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Controlling Pakistan’s Increasing Population Growth: Impacts and Challenges

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Introduction

Pakistan ranks fifth amongst the world’s most populated countries. Population growth is a looming crisis in Pakistan and the country is facing the impacts of population growth in all walks of life.  Compared to other densely populated countries like India and China, Pakistan has a relatively smaller geographical area; which makes the rate of population growth disproportional to the allocation of space and resources. Pakistan’s census in the year 2017 tabulated 208 million individuals as compared to the preceding census of the year 1998, with a total population of 132 million individuals, which means an annual population growth rate of 2.4%. This growth rate is alarmingly high and twice the average growth rate for most South Asian countries at 1.2%. Moreover, Pakistan’s population growth rate has ascended the country’s population by a surplus of 48 million people during 1981–1998 and an additional 75 million during 1998–2017. The population growth trend of Pakistan explicates that Pakistan’s population will double in the next 29 years, whereas the average period for other South Asian countries is 58 years (Goujon, 2020). The Government of Pakistan established various task forces in the year 2018 to mitigate the population growth rate. However, the high fertility rate, low mortality, high birth rate, urbanization and migration crisis are some of the reasons for the rapidly increasing population rate.

This research article by the Iqbal Institute of Policy Studies will discuss Pakistan’s alarming population growth rate. The article will divulge the factors responsible for population growth, the challenges to curbing population growth rate, and the impacts of continuous growth of population at the present rate.

Factors Responsible for Population Growth

The factors responsible for unhindered population growth in Pakistan are manifold. The high fertility rate is the widely cited reason for the uncontrolled population growth. Historically, the population growth rate began its ascension during the 1940s. The advancement in medical science improved the health condition of the average person which resulted in greater life expectancy with high birth rates (Mahsud-Dornan, 2007).  Pakistan’s population was 31 million in 1947, which rose to 208 million by the year 2017, recording a mammoth six-fold increase in population growth since independence. The current fertility rate in Pakistan is 3.6 births per woman, almost twice more than Iran and Saudi Arabia with a birth rate of 2.7. However, the high fertility rate is not entirely a matter of choice for women and families in Pakistan. Economic, social, and cultural barriers are the main hindrances to controlling unwanted pregnancies. Recent statistics suggest that out of the immense sum of 9 million recorded pregnancies per year in Pakistan, around 4 million are ‘unwanted pregnancies’ encompassing miscarriages, unwanted births, and induced abortions. The latter are the pregnancies that can be avoided each year (MNHSRC, 2018).

Another reason for high population density is the wide gap between birth rate and death rate in Pakistan. The birth rate is estimated to be 27.7 births per 1000 people as compared to the death rate, estimated at 7.22 deaths per 1000 people. This huge gap has contributed to the gradual increase of population in Pakistan. Moreover, Pakistan has a refugee population of around 4 million people which is also a contributory factor to the rising population graph of the country. Furthermore, the cultural constraints in some regions of the country have made family planning and the use of contraceptives a ‘taboo’ topic, which contributes to the uncontrollable population growth (Desrosiers, 2019).

Impacts of Population Growth

Pakistan, with its highest population growth rate for any South Asian nation, is beginning to experience the impacts. The population boom will soon result in a massive decline in allocated resources, arid land, water, and forests. Around 65-70 per cent of the country’s total population is dependent on the agrarian economy. The alarming population growth along with poverty, lack of awareness, and outdated practices has led to the overuse of resources. The issues of illegal timber trade, unsustainable waterlogging, and overcutting of wood for fuel and coal are prevalent. The forest cover is already waning in the wake of forest fires because of global warming and natural hazards. All these factors point towards the crippling agrarian economy of Pakistan, which will soon be unable to bear the burden of the rising population (World Bank, 2019).

By the recent National Nutrition Survey, around 60 per cent of Pakistan’s population is currently facing food insecurity. Out of these families, almost 50 per cent of the females and children are found to be malnourished (Carter, 2013). Moreover, Pakistan is experiencing water scarcity due to climate change. The alarming population trend will make the water scarcity worse for the country’s growing needs. The supply will remain constant at 191 million acre-feet by the year 2025; however, the demand will rise to 274 million acre-feet, which means that the country will be short of around 83 million-acre feet of water (Desrosiers, 2019). The rising population will also impact the employment rate, the literacy rate, and the rate of environmental degradation.

