By Ayaz Ahmed
Apart from resurgent terrorism, rampant corruption and bad governance, Pakistan is also facing an ever-increasing population. Its population growth rate is reported to be one of the highest when compared to Muslim majority countries of Asia, Latin America and the Middle East. Predictably, if the current growth rate remains unchecked for a decade, the burgeoning population will bring about myriad socio-economic and security issues for the country.
At the time of independence, Pakistan was ranked at the 13th most populous country in the world with a population of around 32.5 million. Due to the stunning failure of the 1960s’ population control plans and resultant two percent growth rate, Pakistan became the seventh most populated state in 1996. At present, the country occupies the sixth position and is widely projected to grab the fifth position if the current fertility rate remains uncontrolled in the near future.
What is astonishing is that Pakistan has lately outpaced almost all developing Muslim countries with regard to population growth rate. Its population is growing at a rate of 1.89 per cent, while Bangladesh, Iran, Turkey, Egypt, Indonesia and Malaysia have a growth rate of between 1.2 and 1.6 percent. If the state continues to soft-peddle the daunting situation of population growth, Pakistan will probably outstrip Indonesia as the most populous Muslim country by 2030.
There are multifaceted reasons behind the ongoing population growth. First, the lack of institutional coordination seems to be the major stumbling block in terms of effectively controlling the high birth rate throughout the country. Intriguingly, Pakistan is an exceptional case in the world where both population and health departments are working separately. The dearth of meaningful coordination has prevented these two departments from evolving a pragmatic programme to control the ongoing ‘baby boom’ in the country.
Second, a large number of women are illiterate and have little or no awareness about safe and affordable means of birth control. Most of the country’s population live in rural areas which direly lack accessible and cheap reproductive centers staffed with trained consultants so as to properly guide married women about means and benefits of birth control. Therefore, only 28 percent women are reported to be using contraceptive methods in the country.
Third, the non-cooperative behavior of the provinces is also responsible for the federal government’s failure to bring the alarming population growth under control. After the passage of the 18th Amendment, the subject of population control has become a purely provincial matter. But, since then, the provinces have shown an unwillingness to adopt effectual population control plans. The underlying reason is that the federating units are anxious to draw more financial resources in the NFC Award – which distributes resources on the population basis.
Fourth, a significant number of people in the country are markedly conservative. They are oblivious of true and fundamental religious teachings and guidelines pertaining to family matters. Under the influence of religious persons, they miscomprehend methods of birth control as irreligious and sinful, thus bearing as many children as possible.
The growing population has continued to create socio-economic, socio-cultural, political and security issues for the country. Overpopulation has presumably played an obstructive role in making it difficult for the country to achieve the main targets of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). According to the Multidimensional Poverty Index of the country, around 38.8 percent of Pakistan’s population is poor. More alarmingly, at least 33 percent of the population is malnourished despite attaining surplus productivity in crops last year.
Overpopulation has also caused increasing housing problems in almost all major cities of the country. Hence, a large number of people are forced to live in crowded houses which are bereft of required facilities such as electricity, sewerage system, sanitation and potable water. In such shabby communities, the majority of people are prone to contracting lethal diseases, namely cardiovascular, cancer, respiratory problems, anxiety and depression.
The country’s uncontrolled population continues to cause threatening environment hazards. Large swathes of trees are being cut down in rural areas to construct industrial zones and housing schemes. This has resulted in massive deforestation and surging increase in hazardous environmental pollution.
Overcrowding of cities and towns is also responsible for the rapid depletion of dwindling natural sources and environmental deterioration.
There is also an indirect connection between overpopulation and the ongoing wave of terrorism and militancy. Owing to the swelling population, the state is unable to provide quality education and job opportunities to a large number of people. lack of market-related education and technical training have compelled a raft of the country’s youth to grudgingly resort to disruptive criminal activities for making both ends meet. The alarming poverty ratio has dangerously facilitated the task of ragtag terrorist and militant outfits to easily attract, indoctrinate and train the jobless youth for nefarious terrorist activities.
The country is also grappling with mounting financial constraints to educate and technically train its mushrooming youth population. Lack of pragmatic political will coupled with overpopulation has thus far stopped the state from executing the Article 25 (A) of the constitution. According to the said article, it is incumbent on the state to provide free and compulsory education to all children aged between 5 and 16 as determined by the law.
At present, Pakistan is believed to be having the second highest number of out-of-school children after Nigeria. Due to poverty and low income of parents, a large number of these school age children are compelled to work in factories, hotels and roadside shops under shabby conditions.
As seen from the foregoing discussion, it would be costly if the state continues to brush aside the issue of population growth rate in the country. So, the government should awaken from its deep slumber and farsightedly plan to bring the burgeoning population under control.
In this regard, the government should establish reproductive health centers in all districts designed to provide awareness to couples about inexpensive and accessible means of birth control. Moreover, the ruling party can seek the help of religious persons to convince the people so that they adopt necessary means of population control.
The media can also help in this regard by disseminating awareness about the advantages of birth control and issues created by a large family. More importantly, meaningful cooperation between the provinces and the federal government is highly required to slow down the rapid growth of the country’s population.
The writer edits The Asia Watch. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org