By Wallia Khairi
Tue, 07, 24

This week, You! explores Pakistan’s growing population: the big numbers, the bigger challenges, and the even bigger ideas to tackle them…


In the bustling streets, amid the cacophony of honking horns and the vibrant colours of street vendors, lies a microcosm of Pakistan’s population conundrum. With over 220 million people, Pakistan stands as the world’s fifth-most populous country, and its demographics are as diverse as its sceneries.

World Population Day, observed annually on July 11th, serves as a reminder of the challenges and opportunities associated with global population dynamics. It provides an opportunity to raise awareness about population issues and advocate for policies and programmes that promote reproductive health, gender equality, and sustainable development. In the context of Pakistan, World Population Day holds particular significance due to the country’s large and rapidly growing population.

Karachi, Pakistan’s largest city, is a metropolis where the old and new coexist in a sometimes chaotic harmony. Skyscrapers rise next to historic buildings, and modern shopping malls stand alongside traditional markets. The city’s energy is palpable, driven by its diverse and rapidly growing population. “Life here is fast-paced and full of opportunities,” says Maria, a young entrepreneur running a small tech start-up. “But it’s also incredibly challenging. The competition is fierce, and the cost of living is high.”

In the bustling bazaars, vendors hawk everything from fresh produce to handmade crafts, their stalls adorned with a riot of colours. The scent of street food wafts through the air, mingling with the salty breeze from the Arabian Sea.

Rapid urbanisation in the city exacerbates the population challenge. Millions flock to cities like these in search of economic opportunities, swelling their already bursting seams. The result is sprawling slums, where makeshift dwellings stretch as far as the eye can see, and basic amenities like clean water and sanitation remain elusive dreams for many.

“Finding a decent job is hard enough, but getting a place to live is even harder,” says Bilal, who moved to Karachi from a rural area. “We live in cramped conditions, but we have to make do.”

Venture into the heart of Lahore, the cultural capital, and you’ll find many faces, each telling a story of its own. From elderly men clad in traditional shalwar kameez, sipping on steaming cups of chai, to tech-savvy youth engrossed in their smartphones, the population here spans generations and experiences. Known for its history and cultural heritage, Lahore is a city where the past and present intertwine. The city is a hub of education, art, and literature, attracting people from all over the country. Its population, a blend of ethnicities and cultures, reflects the complex social fabric of Pakistan.

Urban migration has led to the creation of sprawling informal settlements where living conditions are dire. Overcrowded housing, lack of sanitation, and limited access to clean water and healthcare create a breeding ground for diseases and social issues. Despite these challenges, the promise of better economic opportunities keeps drawing people to the cities.

In the remote northern regions, the backdrop is as harsh as it is beautiful. Snow-capped peaks and lush valleys define the terrain, and the people who live here are as resilient as the mountains themselves. The communities are tight-knit, bound by tradition and a deep connection to the land. Life is challenging, with limited access to modern amenities, but there is a sense of contentment and pride in their self-sufficiency.

But in the rural hinterlands, where access to family planning services is limited, the population explosion is particularly pronounced. Families often have numerous children, viewing them as a source of labour and security in old age. However, this cultural norm clashes with the harsh realities of poverty, leading to overcrowded households struggling to make ends meet. “In the rural areas, we often see families with six or seven children,” notes Saira, a social worker. “Access to family planning services is limited, and there’s still a lot of cultural resistance.”


Pakistan faces the daunting challenge of managing its population growth. With a fertility rate of over 3.5 births per woman, the country’s population is projected to exceed 300 million by 2050 if current trends persist. This rapid growth places immense pressure on already strained resources, from healthcare and education to infrastructure and employment.

“Education and healthcare are key,” says Shazia, an NGO worker focusing on women’s health. “Empowering women and giving them choices about their reproductive health can make a huge difference.”

The National Population & Housing Census 2023 reported that Pakistan’s population had reached 241.5 million, with an average yearly increase of 2.55 per cent since 2017. Punjab recorded the highest population increase with 17.7 million, followed by Sindh with 7.8 million, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa with 5.36 million, Balochistan with 2.55 million, and Islamabad Capital Territory (ICT) with 0.36 million.

