual gender gap index.

A nightmare scenario looms on the horizon; the longer we delay the critical task of population control, the more extended and harsh will be the fallout.

Published in Dawn, December 10th, 2018