QUETTA: South Korea and Thailand halved their infant mortality ratio in 13 to 18 years after 1960, whereas it took 27 years for Pakistan to achieve the same. As compared to ‘Asian Tigers’ who have attained nearly 95% literacy, a third of the population in Pakistan aged 15 years and above remains illiterate. Female labour force participation currently stands above 50% in all Asian Tiger countries while in Pakistan it remains at 25%.
This was discussed during a meeting held to brief media on economic and human development successes of Asian countries and focus media’s attention on the role of enhanced funding to improve family planning and population programs in the country.
Briefing the media, Samia Ali Shah, Project Director, Population Council said Pakistan can achieve economic and social development with a sustained decline in population growth. “Our development prospects will remain elusive till we focus simultaneously on education; healthcare, including family planning; and female work force participation. Smaller families provide greater opportunities to save more, contribute to national savings, and improve health and other development indicators for women and children. Media’s role is central in bringing government’s focus on these issues of national importance.”
Population Council shared evidence-based data to brief the media on how fertility reduction helps economic growth by reducing the size of the economically less productive dependent population of young persons below 15 years of age, freeing up government resources that would have been required to meet continually expanding educational and health infrastructure needs. Dr. Ali Mir, Senior Director Programs, Population Council stressed maintaining balance between population size and natural resources as Pakistan is already one of the top three most water-stressed countries in the world and its agricultural land has depleted rapidly making it food import country.
Speaking to the media on Pakistan’s population financing landscape, Dr. Hanid Mukhtar, former economist at the World Bank said Pakistan has one of the lowest (0.26%) ratios of population expenditure to GDP among other regional countries such as Bangladesh. In the past few years, Bangladesh’s GDP grew to 6.5% and its population grew by 1.3% as compared to Pakistan’s high population growth of 2.5% whereas GDP grew only to 3.5%.
“Pakistan’s trend in public expenditure of population services has a low and rapidly declining budgetary priority and even though financing for population services has increased at a moderate rate of about 6 percent per annum in the last four years, almost two-third of this budget goes for payment of wages and salaries and less on procurement of contraceptives, facilities and trained staff. As a result, more and more people are forced to pay out-of-pocket for health and family planning services, face critical gaps in services and delay uptake of family planning services.”
He further added 85% of productive farms in Pakistan are less than five acres of land as compared to the global minimum of 7.5 acres required to produce enough produce for a family to survive. Rapid and unchecked population growth has eaten away Pakistan’s national resources. Dr. Hanid highlighted media’s role to hold the government accountable for greater budgetary allocations, enhanced financing on public services especially for the poor and marginalized, introduce innovation and public-private partnership to improve population programs in the country.
Participants discussed economic and environmental impact of rapid and unchecked population growth and exchanged ideas on mainstreaming the population debate amongst policy makers, academia and the public through media.
Media corroborated how Pakistan’s national security is linked with human security and human development is not possible without dealing with high population growth rate. Vast technological advancements in communication technology, mobile health through electronic devices and electronic commerce — that have revolutionised the education, healthcare and business sectors. By tapping effectively into this technology, we can make up for lost time. Women’s participation in the workforce improves their decision-making power in household matters, including family size, and reduces gender disparities in education and healthcare.