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July 10, 2017

Pakistan facing challenge of maintaining balance between population growth, sustainable development


July 10, 2017

RAWALPINDI: The countries all over the world have envisioned a world free of poverty, hunger, disease and want by implementing Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and it is important that 12 out of 17 SDGs that have been replaced with the Millennium Development Goals in September 2015 are connected with population dynamics.

The population of Pakistan that was 33 million in 1950 is increasing at an unprecedented rate. In 1950, its rank was 14th in the world but now it has reached around 200 million making Pakistan the 6th most populous country of the world.

Pakistan has the highest population growth rate of 1.86 per cent in the world. Three million people or a whole new city is added to the population each year. If the population of the country continues to grow with the same rate, it is likely to reach 400 million by 2050. The main reason behind this rapid increase is the lack of attention paid to women’s health.

Head of Community Medicine at CMH Lahore Medical College Professor Dr Muhammad Ashraf Chaudhry expressed this while talking to ‘The News’ in connection with World Population Day being observed on July 11 around the globe.

This year the theme of World Population Day is, “Family Planning: Empowering people, Developing Nations”. This year World Population Day, 11 July, coincides with the Family Planning Summit, Family Planning 2020-initiative, which aims to expand access to voluntary family planning to 120 million additional women by 2020.

Dr. Ashraf said that access to safe, voluntary family planning is a human right. It is also central to gender equality and women’s empowerment, and is a key factor in reducing poverty. Yet around world, 214 million women in developing countries who want to avoid pregnancy are not using safe and effective methods, for reasons ranging from lack of access to information or services to lack of support from their partners or communities, he said.

He added that apart from lack of attention paid to women’s health, other factors responsible for high population growth in Pakistan are high fertility, declining mortality, custom of early marriages, son preference, high infant mortality, poverty, illiteracy especially of women and lack of women empowerment (major cause of overpopulation), trend of polygamy, religious constraints, beliefs, customs, traditions and lack of recreational activities.

It is worth mentioning that one of the important causes behind over population is that Muslims have a solid belief that God gives food to everyone even to an ant in a stone. So, why they reduce the size of the family? Family planning program remained a controversial subject in socio-religious perspective.

Dr. Ashraf said one of the reasons for the high population rate is the reluctance of a large part of population in using contraceptives. Annual abortion rate in Pakistan is 50 per 1000 women. Nearly half of all pregnancies are unintended and more than half of these end in abortion. More than 50% of women do not want more children, he said.

Still none of the province has promulgated their population policies and still looking to federal government for funding, said Dr. Ashraf.He added that our contraceptive prevalence rate instead of increasing is decreasing. This might be due to shortage of technical staff and insufficient contraceptive availability.

Population welfare programme of Pakistan is one of the oldest in the Asia but it has not yielded the kind of progress as compared to other countries like Bangladesh and Indonesia. Many countries especially Indonesia followed and replicated it and got successful results, he said.

He said the rapid population growth rate in Pakistan is resulting in shortage of educational facilities, health services, food, living space, arable land, clean water, housing units, energy crisis, putting pressure on transportation, electricity, sewage, sanitation, and increase in unemployment, surge in food prices, land fragmentation, import of food, environmental degradation, climate change, urbanization, suicide tendencies, overcrowding and congestion in households, squatter settlements, poverty, unrest, increase in number of social evils like lawlessness, crimes, drug addiction and corruption and decrease in per capita income. It is affecting badly the country’s economic development, said Dr. Ashraf.

He said the Maternal Mortality Rate (178 per hundred thousand live births) and Infant Mortality Rate (66 per 1000 live births) in Pakistan are still one of the highest in the world. This reality makes family planning in Pakistan one of the most urgent causes that need immediate support and attention.It is recommended that status of women in the society should be increased by providing educational and employment opportunities, he said.

He said that the age of the marriage should be raised to 25 years in case of males and 23 in case of females. If the marriages are postponed from the age of 16 to 20 to 21, the number of births would decrease by 20-30 percent, he opined.

He suggested that Ulemas should be recruited as family planning mobilizers to remove misconception of the people about family planning. Family planning is not against the Islamic spirit as it is being practiced in many Muslim countries and many religious scholars have supported it. Islam is religion of peace, he said.

He said in order to create awareness among the masses about the benefits of small family and negative impact of early marriage, all channels of communication, including electronic and print media, outdoor publicity and interpersonal communication should be utilized.

To a query, Dr. Ashraf said population stabilization is central to optimal socioeconomic development of the country. We need to mobilize our lady health workers to deliver more. Social marketing of family planning commodities and services need to be encouraged and expanded to rural areas. By stabilization of our population, we can improve the women and girls health status and reduce maternal mortality, infant mortality, low weight births and stunting, he concluded.