The people bomb

Published July 14, 2022

WE are fighting a losing battle, slipping inexorably towards a dystopian future where want and deprivation will be our lot. The reason? There are simply too many of us: the pace at which Pakistan’s population is growing is fast outstripping our ability to provide for the millions that call this country home. Unbelievably, there still appears to be no well-thought-out and cohesive population control programme in the offing. World Population Day, that was observed on July 11 as it is every year, is meant to highlight the importance of population issues in a world with shrinking resources. Pakistan’s alarming population growth rate of 2.4pc per annum, which translates to between 4m and 5m children being added to the total each year, is no less than an existential threat. The government must snap out of its ostrich-like attitude and use all the means at its disposal to address the issue.

The spiralling population also poses grave risks to internal security. At 230m people, Pakistan is the fifth most populous nation in the world and on track to balloon to around 300m by 2030. The National Security Policy announced at the beginning of 2022 rightly recognised human security as a precondition for internal security. It also alluded to the elephant in the room and made some mention of ‘population management’. But nothing more has emerged on that score. The government needs to involve the media in creatively furthering the narrative about the benefits of limiting family size. That must be backed up with access to dependable family planning services through the public healthcare system. Incorporating these in the Sehat Sahulat card and in the Ehsaas/BISP programmes would accord the issue the importance it deserves. A recent major study jointly undertaken by several international organisations including WHO found that women in Pakistan have an estimated 3.8m unintended pregnancies each year, most resulting from unmet need for modern contraception. The data also showed that 52pc of married women of reproductive age who want to avoid pregnancy are not using a modern contraceptive method.

We are now faced with a perfect storm. Inadequate investment in education and poor economic growth have generated enormous resentment and anger among a youth cohort that sees few prospects for advancement amid contracting employment opportunities. The effects of climate change are bearing down unmistakably upon us, and making scarce resources even more so. Unpredictable weather patterns and rising temperatures are adversely affecting harvests and exacerbating food insecurity. Population pressures also leave us much more vulnerable to international developments such as the ongoing Russia-Ukraine war that disrupt global supply chains. Shortages of water and electricity have already begun to spark unrest; the smallest provocation, it seems, is enough to trigger mob violence in a people whose patience has been stretched thin by poor governance, rising inflation and urban crime. This is not how a country’s future is secured.

Published in Dawn, July 14th, 2022

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