ONE of the persistent yet lesser talked about challenges facing Pakistan is its growing population. From the distribution of essential healthcare and education services, to tackling unemployment and raising the general standards of living, the failure to control population rates has had far-reaching implications. Some have also put forth the argument that rising populations not only place a burden on a country’s limited resources, but they also contribute to the climate change crisis (of course, though, it is still largely the wealthiest countries that contribute the highest global greenhouse emissions). At 2.4pc, Pakistan’s population growth rate is much higher than in many parts of the world. Worryingly, the vast majority is under the age of 30. But when the long-awaited 2017 census results were announced, the realisation that we had now surpassed Brazil as the fifth most populous country in the world seemed to create no urgency amongst lawmakers. Currently, Indonesia, the US, India and China have higher populations than Pakistan. Unless concrete steps are taken to halt this trend, the country’s population could exceed 300m by 2050, warned a UN report this year. Past attempts to introduce family planning schemes and greater access to contraceptives have met with little success. Due to a lack of foresight and long-term implementation of population control policies by successive governments, along with societal stigma and resistance from right-wing quarters each time the topic of birth control is brought up, the problem has been allowed to fester.
At a recent event in the capital city, the Special Assistant to Prime Minister for National Health Services Dr Zafar Mirza highlighted the shocking fact that approximately half of all married women in the country do not use modern contraceptive methods, resulting in 3.8m unintended pregnancies each year. Early marriages, and the lack of knowledge about contraception and birth spacing, have all contributed to the position we are in today. Until these underlying causes are addressed, any and all other progress made will amount to zero.
Published in Dawn, September 7th, 2019