Pakistan’s population will double and cross the 400 million mark by 2050 if the annual growth rate of 2.4 percent continues over the next 32 years. Keeping in view the available space in the country, Pakistanis will be standing shoulder to shoulder with barely enough room to move. However, political elites, policy makers, bureaucrats, academicians, economists and all other segments of the society seem unperturbed by these developments. The current average population increase can have exploding consequences.
Though the stakeholders in Pakistan are least bothered about the situation, World Bank’s Country Director in Pakistan Patchamuthu Illango recently raised this issue in front of journalists. He said that with the existence rate of population growth in Pakistan, the number of people will cross 400 million in 2047, when it will celebrate its 100th independence.
“Pakistan is at crossroads where the next 10 to 15 years will be quite crucial,” Illango said, and added that if the country reduced its population growth by half and improved its gross domestic product (GDP) in the range of nine to 10 percent on per annum basis, the per capita income could touch $10,000 by 2047. The per capita income stood at $1,629 in the last financial year 2016-17.
It is now dependent on how we view this size of the population. A large population can be a curse or a dividend. The policy makers need a plan to turn this mass of people into a demographic dividend. Although, there were some discussions earlier on how to constructively utilise the working age people, those have vanished now. The need is to revive the discussion on how to channelize and utilise the working age people to put the country on the growth path.
The first and foremost step that needs to be taken is putting a stop to the population boom. Without reducing the growth of population, no policy or intervention will work in Pakistan, and there is need to declare an emergency in this regard. If Bangladesh, Iran, Malaysia, and other Islamic countries can find a solution, why can Pakistan not solve this problem with the consultation and cooperation of religious leaders from different sects of Muslims?
The 6th census held in 2017 showed that the country’s population went up to 207 million in accordance with the latest results of census against 132 million in 1998, indicating that the annual average growth rate stands at 2.4 percent. It is worth mentioning that this figure of 207 million does not include people living in Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) as well as Gilgit-Baltistan (GB), because the government preferred to keep this number close to its chest.
No demographers or policy makers had estimated such mammoth increase on annual basis at least in official documents of the country such as the Economic Survey which is being released annually.
It is a fact that population growth plays a key and important role in devising policies for achieving development goals especially related to the social sectors. The increasing population growth raises the dependency ratio and puts pressure on education, health system, and food supply. The country’s population growth rate was estimated at 1.92 percent in 2015, which was then showed on a declining trend, down to 1.89 percent in 2016 and finally to 1.86 percent. However, now all these figures have been proven wrong. Results on the ground are far higher compared to the estimates that were made over the past years since 1998.
All international demographers and experts agreed on this point that it was necessary for all countries, especially for developing countries to hold population census after every 10 years so that the decision makers should have a clear picture. It was decided that on the basis of this census, the policy makers could devise better plans to focus on areas where the country was lagging behind.
The failure of consecutive governments to hold a census resulted in Pakistan’s officials quoting an estimated population figure of 198 million people in all official documents. This means that around nine million Pakistanis were missing on the radar screen of the policy makers. For instance, 29 percent of the country’s population was living below the poverty line as per the pre-census data, now after the census; at least three million people will be added to the poverty statistics. Similarly, around 25 million children were out of school, and now this figure has further gone up and the government would have to construct more schools and hospitals to cater to the needs of the fast growing population.
Holding a census is an important national task as it impacts directly on various facets of life and provides benchmark data on socio-economic and demographic characteristics of population and housing. It also provides a basis for distribution of parliament seats amongst the provinces, distribution of funds to the federating units and employment quotas on all civil federal posts. The census data serves as the basis for all administrative and development planning and evaluation in the country.
The health of all economic indicators also directly depends on the total population of the country. Therefore, it is imperative that a correct population number is available so that policy interventions are identified to improve the economy.
From a constitutional prospective, the 6th Census (Population and Housing) was conducted by the federal government in collaboration with the provinces. It is a federal subject as listed at Sl No 38 of Federal Legislation list, Part-1, Fourth Schedule, 1973 Constitution of Pakistan. The seats in the National Assembly are allocated to each province/FATA and federal territory on the basis of the population in accordance with the last preceding census officially published under Article-51(3) of the Constitution.
Further, distribution of funds between the federation and the provinces are made through the National Finance Commission. Article-160(2) speaks about the formation of the National Finance Commission which also uses census figures.
The quota for recruitment to federal posts is also worked out on the basis of population ratios as given by the census. Establishment Division’s OM No 8/9/72, TRV, dated August 31, 1973, refers in this regard. First five censuses were undertaken with the legal cover of Census Ordinance, 1959 amended from time to time.
The 6th Population and Housing Census had been conducted under the legal cover of General Statistics (Re-organization) Act, 2011.
The importance of the population census is evident, and the country must learn from its mistake to take some remedial measures. Foremost among those measures should be the promotion of education, especially among women, as without awareness no intervention can bring out the desired results.
Also, the government needs to take stock of the situation as to why all population control programmes failed to deliver. Once that is done, planners could come up with more updated corrective measures to resolve the lingering problem. Without effective involvement of all influential segments of the society, including the religious seminaries, teachers, doctors, politicians, bureaucrats, and others, the efforts to control the birth rate cannot succeed in Pakistan.
The writer is a staff member