Experts expressed their concerns over rapid population growth in Pakistan, arguing that the phenomenon was impeding economic development and creating obstacles to effective policy making.
They were speaking during a book launch titled “Capturing the Demographic Dividend in Pakistan” at a local hotel on Thursday. The event was organised by the Population Council in collaboration with the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).
The speakers said that while it would be difficult to sustain economic growth with an ever-increasing population, there lay an opportunity in harnessing a demographic dividend.
UNFPA Representative Rabbi Royan said the book — of which he is the editor — had resonated a clear message in that radical policy changes were required in the health and education sectors and the economy. Foremost was the need to expedite the fertility decline which was currently staggered, he added.
Findings from the book reveal that women in the youngest reproductive age group, namely 15 to 19 years, had a fertility rate of 51 births per 1,000, illustrating that early marriage and child bearing persists.
Studies also suggest that women’s unmet needs for contraception had resulted in many unplanned pregnancies every year.
Harvard School of Public Health Professor David E Bloom, joining the discussion via a video-link from the US, said the current rapid rate of population growth in Pakistan was placing a heavy burden of youth dependency on the economy.
“Countries like Pakistan where fertility is declining relatively slowly are facing a situation in which large numbers of youth are seeking ‘good jobs’, but are not finding them,” he said.
Population Council Country Director Pakistan Zeba Sathar said the population growth rate currently stood at around 2.1 per cent per year. She added that 28 per cent of the population was between the ages of 15 and 29 and translating this ‘youth bulge’ into a demographic dividend was a key challenge.
Meanwhile, findings on universal primary education suggest that the government and international development agencies have endorsed the idea but failing implementation, growth would not be achieved.
“One of the critical requirements for capturing the demographic dividend is to improve the basic levels of education and skills of the working-age population,” said International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) World Population Programme leader Wolfgang Lutz.
Other findings indicate that Pakistan’s investment and domestic savings rates were substantially lower than those of its neighbours, averaging only around 17 and 12 per cent of GDP respectively over the last four decades.
All speakers agreed that it was difficult to accept the reality that Pakistan was on course to having as many as 120 million more people in 2050 than it does now, bringing its population to a staggering 300 million.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 3rd, 2013.