As the International Population Day was observed on July 11 this year, Pakistan surpassed Brazil to become the fifth most populous country in the world with an estimated total count of nearly 221 million people, according to a report by the US Population Reference Bureau.
With an annual fertility rate of 3.6 children per couple, Pakistan is only behind China, India, United States and Indonesia in terms of its total population.
The 2017 Census put the country’s population at 207.7 million and the average annual growth rate at 2.4%, according to provisional results of the national enumeration exercise that are yet to be finalised.
In the last several decades, political parties and governments, including the present one, have vowed to tackle this all-important issue but there has been little to no tangible progress, as statistics show.
A report by the Population Council, an international NGO, states that every eight seconds a child is born in Pakistan and if the pace is not retarded, by 2050 the population will touch a whopping 350 million.
The dismal indicators of human development vis-à-vis the population explosion present a serious challenge. A budding population is fundamentally the root of bigger problems, such as those related to health and education.
A total of 60% of Pakistan’s population is said to be below the age of 30 and extremely vulnerable as employment opportunities are dwindling.
Girls not Brides, an international NGO, states that 21% of girls married in Pakistan are below the age of 18 while 13% are married off during middle school.
Moreover, 40% of Pakistani children are below the average height and 62 out of a 1000 die before reaching their first birthday. Similarly, 18% of the country’s children suffer from severe malnutrition and 29% are below their required body weight as well.
By 2040, 10 million houses will be needed to accommodate the population, as well as 85,000 primary schools.
Such weak social and institutional structures will not be able to sustain the kind of population growth which Pakistan has, thus requiring urgent emergency measures to stem the rise in population.
Speaking to Sabaat, Samia Ali Shah, a project director at the Population Council, termed the rising population Pakistan’s biggest issue at hand. Comparing with Bangladesh, which gained independence from Pakistan in 1971, she said Pakistan’s population was only two million more than Bangladesh when it was founded but at present this difference is 43 million. “Their population strategy deserves to be scrutinised to ascertain how they stabilised their population,” she stressed, adding that the important thing they have undertaken is maintaining political commitment and providing family planning tools to the grassroots. They also involved religious figures and invested in the education of women, which is crucial, she said further.
Shah regretted that at present, Pakistan has the highest population growth rate in the South Asian region.
While talking about local issues, the Population Council official shared that around 17% of married couples in the country want to engage in family planning but are constrained due to lack of access to information and material.
She urged all the relevant institutions, including the provincial population welfare departments, to up their game and ensure the country’s fertility rate is brought at par with its available resources.
Failure to do so could have catastrophic ramifications, not just for Pakistan but the larger region.