An exploding population bomb

Published: February 17, 2012
The writer is an Islamabad-based freelance communications consultant. She tweets @tazeen and blogs at

The writer is an Islamabad-based freelance communications consultant. She tweets @tazeen and blogs at

How many of us have seen children trying to clean our car’s windshield at every other signal. Or seen our maid’s child playing in our garage, eating dirt, while she is attending to us and our children. These pale, skinny, listless children are all around us and they are the malnourished children of our world.

Pakistan is ranked among the top five countries in the world that has more than half of the world’s malnourished children, says a report published recently by the UK charity, Save the Children. One in four children in the world are stunted. In a country like Pakistan, this figure is much higher. Stunted growth means their body and brain have failed to develop properly because of malnutrition. About 43.6 per cent children in the country are officially reported stunted and if no concerted action is taken, Pakistan will have the highest proportion of stunted children as a part of its population, within the next 15 years. Apart from coming up with national level plans to deal with this acute shortage and price hike of necessary food items, the most obvious way of dealing with this issue is to have less children, yet we keep procreating at an alarming rate, hoping that God will provide for them.

World malnutrition and hunger has put to rest the philosophical approach that every child brings his or her own food. However, it is still considered a valid excuse for having large families. What parents do not realise is that their malnourished children are not only disadvantaged as children, but they will remain so as adults and will earn at least 20 per cent less on average than those who have had a healthy childhood.

The country’s population is estimated to rise by 300 million by 2030 and our water resources — necessary for food growth, hygiene and sanitation — are dwindling fast. Pakistan has slid from being a water affluent country to a water scarce country; imagine how bad the situation would be with 120 million additional mouths to feed and even less food and water than we have right now.

Twenty-two per cent of the people in Pakistan can never afford to buy staple foods for their families every week. The policymakers and decision-makers have to take notice now, and take measures to realistically deal with this issue. Poverty reduction measures, like the Benazir Income Support Programme alone can not tackle the population time bomb; it has to be paired with stringent population control actions.

In a country where advocating family planning is still a taboo, we need to address this issue as an emergency. There are sections in the society that take pride in the fact that we will become the most populous Muslim nation soon. What is the point in taking pride in producing the world’s biggest group of hungry, malnourished children and adults with limited abilities to fend for themselves, who lack prospects for future growth?

We need to create a society where small families are socially desirable and it can be created through deliberate social engineering by the state and clergy. It has already happened in Iran and Bangladesh and it can happen in Pakistan as well.

Published in The Express Tribune, February 18th, 2012.

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Reader Comments (45)

  • Ali Q
    Feb 17, 2012 - 10:10PM

    Population control is absolutely imperative. Pakistan’s failure to control its growth is as much to do with mindset as it has to with lack of knowledge/access to contraceptives. Current population growth rate cannot be controlled for as long as women are seen as baby making machines. For Pakistan to bend that arc, education opportunities for women must be improved – let more women of Pakistan control their destiny and a drop in population growth rates will automatically follow.


  • Rana Amjad
    Feb 17, 2012 - 10:18PM

    Who will tell the Mullah’s? Fully agree with the writer!


  • Afzaal Khan
    Feb 17, 2012 - 10:49PM

    check facts. Birth and fertility rates have been steadily declining in pakistan.Recommend

  • Sobia Ahmed
    Feb 17, 2012 - 10:50PM

    Thanks very much for writing on this issue of exploding population bomb which is a pressing national emergency, assuming a crisis proportion. And yet for all the crisis, we are not even aware of the problem, let alone be doing something about it.

    Pakistan’s female fertility rate of 6.1 is the highest in the world; Bangladesh which used to have the same rate as us has succeeded in bringing it down to 3.6. Food, clothing, shelter, education, healthcare, water, and all the scarce resources do not fall from the sky with each born child. The greater the quantity of children, the smaller the share of resources for each born child. Demand for resources is not keeping pace with the production of food, hence the ever increasing prices, and the ensuing poverty, and soaring crime as people fight to survive.

    Since Maulvis do not have to work to earn a living, it is easy for them to say that each child brings with him his own rizq. But this is false logic. Rizq is supposed to be earned, through honest means, which maulvis do not do. The only solution therefore is fewer and better fed children.Recommend

  • sick of this nonsense
    Feb 17, 2012 - 10:57PM

    @Afzaal Khan:
    care to provide a reference? Even I think that the population has declined but doubt there has been any study.


  • PakArmySoldier
    Feb 17, 2012 - 11:04PM

    This is an out-growth and symptom of the educational and literacy void in Pakistan. We’re a nation of ‘jahil’ people with distorted priorities. We need an aggressive one-child policy to fend off a prospective demographic crisis.


  • Afzaal Khan
    Feb 17, 2012 - 11:06PM
  • Feb 17, 2012 - 11:08PM

    It is controlling uneducated , untrained and none productive population, we need more of healthy and well trained young population for the good future.Recommend

  • Chulbul Pandey
    Feb 17, 2012 - 11:15PM

    @Author: The country’s population is estimated to rise by 300 million by 2030 and our water resources — necessary….

    You mean the population of Pakistan would be 480 million by 2030?
    Unless you meant that the country’s population is estimated to rise TO 300 million… Glaring error, Ms Javed


  • let there be peace
    Feb 17, 2012 - 11:17PM

    Why don’t you look at positive aspects? You can proudly claim that Islam is the fastest growing religion.


