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Pakistan: Population pressures

By Khawaja IzharUl Hassan
April 5 2013





Terrorist attacks have killed 40,000 in the country since 2011 and according to the Population Council, a reputable international NGO, around 20,000 mothers die every year from complications during childbirth.

Ever wonder why we vehemently talk of Pakistan’s social decay and blame it on factors ranging from terrorism to political crisis to economic woes, but never take pains to penetrate deeper into other factors, which are as responsible for its deterioration as the former?

Have we ever dared to compare the deaths caused by terrorist attacks with the deaths of mothers and children during delivery due to lack of medical facilities, malnourishment and unplanned pregnancies? Terrorist attacks have killed 40,000 in the country since 2011 and according to the Population Council, a reputable international NGO, around 20,000 mothers die every year from complications during childbirth. Further, our child mortality rate is the fourth largest in the world.

Pakistan has a population of 180 million; it contains 2.58 per cent of the world’s population and is the sixth most populous country in the world. Its total fertility rate (TFR) is three, which is the highest when compared with the world birth rate of 1.1 per cent. Economically, Pakistan has no more than three per cent economic growth — almost equal to the birth rate — clearly showing unstable economic growth.

One can disagree with China’s one-child policy but cannot deny its economic growth of 9.2 per cent, which clearly shows the economic strength of the most populous country in the world. China consists of 1.35 billion people — 19 per cent of the entire world population of seven billion.

Similarly, Bangladesh contained more than 55 per cent of the country’s population when it was East Pakistan, before 1971, and now it is still at 150 million; i.e., 2.16 per cent of the world population. It is the eighth most populous country and has a TFR of 2.2. Its economic growth rate is 6.1 per cent. According to UN projections, if fertility rates remain constant, Pakistan’s population will jump to nearly 380 million by 2050 and the country will face a devastating scarcity of resources.

As a matter of fact, this unbridled population will have an adverse impact on the distribution of natural resources, including food, water and shelter. It is proven that population is inversely proportional to per capita income and that the economy receives a direct impact from an increase in population. The Malthusian Theory of Population is still workable to understand the relation of population growth in geometric means and food growth in arithmetic means while technology remains constant.

Unfortunately, the Government of Pakistan and political parties still do not have a clear vision to address this issue with respect to economics and security of society. In the past, governments simply began imposing birth control panic with different slogans like “do bachay khush haal gharana” or “bachay do hi achay“, which created further fear and confusion among masses.

During the recent democratic government’s rule, Balochistan had a TFR of 4.1 and there seemed to be no activity by the Population Welfare Department in the province. Sindh and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa have had a TFR of 4.3 for the last 10 years and no significant progress has been made. Punjab also has a TFR of 3.9 and again, the Population Welfare Department lagged behind and only remained engaged for five long years with the health department on power transfers.

Ironically, major political parties chant slogans for the empowerment of women but when it comes to women’s health, they hesitate to include the population issue in their manifestos. The MQM is the only political party whose manifesto reflects the family welfare concept as per the need of the hour.

There is a great need for introducing legislation in parliament to provide an enabling environment for mothers and children to seek health care and make it incumbent upon the state to provide essential services. Investment in education and health for our women can considerably increase the economic growth of the country. Health education should be part of school curricula at the middle and higher levels. Furthermore, there is a need to incorporate lady health workers into the local government system to provide basic awareness, facilities and services to males and females at the grass-root level.

It is food for thought for all of us to stabilise the economic growth of our country, manage its resources, prevent our mothers and newborns from death, and have safe births to protect and secure society at large.

Originally published by Tribune Pakistan

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