Nightmare numbers

Published April 21, 2023

PAKISTAN is hurtling towards an apocalypse where even free and fair elections will be unable to rescue the country. There are simply too many of us, too many to educate, to keep healthy, to provide jobs for, or to govern in a manner that could ensure the semblance of an ordered society.

According to the data from the United Nations Population Fund’s State of World Population Report, 2023, Pakistan, with 240.5m people, is among eight countries that will account for half of all projected growth in global population by 2050. A significant demographic milestone is set to be passed mid-year when India will overtake China as the most populous country in the world.

By that time, as per the UN report, the global population will be an estimated 8.045bn. This number will peak at 10.4bn and is expected to decline only in the 2090s.

The future looks bleak for Pakistan unless it addresses the burning issue of population control on a war footing. And yet, there seems to be little to no appreciation of the gravity of the problem which, coupled with poor policy decisions and the governing elite’s criminal negligence, is a major reason for our dismal human development indices.

We cannot afford to skirt around the issue, euphemistically labelling ‘family planning’ as ‘family welfare’ and be prudish about campaigns that address contraception in a way as to make maximum impact.

Each year, there are in this country 1.4m unwanted births and 2.2m abortions and miscarriages that could be avoided through family planning. But Pakistan’s runaway population growth is not only an economic challenge; it is symptomatic of serious human rights violations. Women’s lack of agency and autonomy over their life choices — including the right to reproductive choice — directly impacts the birth rate, not to mention maternal health.

In the last World Economic Forum gender parity report, Pakistan ranked 145 out of 146 countries. The most effective way to improve socioeconomic outcomes is to empower women through education and employment opportunities.

By taking this approach, Bangladesh has successfully halved its fertility rate. Pakistan’s exponential population growth, with its ‘youth bulge’ — millions of whom are destined to be unemployed and suffer the frustrations that arise from that — is also bound to have a destabilising effect on internal security. There is simply no time to waste: this is an existential crisis.

Published in Dawn, April 21st, 2023

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