ISLAMABAD: With the highest population growth rate in the region, Pakistan is already the fifth most populous nation in the world but the economic growth outlook at least for the next four to five years is not encouraging.

“Pakistan needs a high economic growth rate, 7-8 per cent, for the next 30 years to absorb the new entrants to the labour force,” said a summary of the Population Situation Analysis (PSA) launched by the Ministry of Planning and Development, which was finalised with the support of international development partners.

Speaking on the occasion, President Dr Arif Alvi said Pakistan had adopted a multi-pronged approach to check population growth and address other issues like mother and child health, malnutrition and stunted growth.

The strategy included women empowerment through financial inclusion besides creating awareness about the importance of gap in births through various means of communication and by taking on board different segments of the society, including the ulema, he added.

Report projects population to reach 383 million by 2050

Dr Alvi said frequent pregnancies led to stunted growth in a child and affected the mother’s health, adding that it was important to educate people on birth spacing and use of contraceptives.

The report noted that the status of human capital factors was not lending support to the potential harnessing of the demographic dividend. Structural inequalities in social and economic opportunities shape the demographic transition and affect population outcomes, associated with local contraceptive prevalence and higher fertility level as well as maternal and child health care.

Although Pakistan has been classified as a lower middle income country since 2008 and its per capita GDP in 2018 reached $1,565, demographic and some social and health indicators are comparable to those of least developed countries, the report said.

It said the current assessment of the population situation in Pakistan pointed to the prevailing high-level annual population growth, amounting to 2.4pc for the period 1998-2017.

The population increased six fold between 1951 and 2017 from 34 million to 208 million and is projected to reach 263 million by 2030 and 383 million by 2050 – an increase by 84pc during the period 2017-2050 unless serious actions are taken to halt the growth and rationalise population dynamics.

The assessment showed this growth confirmed the slow pace of the demographic transition process because of slow decline of fertility at national and provincial levels.

In 2017, out of about 33 million married couples, there were approximately 8.9 million users of modern methods and of these 4.9 million had received their method in the past one year, indicating that the services footprints are very small – 15pc utilisation of services in a given year.

This indicated that little progress had been made in family planning, an area critical to maternal, newborn, infant and child health and survival and with major spinoff effects on women’s agency, education and labour force participation as well as impacting environment and quality of life, although a few sexual and reproductive health areas have witnessed notable progress. The progress has been uneven by the component of reproductive health and across region, urban-rural area, income groups and other important age and parity sub-groups.

The slow onset of demographic transition, the persisting high fertility level and the low contraceptive prevalence are clearly delaying the potential harnessing of the demographic dividend. A sustainable decline in fertility presents the economy with an opportunity through the surge in the relative size of the working-age population (15-64) and at the same time a gradual decline in the percentage of the population in the age group below 15 years.

The report also noted that Pakistan suffered not only from a low economic growth but also an inequitable distribution of the gains from such growth and associated opportunities of education, employment and income. This is particularly true for the female population.

The economic profile of the country, however, indicated that economic growth mainly financed by consumption was not creating enough employment opportunities for middle and higher skills and social exclusion by various characteristics was highly prevalent and seemed to be culturally rooted and was reflected in economic disparities.

Also, although female labour force participation rate has increased from 13.7pc in 1990 to 20.3pc in 2020, it is still very low. The status of women remains a challenging issue and the country ranks near the bottom of the world’s countries on indicators such as women health and survival, education attainment and equal economic participation and opportunity. Moreover women and children are showing one of the highest levels of malnutrition, undernourishment and childhood stunting in the world and only 15pc of children consume a minimally acceptable diet.

Alarmingly, Pakistan has the highest percentage of population experiencing dietary energy consumption poverty, compared to India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.

In 2019, 24pc of Pakistan’s population had insufficient food intake to meet dietary energy requirements. The PSA advised that the debate and action about inequality and poverty should not only be limited to income but it needs to be extended to focus on access to health, education and unemployment.

Pakistan has a relatively weak industrial and manufacturing sector, with little capacity to absorb new entrants into appropriate jobs. The situation of the service sector is not different either.

Planning Minister Asad Umar said the population control in Pakistan should have gained momentum much earlier due to which Pakistan became the fifth most populous country in the region, having the highest population growth rate.

The government is committed to deploying efforts to reduce the population growth rate for the health of mothers, children and families and the prosperity of Pakistan by reducing the impending burden on its resources, he added.

Planning Commission Deputy Chairman Mohammad Jehanzeb Khan said Pakistan’s total fertility rate was 3.5pc, where un-met need for family planning was 17.3pc and the contraceptive prevalence rate was 34.2pc.

Published in Dawn, December 10th, 2020

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