Khyber to Karachi: How will Pakistan match to its population boom?

Zafar Khan Safdar

For years, Pakistan’s soaring population growth has been evident in increasingly crowded roads, hospitals, schools, parks, and communities across the country. No one is serious to understand and put focus on the issue. Our 6th Population and Housing Census say Pakistan has surged to a staggering 207.8 million, showing an increase of 75.4 million people in 19 years. The population was just over 130 million in 1998, the year when the 5th census had been conducted.

This means the country has seen a 57% increase in the population at an annual rate of 2.4%. The census data shows an acceleration in the population growth rate of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Balochistan and Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), even as growth in Punjab and Sindh has slowed compared to previous results. The results show that 30.5million people reside in KP, 5m in FATA, 47.9m in Sindh, 12.3m in Balochistan, 2m in Islamabad, while Punjab houses 110 million people. Gilgit Baltistan, Azad Jammu and Kashmir, and Afghan refugees are not included to this data.

Meanwhile, women’s share in the total population has increased about 1% during the past 19 years. The female population stands at 101.314 million, which is 48.8% of the total headcount, according to the 2017 results. In 1998, the female population ratio was 47.9%. The data shows that there are 106.45m males, 101.31m females and 10,418 transgenders.

The majority of the people at 53%, still live in Punjab, but its share in the population pie has declined when compared with the 1998 census results. Balochistan and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa are the beneficiaries of the reduction in Punjab’s share, as Sindh’s share in the total population remains unchanged at 23%. An increase in the urban-rural ratio has been observed in all administrative units except Islamabad, which nonetheless remains the second most urbanised unit of the country.

Over 52pc of Sindh’s residents live in urban areas, which has surpassed the capital territory as the most urbanised territory of Pakistan. Close to 36.4pc of Pakistanis live in urban areas, the provisional results reveal Balochistan, the least urbanised of Pakistan’s provinces, has experienced the fastest average annual growth rate since 1998 of 3.37pc. Punjab’s average annual growth rate remained the slowest at 2.13pc, slightly below the national average of 2.4pc. The census might result in a proportionate reduction in the allocation of the National Assembly seats of Punjab, as well as its share in the federal divisible pool, although the overall number of seats of all the federating units would boost due to a 75.4 million increase in the population over the past 19 years. About 82% of the federal divisible pool is distributed on the basis of population.

According to the summary results, the country’s predominant majority of 132.189 million or 63.6% still lives in rural areas. This ratio was 65.6% in 1998 when the last headcount was conducted. Final results of the census will be available next year.

The Council of Common Interest (CCI) has decided that the statistics will further be debated in the Inter-Provincial Coordination Committee (IPCC) where a strategy and future course of action will be devised. Pakistan Bureau of Statistics conducted the exercise in two phases across Pakistan under the supervision of the military. The population results will be used to determine the federating units’ share in the federal divisible pool, allocations and delimitation of the National Assembly and provincial assemblies’ seats and determination of provincial job quotas. For a country like Pakistan, population growth at the rate of 2.4% has eroded fruits of higher economic growth.

In a ‘capital poor’ and technologically backward country, rapid growth of population reduces output by lowering the per capita availability of capital and diminishes the availability of capital per head which reduces the productivity of labour force. As a result, income is reduced and capacity to savings is diminished which, in turn, adversely affects capital formation.

Due to higher population growth rate, investment requirements are beyond its investing capacity in the country. Rapid growth in population increase the requirements of demographic investment which at the same time reduces the capacity of the people to save. This creates a serious imbalance between investment requirements and the availability of investible funds, hence the entire investment is absorbed by demographic investment and nothing is left for economic development.

We need to understand that a fast growth in population means a large number of persons coming to the labour market for whom it may not be possible to provide employment. In fact, a country like Pakistan, the number of job seekers is expanding so fast that despite all efforts towards planned development, it has not been possible to provide employment to all.

Unemployment, underemployment and disguised employment are our common features today. 2.4% annual increase in population means more mouths to feed. Being an agricultural country and despite all our efforts, good or bad apart, for raising agricultural production, we are not able to fully feed our population.

Food scarcity effects economic development, inadequate supply of food leads to undernourishment of the people which lowers their productivity. It further reduces the production capacity of the workers, and the deficiency of food compels to import food grains which places as unnecessarily strain on their foreign exchange resources.

It is agreed that rapid growth of population is largely responsible for the perpetuation of vicious circle of poverty in developing countries like Pakistan. With their higher population, people spend major part of their income on bringing up their children which results in maintaining the savings and rate of capital formation at least level, reduction in per capita income, rise in general price level leading to sharp rise in cost of living. Pakistan being declared a welfare state in the constitution is pledged to meet social needs of the people adequately and for this, the government has to spend a lot on providing basic facilities like education, housing and medical aid but rapid increase in population make burden all the more heavy.

More important than any other is that population explosion is the key reason for illiteracy in Pakistan. People prefer engage their children in economic activities, rather than providing them education. The government cannot ignore or shelve the problem of population explosion, for it is a rot and entire development of the country depends on how effectively it is stemmed.

Although Pakistan has witnessed higher economic growth, it is unable to adjust its economic structure.  Higher population growth has implication for natural resources. Pakistan could not replicate the industrial countries’ transition because of its inability to modernise agriculture or develop industrial base.  In Pakistan this high-rate population growth is a cause for poverty, environmental degradation and high debt levels. Pakistan has to control population explosion for various reasons.  Pakistan has socio-religious problems which are hampering its development efforts. The irony is we do not own any ministry at federal level but a Trust called National Trust for Population Welfare (NATPOW) headed by a DG working under the Ministry of National Health Services, Regulations and Coordination. Scope of NATPOW is limited in absence of sufficient budgetary allocation, minimal assigned targets, and insignificant organizational structure, thus, its performance is far below requirement.

It is high time that the government, both federal and the provincial, should seriously activate and engage population departments, adopt official programme to build public opinion in reduction towards birth rate so that the population can fit in well with the evolving pattern of our developing economy.

He can be followed on twitter@zafarkhansafdar

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