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July 11, 2016

Population clock is ticking


July 11, 2016


Punjab is at 3.8 children per woman, going by Population Welfare Department (PWD Punjab) figures, which puts the country’s population clock at 194,243,053 as of now. 

At a time when countries all over the globe have envisioned a world free of poverty, hunger, disease and want by implementing Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), we must know that 12 out of 17 SDGs are driven by population dynamics or they drive population dynamics.

Last year a documentary, 'The Population Emergency' made by Heartfile, an NGO, highlighted alarming statistics: "Three million people or a whole new city is added to the population every year. Our population is expected to rise to 399 million by 2050." This is certainly not sustainable. In such a scenario what is needed most is political will. The Punjab government hasn't declared a population policy in three years.

Family Welfare Department was established in 1965 in Pakistan. The successive governments' lack of commitment can be seen from the fact that the department's budget is still to be regularised and the plan is still in PC1 mode.

Bangladesh has the highest level of commitment "where a 'reproductive revolution' is occurring in the absence of significant improvements in economic indicators." Contraceptive use has increased from 3 per cent to 45 per cent among married women since 1971. There, village-based female workers deliver contraceptive information and supplies to women in their homes. We need to mobilise our lady health workers too, to deliver more.

Population Welfare Department (Punjab) gives free of cost contraceptives at its every centre and there is no parchi fee. There are 1500 family welfare centres across the province, 121 family health clinics and 117 mobile service units at Tehsil level.

"People don't value anything for free. There is a lot of resistance in the community. Education has 33 per cent contribution in population control. Economic and social factors have 17 per cent and 20pc contribution respectively. Family planning contributes only 30pc in bringing the population down," says Dr Afshan Tahir, Director Research and Training at the PWD.

For a focused population policy the PWD is consulting a core group of experts. "We have engaged Ulema, media, different government departments, parliamentarians and NGOs and then we get donor's feedback. The policy has to be multi-sectoral - a future where there is inter-sectoral cooperation," says Dr Tahir.

PWD's focus is on family health - on spacing. Islam too promotes space. "We have taken Ulema along so that they mobilise men. In rural areas they don't perceive the need for family planning," she says.

Unmet need is 17.5pc, which means people want to use contraceptives but they are not available.

Population Council of Pakistan estimates an annual abortion rate of 50 per 1000 women. A factsheet released by Guttmacher Institute last year, says "nearly half of all pregnancies in Pakistan are unintended, and more than half of these end in abortion." Still Pakistan is the sixth most populous country.

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