Challenges of Population Growth in the Post-COVID Pakistan

According to the Pakistan Economic Survey Report of 2020-2021, Pakistan is marred with massive challenges as a result of population density, especially in the context of the post-covid world. Before the pandemic, the working population of Pakistan was 55.74 million which declined to 35.04 million. However, owing to the timely efforts of the Government, the working population reached 52.56 million by October 2020. However, the Government may not be able to sustain the employment ratio vis a vis the population boom currently faced by the country. Moreover, according to the Pakistan Social and Living Standards Measurement (PSLM) district-level Survey 2019-20, presently the literacy rate is higher in urban areas with 74 percent as compared to rural areas with 52 percent. The literacy rate of children aged 10 years and above is constant at 60 per cent in the year 2019-20 since 2014-15 (PES, 2021). With the meagre resources, the country will be unable to retain the present (albeit comparatively lower) literacy rate as a consequence of the ascending population.

As per the National Institute of Population Studies (NIPS) report, the estimated population of Pakistan is 215.25 million with a population density of 270 per square kilometre. This points to the opportunity for Pakistan in the form of high youth potential, which forms the largest segment of its population (59 per cent falling in the age bracket of 15-59 years).  However, this youth bulge can translate into economic gains for Pakistan provided the country has adequate resources and abilities to fulfil the requirements of a modern economy (PES, 2021). Even though the Government of Pakistan has initiated various programmes geared at creating employment opportunities for the youth, for instance, Prime Minister’s Youth Entrepreneurship Scheme, Kamyab Jawan Program etc; however, the implementation of these schemes is contingent upon equitable allocation and distribution of available resources; which are becoming scarce with the rising population.

Conclusion

The impacts of uncontrolled population growth are being felt in all the sectors of the economy including health and education, creating challenges in terms of allocation of resources and employment opportunities. The massive population boom, if not curbed, will double in the next 29 years. The various factors which contribute to the high population rate include fertility, high mortality rate, and family planning, which can be regulated through proactive programs by the Government. Policy changes and initiatives are essential to control the rapidly growing population of Pakistan. Moreover, awareness initiatives on maternal health and contraceptive use shall also contribute to lowering the population rate in the future. A clear understanding of the severity of the population crisis is essential at this point to alleviate the issue. The country will soon run out of its natural resources and agricultural set-up if the population rate continues to grow unhindered. Progressive policymaking in terms of environmental preservation, awareness campaigns on women’s health, literacy, preservation of resources and the implementation of these steps at the national level are plausible solutions to curb the population crisis.

Bibliography

Carter, C . (2013). The Impact of Pakistan’s Growing Population – The Borgen Project. Retrieved from https://borgenproject.org/impact-of-pakistans-growing-population/

Desrosiers, K. (2019, August 28). Top 10 Facts about Overpopulation in Pakistan. Borgen Magazine. Retrieved from https://www.borgenmagazine.com/top-10-facts-about-overpopulation-in-pakistan/

Goujon, A., Wazir, A. & Gailey, N. (2020). Pakistan: A population giant falling behind in its demographic transition. Population & Sociétés, 576, 1-4. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.3917/popsoc.576.0001

Mahsud-Dornan S. (2007). Pakistan, population programmes and progress. The Ulster medical journal, 76(3), 122–123. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2075591/

MNHSRC. (2018, December). National Symposium on Alarming Population Growth in Pakistan- Call for Action. Retrieved from https://fp2030.org/sites/default/files/Brief%20on%20Population%20Symposium_aa7.pdf

Pakistan Economic Survey 2020–2021. (2021, June). Finance Division Government of Pakistan. Retrieved from https://www.pc.gov.pk/uploads/cpec/PES_2020_21.pdf

World Bank. (2019). Pakistan at 100: Shaping the Future. World Bank, Washington, DC. © World Bank. Retrieved from https://openknowledge.worldbank.org/handle/10986/31335

Research Questions

What are the population growth rate statistics of Pakistan?

What are the impacts of population growth on Pakistan?

What are the challenges faced by Pakistan in the post-Covid world?

Key Takeaways

The population growth trend of Pakistan explicates that Pakistan’s population will double in the next 29 years, whereas, the average period for other South Asian countries is 58 years.

Pakistan’s population was 31 million in 1947, which rose to 208 million by the year 2017, recording a mammoth six-fold increase in population growth since independence.

The population boom will soon result in a massive decline in allocated resources, arid land, water and forests.

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