ON Nov 15, the human family welcomed its eight billionth member. Though this has been termed a “milestone in human development” by the UN, the multilateral body and other experts have also raised pertinent questions about how to provide a better quality of life to such a large population. Particularly, how will humanity be able to feed, clothe and educate so many people, and give them a pollution-free environment to live in? After all, hundreds of millions of people across the world live in extreme poverty, so being alive is not an achievement in itself; living a productive and healthy life is a true mark of human development. Though globally population growth may be slowing, the key issue is that those states with the highest fertility rates also tend to be the ones with the lowest per-capita income. According to the UN Population Fund, Pakistan is amongst the countries where more than half the global population growth up to 2050 will be concentrated. Already we are at 220m-plus, and if we continue on the same trajectory, the country is likely to burst at the seams by 2100, given the staggering projection of 400m people. This is a sobering thought, and the state needs to ensure population growth is within manageable limits.
Population planning initiatives have seen mixed results in Pakistan’s 75-year history. However, to prevent a dystopian future and provide adequate resources to our coming generations, we have little choice but to pursue a rational family planning policy — or else, deal with grim consequences. As the UN emphasises, it is not about more or fewer people, but “equal access to opportunities for the people”. And considering our limited resources and financial constraints, only with slower population growth can we grant equal opportunities to the people. Currently, Pakistan’s population growth rate stands at 1.9pc; this needs to be brought down through proactive family planning initiatives. Considering the fact that ours is a conservative, religious society, ulema and community leaders must be brought on board to promote family planning, while the fact that other Muslim states have succeeded in slowing population growth to more manageable levels should be highlighted. Established programmes, such as the Lady Health Workers, can also be used to communicate messages about the benefits of family planning and contraceptive use. Unless Pakistan gets serious about sustainable population growth, we will have little to offer the teeming millions in terms of quality of life.
Published in Dawn, November 21st, 2022