A future in peril

Updated July 13, 2019

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AS countries marked World Population Day on July 11, the figures for Pakistan painted an alarming picture of a future in peril. Currently, the fifth-most populated country in the world, Pakistan is hurtling towards taking the fourth spot and, going by the indicators, is likely to get there by 2030 — just a little over 10 years from now. In fact, with the world’s population expected to increase from the present 7.7bn to 9.7bn by 2050, projections by the United Nations show that Pakistan will be among the nine countries where more than half of the expected increase will be concentrated. The population of Pakistan today is 217m, which is 12m (5.9pc) more than the previous estimate from the 2017 revision.

Owing to the inversely proportional relationship between population and development, or individual well-being, these statistics foreshadow a ticking time bomb for Pakistan. A country burdened by a weak economy, a lack of jobs, finite resources such as food and water, and one that already has limited access to even basic services such as healthcare and education, will only see a decline by epic proportions if drastic measures are not adopted to lower the population growth rate. In a developing country like ours, a population growth rate of 2.1pc — one of the highest in the region — will have a debilitating effect on sustainable development. With a fertility rate of 2.62 children per woman — the highest in South Asia after Afghanistan — it is clear that, unless urgent action is taken, the state will continue to face a rapidly increasing population which it will not have the capacity to provide for.

It is important for the government to urgently turn its attention to population growth management and actively promote a national conversation around family planning. It is unfortunate that the apathy and lack of will that have been the hallmark of successive governments have resulted in family-planning campaigns being put on the back-burner — such inaction poses a great risk to the future of the country. Awareness drives and mandatory training must be reintroduced in both communities and hospitals, with an aim to educate men and women about contraception, birth spacing, and the importance of discouraging young marriages. The government must instruct the relevant federal and provincial ministries to collaborate with regional experts and set short- and long-term goals which ought to be implemented as a priority. There is a lot to learn from countries such as Bangladesh, which saw a successful door-to-door family-planning campaign, as well as Iran, which involved its clergy in delivering the message to the people. If progress is the goal, then the government has no option but to openly acknowledge the dire population reality and address it while there is still time to do so. Failure to act now will jeopardise the future of millions of citizens.

Published in Dawn, July 13th, 2019