Population conundrum

Published: July 11, 2019
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PHOTO: REUTERS

PHOTO: REUTERS

PHOTO: REUTERS The writer is an environmentalist and a lecturer

With all the economic and political uncertainty looming large in Pakistan, we have neglected one extremely grave situation: the terrifying rise in our population statistics. Given the current political landscape, it would be injudicious to say that Pakistan, in the coming years, can improve its deteriorating developmental indicators. Not to forget that Pakistan is already gripped by poverty; accelerated climate change; and intensified water woes. Pakistan’s rapidly increasingly-population will only exacerbate all these key sectors. In an alarming UN report, Pakistan is expected to become the fourth largest populated nation by 2030. The question which arises here is: Are the Pakistani authorities aware of this predicament? Our nation’s unchecked population growth will hinder its developmental progress at every stage.

Climate change is a reality, which has already started to show its true colours. Rising sea levels, more frequent natural disasters and extreme drought conditions — all are indicative of the accelerating climate change. What is even more appalling is that large-scale migration will inevitably take place due to the impending climate fiasco. With escalating population figures throughout the country, large-scale migration will be devastating for our already-paralysed economy. According to the World Bank, worsening impacts of climate change in South Asia could see over 100 million people move within their countries’ borders by 2050, creating a major humanitarian crisis and economic havoc.

Pakistan’s major cities are under immense stress. One unambiguous reason behind this development is high urbanisation levels. Unsurprisingly, the conditions in remote regions are also deteriorating; people are in a constant hunt to improve their standards of living. Consequently, people from remote regions moving to urban areas build more pressure on the vulnerable cities. Karachi for instance is in a penurious shape when it comes to clean drinking water. Increase in population figures will only inflame Karachi’s water troubles. Secondly, let us not forget the amount of waste which is generated in the urban cities. Millions of tonnes of plastic is directly dumped into the sea which is detrimental not only for the marine life but for the entire eco-system.

Our population emergency can be curtailed through coercive measures and strong policymaking. What we direly need is a robust population control policy from parliament. Recently, the Child Restraint Bill which prohibits a girl to marry before the age of 18 will immensely help the population control cause. The Bill will undoubtedly empower girls economically and socially, contributing to a decrease in the number of births. According to the United Nations Population Fund, 21% of girls in Pakistan have been getting married before their 18th birthday and 3% even before the age of 15. How do we expect to control our population figures when child marriage is one major cause for exacerbating population growth rates?

It is high time for the Pakistani society to embrace family planning. Fertility rates are increasing due to misinformation about the side effects of contraceptives and lack of knowledge about the benefits of small families.

Unrestrained population growth will be one of the toughest challenges of the 21st century. The impacts of accelerated climate change, food security and water woes will only be exacerbated by the population augmentation. On the World Population Day, Pakistan must focus on the urgency and importance of population issues. Our policymakers must formulate robust policies to curb the overwhelming population statistics. From urban cities to every remote area of our nation, family planning programmes must be introduced and properly implemented. In the past, we have incessantly ignored the perils of population growth. Today, ignoring it will be disastrous. Therefore, restraining population growth has become more imperative than ever.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 11th, 2019.

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