“Each region has its unique challenges and needs,” explains Dr Malik, a regional health officer. “A one-size-fits-all approach won’t work. We need to tailor our strategies to each area’s specific context.”

Tackling Population Growth

Pakistan’s population has experienced rapid growth over the past few decades. In the mid-20th century, the population was relatively modest, but since then, it has grown exponentially. Factors contributing to this growth include high fertility rates, improved healthcare leading to lower mortality rates, and limited access to family planning services in certain regions.

“Family planning is still a sensitive topic here,” says Saima, a midwife in a rural health centre. “Many women don’t have the freedom to make decisions about their own bodies.”

Despite efforts to address these issues, Pakistan faces several challenges in achieving sustainable population management. Cultural and religious beliefs continue to pose barriers to family planning, and disparities in access to healthcare and education persist, particularly in rural and remote areas.

As Pakistan charts its course into the future, addressing its population crescendos will be paramount. Empowering women, expanding access to education and healthcare, and promoting sustainable development are crucial steps towards achieving a balanced demographic environment. Only then can Pakistan harness the full potential of its people and chart a path towards a brighter, more prosperous future.

In addition to these challenges, the high population growth rate in Pakistan poses several socio-economic issues. The pressure on resources such as water, land, and food is immense. Rapid urbanisation and agricultural expansion lead to environmental degradation and resource depletion, exacerbating poverty and inequality.

“The strain on our natural resources is evident,” notes Dr Farooq, an environmental scientist. “We must adopt sustainable practices to ensure that our growth does not come at the cost of our environment.”


Meeting the needs of a growing population strains infrastructure systems such as transportation, healthcare, and education. Inadequate infrastructure impedes economic growth and reduces the quality of life for many Pakistanis.

“Our infrastructure is struggling to keep up,” says Amina, a city planner. “We need significant investments to build resilient and sustainable cities.”

The youth bulge, with a significant proportion of the population under the age of 30, presents both opportunities and challenges. While youth can be a demographic dividend, the lack of educational and employment opportunities for young people contributes to social unrest and economic challenges.

“Our young people are our greatest asset,” says Imran, a youth activist. “But we need to provide them with the skills and opportunities to thrive.”

Empower, Educate, Elevate

The Pakistani government has implemented various policies and interventions to address population growth and promote family planning. Family planning programmes aim to increase access to contraceptive services and raise awareness about the benefits of smaller family sizes.

“We need to break the stigma around family planning,” says Zainab, a reproductive health educator. “It’s about giving people control over their own lives.”

Efforts to improve women’s education and economic empowerment are critical in addressing population growth. Educated women are more likely to make informed reproductive choices and participate in the workforce, contributing to economic development.

“Education is the key to empowerment,” emphasises Nadia, a local school teacher. “When women are educated, they can make better choices for themselves and their families.”

Improving healthcare services, particularly maternal and child health, is essential for reducing fertility rates and improving overall well-being. Access to quality healthcare ensures that women and children receive the care they need, leading to healthier families and communities.

Promoting gender equality and women’s rights is fundamental to addressing population issues. Empowering women to make decisions about their reproductive health and participate fully in society is crucial for achieving sustainable development.


“Gender equality is not just a women’s issue,” argues Saba, a human rights activist. “It’s about creating a fair and just society for everyone.”

The Pakistani government must also address the social and cultural barriers that hinder the adoption of family planning practices. Community engagement and education campaigns can help shift cultural norms and increase acceptance of family planning.

“Changing mind-sets takes time,” says Tariq, a community leader. “But with persistent effort, we can create a more supportive environment for family planning.”

Collaboration with international organisations and NGOs is vital for addressing population challenges. These partnerships can provide technical expertise, funding, and innovative solutions to support Pakistan’s efforts in managing its population growth.

“There’s no single solution,” says Professor Khan, a demographer. “We need a comprehensive strategy that addresses the root causes of population growth and promotes sustainable development.”

Investing in human capital, particularly education and healthcare, is crucial for ensuring that Pakistan’s population growth becomes a driver of development rather than a hindrance. By prioritising the well-being and empowerment of its people, Pakistan can harness the potential of its population to build a prosperous and sustainable future.

The writer is a subeditor at You! magazine. She can be reached at