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July 11, 2018

The right to plan


July 11, 2018

The occasion of World Population Day on July 11 should serve as a wake-up call to all Pakistanis that our current trajectory is unsustainable. Our population of 210 million makes us the sixth most populous country in the world even though we are only 34th largest when it comes to land covered. Pakistan ranks a miserable 147th on the Human Development Index and the country’s population growth rate of 1.9 percent is among the highest in the region. Clearly something needs to change. In recent days, there has been much discussion about the looming water shortages the country faces, and there has been a large push to secure funding for new dams. While improving our water capacity storage may be important, we need to look closely for the root cause of our most pressing concerns. In almost all cases, be it the water crisis, poverty, homelessness and unemployment, the problem can partly be explained by overpopulation. A full 60 percent of Pakistan’s population is under the age of 30 and at least a third of Pakistanis live in poverty. The younger the country’s population gets, the more difficult it becomes to find jobs for everyone. Educating so many people has proved beyond the capabilities of the state and the literacy rate is still below 60 percent.

The state has shown no appetite for tackling this looming crisis. Family planning services are scarce and there is no government-level plan for dealing with the effect of the population explosion. Even if the birth rate were to slow down, it is estimated the population of the country will double by 2050. Add to that the effect of global climate change, with Pakistan expected to be one of the countries hardest hit by environmental catastrophes, and we could soon face an existential crisis. Just how little attention has been paid to this problem can be judged by the fact that it took the country nearly 20 years even to conduct something as basic as a population census. Better statistics are needed of attendance at schools and space at hospitals so that we can figure out ways to cope with the gigantic increase in our population. Accurate numbers are also needed to better allocate resources and more efficiently use water. The theme of World Population Day this year is that family planning is a basic human right. We need to use this opportunity to strengthen Population Welfare Departments around the country and finally wake up to the disaster that will soon be on our hands.

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