Pakistan’s population conundrum

Realising the constraints overpopulation can have on a developing country’s socio-economic development, most countries in the region implemented policies that significantly decelerated population growth in a relatively short amount of time

As a result, Bangladesh currently has an annual population growth rate of 1

01%, while India’s annual population growth rate is 1%

Pakistan, on the other hand, continues to experience a population growth rate of 2

1% despite implementing its first family planning programme over half a century ago

The biggest reason for Pakistan’s failure in this regard is the lack of commitment to make this issue a national priority

Consequently, it has not received the financial, technical, and political support it deserves

This is also evident from the fact that no significant efforts were made either at the federal or provincial level to put in place a comprehensive and integrated population control policy

This remained the case even after the ominous results of the sixth population census – which itself was conducted on the directive of the courts and after a gap of 19 years

It is worrisome that the issue is still not receiving enough attention because the size and age structure of a population has an integral relationship with a country’s economic, social and environmental development

Therefore, for a country like Pakistan, which is already beset with issues such as macroeconomic instability, poverty; unemployment; poor human development indicators and climate change, a population explosion is likely to pose a challenge to the country’s development

Since the rise in per capita income in Pakistan is slow, rapid growth in population will only lead to an increase in its woes

Not only will it test the state’s already stretched ability and resources to provide basic services to people but it will also result in a further decline in human development indicators since the state would be unable to adequately cater to everyone

Additionally, massive population growth also runs the risk of increasing the incidence and intensity of malnutrition along with eroding the country’s food security

Rapid population growth is already exerting insurmountable pressure on the urban infrastructure as is evident in the megacities where the city administrations are struggling with service delivery

In lieu of low economic growth, additional population pressure will further widen the gap between the supply and demand of essential services and exacerbate systematic inequalities between different groups by concentrating access of resources in a few hands

This, in turn, could aggravate the situation of crime and urban violence

Urban congestion will also speed up the run-away issue of slum formation and its associated complications

Pakistan is currently experiencing a bulge in the working age population

While this should be good news, the country’s inability to train and absorb youth in gainful employment adds fuel to the fire of social evils, such as militancy, extremism and use of unfair means to make ends meet

This situation cannot be automatically reversed by reducing the budget deficit

Mere economic growth is not the answer either as far as sustainable and equitable development is concerned

Instead, it would require a conscious effort to structure policies in a way that not only enhance the skill set of the youth but also allows them to engage in high return economic activities

However, an unchecked increase in population would divert the state’s attention and resources from formulating policies that help realise the advantage presented by this demographic window

The state would instead be occupied with merely keeping up with the increased demand for resources

Uncontrolled rise in population is also an important factor in contributing towards environmental degradation

Population pressure has increased the processes of deforestation, air and water pollution, climate change and mismanagement of waste materials

Pakistan is already ranked as the eight most vulnerable country to climate change

With thousands of new-borns added to the population each day, the process of environmental degradation will accelerate on the one hand while on the other, the country’s weak environment management capacity will be unable to mitigate its risks

This situation will be especially detrimental for rural livelihood practices and will, therefore, plunge the affected families into deeper financial difficulties

Unless population growth is brought under control, these disastrous scenarios will materialise and pose a threat to the country’s internal security situation

Pakistan is a few decades late, however, it can still avoid the impending doom if the state makes this problem a priority

To curb population growth, public policymakers should simultaneously work on increasing the demand and supply of contraceptives

On the demand side, it is important to inculcate a preference for smaller families by bringing about a behavioural change

There is an urgent need to overcome the social and cultural barriers, which prevent the uptake of contraceptives, through culturally sensitive awareness campaigns about the social and economic benefits of smaller families

Currently, the contraceptive prevalence rate in Pakistan stands at a mere 35%

This is despite the fact there exists an unmet need in married women for family planning services

Therefore, along with ensuring the availability of good quality contraceptives, there needs to be a focus on creating a cultural acceptability for them as well

This will bring down the high fertility rate and its subsequent disastrous implications

For this purpose, the first step would be to collaborate with the clergy as no significant change can be brought without having them on board since religious leaders are considered to be an important authority in such matters

This step has ensured broad acceptance of the use of contraceptives in Bangladesh

Additionally, experiences and outreach of the local non-governmental organisations (NGOs) could be used to implement tailor-made policies to improve the demand for, and access to contraception

On the supply side, public health planners should focus on ensuring continuity of contraceptive supplies to reduce the unmet need for contraception

In this regard, improving coordination between population welfare programmes and primary healthcare initiative or Lady Health Worker (LHW) programmes can play an important role

Campaigns at the community level, which raise awareness amongst women regarding family planning, will prove useful as they will also address the issue of female mobility and teach women how to use contraceptives

Moreover, the government should encourage the private sector and NGOs to expand their services outside of urban areas

At a policy level, it is important to link population policies with other policies related to improvement in health, education and women empowerment

An integrated approach would ensure that the issue receives the attention it deserves

Date:07-Oct-2019 Reference:View Original Link