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February 25, 2020

Check population growth to achieve SDGs: experts

Lahore

February 25, 2020

LAHORE:Experts have identified lowering of the population growth as the most cost-effective and expeditious intervention to achieve Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in order to attain universal healthcare and education and pulling people out of poverty in Pakistan.

“Increased investment in family planning programs could accelerate Pakistan’s progress across social, economic and environmental areas of sustainable development,” this was revealed in a report of Population Council during a session on Pakistan’s population challenge organised with the support of the United Nations Population Fund.

In February 2015, Pakistan’s government adopted the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) through a unanimous parliamentary resolution. The strategic shift put considerable responsibility on the government and its development partners to address the unmet agenda of Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), while initiating the SDGs through development cooperation for strengthening public institutions, social policies and planning development programmes.

The report revealed that Pakistan ranks 152 among 182 countries in the 2019 Human Development Index with current pace of the population growth at 2.4%, which directly hampers Pakistan’s efforts to meet 12 out of 17 SDGs. “In Pakistan, every $1 spent on contraceptive services saves $2.50 in maternal and newborn healthcare,” said Samia Ali Shah, Project Director, while presenting the Population Council’s report. By means of investing in robust family planning programs, she said, Pakistan can significantly pull more people out of poverty by improving maternal and infant survival, nutrition, educational attainment, the status of girls and women etc. “The rapid population growth, therefore, is one of the biggest challenges confronting Pakistan that impedes achieving sustainable development goals in the country,” she added.

While explaining the impact of rapid population growth, the report revealed that Pakistan ranks 78th out of 113 countries on the Global Food Security Index (2019). One out of three children is out of school in Pakistan. Our population is growing so fast that Pakistan can’t achieve Universal Primary Education until 2075. Pakistan is one of the third most water-stressed countries in the world. Per capita water availability in Pakistan has dropped from 5,600 cubic meters at the time of independence to the current level of 861 cubic meters, and is projected to further decline.

If the Contraceptive Prevalence Rate (CPR) rises from current 34% to 54%, it can save 4,900 mothers and 140,000 infants from dying. “If Pakistan is closer to the fertility levels of the rest of the region i.e. 2.1%, a total of 40 million fewer Pakistanis would be living in poverty and only 1.6 million children would be out of school,” the report says. To harness its demographic dividends, the report says, Pakistan will need to break out of stagflation and into sustained growth; creating more and better jobs for women and men; and profiting from the “youth bulge” by investing. By 2050, 224 million more people will be looking for work.

It said that the level of urbanization in Pakistan is the highest in South Asia. Urban population of Pakistan is likely to cross the proportion of rural population by 2050. The report said that family planning is one of the smartest SDG priorities, with sweeping social, economic, and environmental benefits. “Socioeconomic reforms combined with family planning investments provide the largest benefits to Pakistan,” it added.

The report further said that one of the SDGs pertaining to good health and well-being aims to ensure universal access to reproductive healthcare services, including family planning—considered one of the most cost-effective targets. The report suggests investing in family planning is a necessary step for achieving many of the SDGs. In this regard, it says, voluntary family planning programs play an important role in reducing fertility desires and enabling couples to realize their reproductive rights and intentions. The report further says family planning use minimizes life-threatening complications for mothers and their children by reducing fertility-related risks. “These risks include pregnancies in which the mother is too young or old, pregnancies that are too closely spaced and too many, and pregnancies that end in unsafe abortion,” it says.

While the health sector must provide leadership on the delivery of family planning services, it requires a coordinated approach across sectors to ensure availability and accessibility of services to all Pakistanis. “Pakistan will be better positioned to achieve the SDGs if decision makers prioritize family planning in policies, programs, and funding across sectors,” the report concluded.

Based on the recommendations of the Council of Common Interest, the new national narrative on population was shared at the meeting. Dr Ali M. Mir, Senior Director Research and Programs of Population Council, said that the new narrative builds on the concept of balance where parents have the right to freely and responsibly decide the number and spacing of their children. They must fulfill the fundamental rights of their children and family by maintaining a balance between their family size and resources. “The government and society have the responsibility to facilitate parents to achieve this balance by providing universal access to family planning information and services, thereby achieving sustainable development,” he added.

Dr Jamil Ahmed Chaudhry, Program Specialist UNFPA, and Huma Iqbal, Manager Advocacy & Communication of Population Council, also spoke on the occasion.