Population Division has disturbing news on the demographic
front. It has revised its estimates for the global
population in the year 2050. It is expected that 9.1 billion
people will live on the planet earth 45 years hence.
The other worrying factor is that this increase will be
preponderantly in the Third World, with the developed
countries' population remaining stable at 1.2 billion. The
only positive points are that fertility will continue to
decline -although not fast enough.
This report has some grave implications. With burgeoning
populations, it is evident that the developing countries,
which also have fewer resources and the bulk of the
illiterate, malnourished, and impoverished people, will not
be able to improve the lot of their citizens.
The growing population pressure and increasing poverty will
bring greater violence in its wake. It will also give a
boost to the increasing urbanization trend in all countries
resulting in the emergence of mega cities with poor civic
The UN's report is a wake-up call for nations, especially
for countries like Pakistan which still have the dubious
distinction of having very high population growth rates and
high fertility rates.
Pakistan's population is growing at the rate of 2.4 per cent
per annum (UNDP's figures) and the total fertility rate is
5.3 (the average number of children every woman is expected
These are much higher than the South Asian average of 1.5
per cent and 3.3, respectively. It is plain that the failure
of our population programme is at the root of widespread
poverty and deprivation.
Unless this issue is tackled seriously, it is unlikely that
our policy-makers can actually put the country on the road
to progress. The most serious cause of concern is that our
leadership has failed to understand this link between
population and development.
Only the other day the federal secretary of population
welfare said that no legislator has ever raised questions in
the National Assembly on the population problem because they
are totally ignorant about it.
The federal secretary also said that the government planned
to set up independent population commissions at the centre
and in the provinces to create awareness of the problem.
This would be a positive move. It is, however, essential
that the members of the commissions themselves understand
the basic issues. While there are some basic flaws in the
strategy adopted, the social environment in favour of the
small family norm has not been created either.
Thus the approach to the problem continues to be low profile
and a shy one which precludes an open discussion of matters
related to sex, contraceptives and the pros and cons of
various birth control methods.
This explains why Pakistan has such a large unmet need -
that is, people wanting to practise family planning but who
cannot do so for the non-availability of contraceptives,
guidance and counselling.
The other important factor is the close bearing the status
of women and female education has on the population sector.
One cannot hope to reduce the fertility rate if women
continue to be regarded as inferior beings with parents
preferring sons over daughters.
Reducing the gender gap in education will also have a
beneficial effect on the population growth. One hopes that
the government understands the gravity of the matter and
works concertedly on multiple fronts to tackle the problem.