KARACHI: The population of Karachi was grossly undercounted and its annual growth rate was reported to have declined in the 2017 census despite the fact that the country’s largest city remained a destination for a substantially high percentage of internal migrants.

Demographer Dr Mehtab Karim said this while speaking at a seminar titled ‘Pakistan Census-2023 Honest Headcount Needed’ organised by Concerned Citizens Alliance in collaboration with the Pakistan Medical Association (PMA) at PMA House on Friday.

Dr Karim, a PhD in demography from Cornell who had closely evaluated the past censuses held in the country in 1961, 1981, 1998 and 2017, said that the Sindh government as well as political parties and other stakeholders had expressed serious reservations on the results of the 2017 census, which is highly flawed, as it was believed that the sixth national census had grossly undercounted population of the province as well as of Karachi city.

Karachi’s population was estimated at 1.07 million and 1.91m in the census held in 1951 and 1961, respectively. This contributed to the country’s total urban population by 18 per cent and 19.4pc, respectively.

While citing official figures compiled by the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics, he further said that the mega city’s population swelled to 3.51m in 1971, 5.22m in 1981 and 9.34m in 1998. Similarly, its share in the country’s total urban population had also increased by 21.2pc, 21.9pc and 21.8pc.

Demographer says population of Sindh, Balochistan was underreported while Punjab and KP’s overcounted in last census

However, Dr Karim said that the 2017 census had estimated Karachi’s population at 14.9m and its inter-censal annual growth rate at 2.5pc despite the fact that its total population share in the country’s urban population was counted at 19.7pc.

He said the estimates provided by other sources had also suggested that Karachi’s population had exceeded 21m by 2017, but it was reported as 14.9m for Karachi city and 16m for Karachi Division (including rural area).

The expert added that before the 2017 census the National Database and Registration Authority (Nadra) had conducted an exercise in all 20 National Assembly constituencies in Karachi and counted a total of 21.4m people.

He argued that high population growth of Sindh had been due to the large scale migration to and from the province according to the 1998 census, which estimated migration of 106,512 people to Sindh from Punjab, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Balochistan, FATA, Northern Areas and Islamabad.

The census had showed the net gain to Sindh of 1,139,789 people, he added.

The demography expert noted that Karachi had been the major destination of migrants, thus its population has been growing much rapidly than the country’s population. However, it appears that both the 1998 and 2017 censuses underreported Karachi’s population, he regretted.

Citing the official statistics of the census held during 1951-1981 (in 30 years), he said Karachi had recorded about five fold increase in its population, whereas Pakistan had recorded 2.5 fold increase in total population.

He added that during 1998-2017 (in 37 years) Karachi had recorded 2.8 fold increase as compared to 2.5 increase in Pakistan’s total population.

Dr Karim said that the general error committed in conducting the census were usually overcounting or undercounting of the people.

Historically speaking, he said in Pakistan the 1961 census had missed out 6.5pc of the population, while a Post-Enumerations Survey (PES) was conducted in 1981, but its results were never reported.

He added that in 1998 and 2017 censuses the PES were not conducted, but it was largely believed that both the censuses had undercounted the Sindh’s population.

Dr Karim said that the 2017 census had undercounted the population of Sindh by 7.92m and Balochistan by 6.1m, as compared to the estimates of Bureau of Statistics’ ‘Household Integrated Economic Surveys conducted during 2016.

Surprisingly, he pointed out, that the population of Punjab was overcounted by 5.67m and KP by 2.83m.

He called for an honest population census, which paves the way for distribution of funds to the federating units on the basis of the population and also helps in determining the quota for recruitment to all civil posts in the federal government.

Published in Dawn, March 4th, 2023

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