Population is our first, second, and third problem

"While discussing poverty and poor growth, the most pressing factor – population – hardly comes under the discussion of the people who influence and construct policies"

I should have written this piece on July 11, the World Population Day. The last weekend, I happened to be in a downtown market with a family friend, and believe me, found not a spared inch to stand and move.

Pakistan must stand up to the living source-devouring pandemic.

We see crowd after crowd and pass by without giving any second thought that how the problem impacts Pakistan where poverty, unemployment, and poor growth rate are the words that dominate the everyday conversation of the common people. While discussing poverty and poor growth, the most pressing factor – population – hardly comes under the discussion of the people who influence and construct policies. The problem is that terms like family planning and birth control are still taboos in our part of the world though it is not a secret that the growing population fails the government’s efforts to stem the tide of poverty. Not only poverty, ills like child labour, exploitation of women and the growing mother mortality rate are linked to the population factor. The grim situation hardly rings worries among our politicians too.

We remember that back in 2017, when the government announced census data, instead of taking on the horrible population figures, politicians started fighting over ‘concealment of figures’. Different ethnic and regional parties wanted to have fatty figures of their areas on the census chart. This depicts the shallowness and selfishness of different political sections.

The sanctity of data should not be compromised at any cost. Data is all about grim tales whenever Pakistan’s population is taken up: in 1947, Pakistan was 32 million people; by 1971, it had 65 million people (more than double to Partition Day). In 1998, Pakistan crossed 100 million figures and had 132 million people. By the time the 2017 census was declared, it was 208 million, a figure regarded as highly controversial. If the rate goes like this, after nine years, Pakistan will be a country of 260 million people.

Should the government, and public allow the people to go on unchecked at this rate?
In 1947, when the country set on its journey as an independent state, it had enough resources to feed 32 million subjects. Over the decades, we added many more millions of people to the country’s account but hardly did anything to increase resources to match the population’s needs.

The same size country with the same resources is struggling hard to cope with the threats like health needs, food security, education, jobs, and so on. Who is responsible for the population explosion? So many factors, of course. The foremost is the government’s lack of will to enforce birth control and family planning. Our cultural norms are dominated by religious factors, and in this regard, clerics also fail family planning the most. Most people are reluctant to use contraceptives. Abhorrence to contraceptives is so strong that so many people take anti-poliovirus and COVID vaccines as a conspiracy to cut the ever-growing population growth of the Muslim Ummah.

Also, the traditional urge for having a male heir in a family continues to move the population figures. Pakistan needs a futuristic plan that should aim at changing the public’s mindsets. That can only happen when there is more talk on birth control.

Similarly, liberal education should be boosted up as a forward-looking generation can make up for the damages we will be leaving behind. The foremost thing required to change the game is a greater need for political commitment on this front. The nature of our society is political as every issue at a certain point becomes political. The politics of empowering women will do a great service to the population cause. When women will have a greater say in reproductive matters, the population growth will come under control.