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December 5, 2018

‘Population issue needs to be treated in a non-linear way’

Karachi

December 5, 2018

Shedding light on how the population issue needs to be treated in a non-linear way, an organisation named Population Council held a discussion at a hotel on Tuesday evening on how it isn’t just numbers but the politics around it.

The session moderated by Huma Iqbal, who does advocacy for the organisation, said that with Chief Justice of Pakistan Saqib Nisar taking a suo motu notice on population, a task force has come into action in Sindh regarding its planning.

Project Director Samia Ali Shah said awareness about family planning is no longer the main issue, rather access to facilities and information remains a problem for many families. “Men usually don’t have access and women hesitate in reaching out.”

She said that all public health facilities, including basic health units and rural health centres, should deliver family planning services. “Lady health workers should provide all the necessary information about contraception as well as the antenatal and postnatal phases. Men must also be trained to counsel other men.”

Samia pointed out that while Sindh was the first province to pass the Child Marriage Restraint Bill in 2013, one out of three girls were getting wedded off before turning 18, according to the demographic & health survey 2012-2013. “But women who acquire education are able to use contraceptives.”

She lamented that only two educational institutes are providing degrees regarding population planning because very few people enrol for the programme. She said that compared to other Muslim countries, Pakistan’s fertility rate is decreasing far too slowly.

Pakistan’s average number of births per women is 3.6, Saudi Arabia’s 2.7, Bangladesh’s 2.2 and Iran’s 1.8, while Pakistan also comes last in terms of contraceptive prevalence rate, she added.

“In 2015 we brought Ulema of different sects together, and all of them agreed on how contraceptive practices are not against the religion, rather Islam values lives of people and doesn’t in any way put lives of others at risk,” she said, stressing that socio-cultural myths surrounding population planning need to be dispelled.

Prof Dr Noman Ahmed, dean of the architecture & management sciences faculty at the NED University, reiterated the importance of taking all groups of society onboard.

About the population issue he said migration is also an important factor because in Pakistan there have been migrations due to push factors like civil conflict and natural disasters, pull factors like employment opportunities, and absence of fundamental services like health and education.

He said urbanisation has also impacted the situation through loss of agricultural land, as in 1973, 19 per cent of the produce consumed by Karachi was grown in the city, but it has now shrunk to only four per cent.

“Densification of neighbourhoods was witnessed recently when heatwave claimed hundreds of lives three years ago because of unplanned measures. Half of the urban population lives in abject poverty and the privileged group won’t be able to survive without those who appear to be invisible,” he said, referring to different clusters of neighbourhoods like Shah Rasool and Delhi Colony.

Ahmed said that sprawling development projects make urbanisation expensive and non-productive, and referred to the bus rapid transit system as one such project. He pointed out that latest census figures that raised a lot of hue and cry also showed that it was never about numbers, rather about being counted for allocation of resources among other things.

Samia said that many people practice abortion as a method of family planning, adding that there are 2.19 million pregnancies in Sindh each year, of which 0.96 million are unwanted, and if contraceptives are used the number can be brought down to 1.23 million.

Speaking on the role to highlight the importance of population with respect to each segment of society, be it resources or division of labour, Huma said the population issue cannot be seen in isolation.

“If natural resources are depleted naturally, there’d be arguments on who controls them, so the media also needs to effectively report on planning, because without it the country may head towards difficult times.”

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