Friday July 01, 2022

Population explosion

November 20, 2021

The world's population in the year 1800 was only one billion which in 2020 had swelled up to 7.8 billion people. It is expected that by 2100 the world's population, if allowed to grow at the same pace, may climb up to 10.9 billion. Edward O Wilson, an eminent Harvard University socio-biologist, says that with known subsurface deposits of all types, the globe will best be able to sustain a population of 9-10 billion people.

At present, the average population growth rate is 1.1 percent, which means that about 80 million people are being added to the global population every year. However, there is another school of thought which predicts that population rates will stabilise and that this global overpopulation scenario seems far-fetched. As regards our region, at its peak the Indus Valley Civilisation comprising present-day Pakistan and portions of Afghanistan and India only had four million people.

After Independence, Pakistan’s total population in 1951 was 75 million people which included 42 million of the then East Pakistan and 33 million of West Pakistan’s population. Thereafter, our population growth has constantly been galloping at an average rate of 2.5 percent – except in years 1979 and 1982 when this growth rate was further accelerated to an alarming figure of 3.4 percent.

From 2003 onward, however, it dropped slightly below 2 percent although it is still double India's and Bangladesh's growth rates. Now, while the global fertility rate is 2.5 births per woman, it is 3.5 in Pakistan, 2.2 in India and 4.32 in Afghanistan. The main reasons for the fast population growth in Pakistan are high fertility rate, early marriages, low mortality, minimum use of contraception, lack of education, alarming poverty and religious constraints.

There is no doubt that one of the main reasons for our present socioeconomic woes is the unbridled growth in our population. Unfortunately, no credible attempt is being made to check it. Population explosion combines with poor governance and results in neglect of the education, health, agriculture, and industrial sectors. This indeed is a recipe for disaster. We are adding approximately 5.3 million people, equal to Norway, in our population every year. A conservative mindset is also a great hindrance in this regard. Our rulers must realise that unchecked population growth is economically unsustainable.

While the population is increasing at an alarming rate, the underground water level is receding, rivers are drying up and glaciers are regressing due to climate change. Water shortages due to population explosion are not only crippling our agro-economy, but also fomenting political instability because of dam issues and distribution of water according to agreed shares.

According to a World Bank report, about three billion people of the world population live in cities which are fast expanding due to urbanisation trends. This demographic transition is creating serious problems. In a city like Karachi water supply due to bouser mafias is becoming a nightmare. Besides, most of the fertile agricultural land around cities is being occupied by big housing societies. This has started creating food shortages. At one point, Pakistan had surplus wheat to export. Today, even with 27 million ton of wheat production, we have to import three million ton wheat to feed our ever-increasing mouths.

The government thus needs to seriously check this unbridled population growth. At the same time, enhance industrial and agriculture production through agricultural research and use of modern science and technology techniques to defuse the negative impact of population explosion. It may also be kept in mind that while uneducated, unhealthy and unemployed youth become a liability, a healthy, educated and skillful population can be an asset for any country. Besides, we need to lobby and make concerted efforts to seek foreign jobs for our youth in order to curb unemployment and boost much-needed foreign remittances. These facts merit consideration.

The writer is former chairman Senate Standing Committee on Defence Production.