Tuesday August 16, 2022

Pakistan lags on development indices

June 27, 2022

LAHORE:From almost similar economic and demographic situations in Asia in the 1960s, some of the Asian countries with right priorities of human development left Pakistan far behind in the race to become Asian Tiger in the region.

“The leading Asian economies identified human development as top priority and made early investments in education, healthcare, female labour force participation with enhanced funding for family planning programmes crucial to achieve sustainable development,” said renowned anthropologists and economists while highlighting at a media briefing on economic and human development successes of Asian countries jointly organised by Population Council and UNFPA to draw media attention on the role of enhanced funding in improving family planning and population programmes in the country.

“The investment in education, healthcare and female participation invariably kept the population growth in check to reap economic dividends and uplift the lifestyle of the people,” said Samia Ali Shah, Project Director, Population Council, during the meeting held in connection with recent announcement of federal and provincial budgets and upcoming World Population Day 2022 on July 11 with this year’s theme on “How to safeguard the health and rights of women and girls now and putting the brakes on COVID-19”.

Population Council shared evidence-based data on how fertility reduction helps economic growth by reducing the size of the economically less productive dependent population of young persons below 15 years of age, freeing up government resources that would have been required to meet continually expanding educational and health infrastructure needs.

The Southeast Asian countries, i.e., South Korea, Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia and Pakistan all had a total fertility rate of 6 children per woman in 1960. By 1980s, two original Asian Tigers Singapore and South Korea managed to halve their fertility in 10 and 16 years, respectively.

The more recently developed “Tiger cub” economies of Thailand and Malaysia achieved lower fertility rate in the 1990s. Pakistan took almost 50 years to reduce its total fertility rate from 6.6 in 1960 to the current level of 3.6.

South Korea and Thailand halved their infant mortality ratio within 13 to 18 years after 1960, whereas it took 27 years for Pakistan to achieve the same. As compared to “Asian Tigers” including South Korea, Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore, who have attained nearly 95% literacy, a third of the population in Pakistan aged 15 years and above remains illiterate. Female labour force participation currently stands above 50% in all Asian Tiger countries while in Pakistan it remains at 25%.

Life expectancy in the four Asian Tigers (Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, South Korea) is over 75 years while in Pakistan it is around 66 years. Infant mortality ratio in South Korea and Thailand is less than 10 per 1,000 while in Pakistan it is around 62 per 1,000.

Literacy rate from 2000 to date has crossed 90% in Singapore, South Korea, Thailand and Malaysia but in Pakistan it is less than 16% - third of the population aged 15 years and above remains illiterate.

Women’s participation in the workforce improves their decision-making power in household matters, including family size, and reduces gender disparities in education and healthcare.

Samia Ali Shah said Pakistan can achieve economic and social development with a sustained decline in population growth. “Our development prospects will remain elusive till we focus simultaneously on education, healthcare, including family planning, and female work force participation. Smaller families provide greater opportunities to save more, contribute to national savings, and improve health and other development indicators for women and children. Media’s role is central in bringing government’s focus on these issues of national importance.”

Dr Ali Mir, Senior Director Programmes, Population Council stressed maintaining balance between population size and natural resources as Pakistan is already one of the top three most water-stressed countries in the world and its agricultural land has depleted rapidly making it food import country.