  • let there be peace
    Feb 17, 2012 - 11:39PM

    On a serious note, talking more about negative aspects and using force in conservative societies can backfire and in Islamic societies may get opposed by powerful mullahs. Positive aspects of family planning need to be constantly hammered by propaganda machine. The ego of mullahs may need to be cajoled and they should be given positive incentives for promoting family planning. Of course first of all the policymakers in government should be aware and serious about the issue.

    But in the end, there is no population control method more powerful than educated and economically independent women.


  • Faisal
    Feb 17, 2012 - 11:41PM

    Its a matter of managing your population. Instead of making futile attempts to stop it, think of turning it into human capital – something even some G8 countries would beg for.


  • PakArmySoldier
    Feb 18, 2012 - 12:06AM

    I researched and found that the fertility rates are indeed declining in Pakistan. I hope this trend continues.


  • Arijit Sharma
    Feb 18, 2012 - 12:13AM

    Catastrophic wars can result when over-populated nations seek to bleed off excess population.


  • Feb 18, 2012 - 12:16AM

    There are many benefits of it:
    1. We will have more Muslims.
    2. We can show the world that we are mard e momin


  • Mj
    Feb 18, 2012 - 12:47AM

    The rates are declining indeed, but the decrease in quite slow, and there is plenty of momentum which means that Pakistan pop. will stabilize at around 300-350 Mill, which is far too high a number and beyond the capability of the land to handle. China was able to avoid addition of around 250M from 1980 to y2000 by taking drastic and timely measures. There is still time for the country to promote free and widespread birth control, increase through legal or social pressures the minimum age for marriage, and provide some kind of social safety net for the older population.


  • Nael
    Feb 18, 2012 - 1:02AM

    Fertility rates are declining but not nearly fast enough. Pakistans population growth rate is still too high to be sustainable or for the accumulation of Human Capital. When you are having so many children in analready poor country, how do you invest enough in health, education and nutrition per person for the population to develop higher levels of skill and be in good health in order to be productive?


  • gp65
    Feb 18, 2012 - 1:14AM

    @Afzaal Khan: “check facts. Birth and fertility rates have been steadily declining in pakistan.”

    True. Yet they are higher than other countries in the neighbourhood (Nepal, Idia, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh). The Bangladesh which is also a Muslim majority country has been far more successful in controlling its population. In 1971, Bangladesh population was higher than Pakistan. Nowits population si much lower than Pakistan. Likewise in 1971, the Muslim population in India was much higher than Pakistan but now the Muslim population in India is smaller than Pakistan (even though it ihas been growing at a higher rate than the Hindu population in India).

    So yes – the fertility rate HAS been declining but as shown by Bangladesh’s case, there is room for much greater improvement in this area in Pakistan.


  • gp65
    Feb 18, 2012 - 1:25AM

    @PakArmySoldier: “I researched and found that the fertility rates are indeed declining in Pakistan. I hope this trend continues”.

    Here is the trend for Bangladesh. in 1971 both Pakistan and Bangladesh had a similar rate of fertility of around 6.8. Today Pakistan is down to 3.5 but Bangladesh fertility is down to 2.2. So you can see that the improvement in Bangladesh has been far greater in this area than Pakistan


  • gp65
    Feb 18, 2012 - 1:35AM

    One more point. Fertility in India and Bangladesh is definitely much lower than Pakistan. Yet both those countries are also have a very large number of wasted and stunted children and are in the list of 5 countries in the UK report. Thus the issue is not just one of bringing fertility down. It is also of designing and implementing appropriate food and nutrition policy so that everyone has access to at least minimum levels of nutrition.


  • ghjk
    Feb 18, 2012 - 2:51AM

    I guess the polio drops and iodine milla namak aren’t working. Back to the drawing board then!


  • Mustafa Moiz
    Feb 18, 2012 - 3:37AM

    Ayub Khan’s family planning was a great step.


  • Uza Syed
    Feb 18, 2012 - 3:45AM

    If you don’t control it even now then soon we’ll need some kind of ‘fatwa’ regarding what’s better—-fewer but healthy and productive, well adjusted Muslims or sick and undernourished and non-productive, and parasitic and undesired Muslims in Pakistan.


  • Shock Horror
    Feb 18, 2012 - 3:55AM

    The Land of the Pure needs a high birth rate so that Deep State can have more individuals who can be used for achieving Strategic Depth and jihadist fights around the world.


  • Frank Observer
    Feb 18, 2012 - 5:00AM

    I’m sick of the liberals, wealthy and the privileged of this country lecturing the underprivileged on how to lead their life. Just because you had the privilege of western education does not mean that you can treat the ordinary working class of this country as ignorant and brainless individuals who need to be told by the upper class like yourself how many children they should have. I believe one should have as many children as one likes, and it should have no bearing on inequality, poverty and injustice in society. I for one don’t need your expert advise in my personal life. So thanks but no thanks. Also, you are distorting attention from the real root causes of inequality and poverty, which are embedded corruption in society, dishonest, selfish, and incompetent politicians and people like yourself who instead of lecturing the politicians are turning this country into a nanny state by dictating our personal lifes to the extent that we should now listen to you for family planning. Guys, bring down the statusquo in the next general election and vote for Imran Khan.Recommend

  • Zalim singh
    Feb 18, 2012 - 8:21AM

    more muslims for islamic quest


  • Tina
    Feb 18, 2012 - 9:45AM

    Quality of life is inversely proportional to the Quantity of children in a family (and country).

    The greater the number of children in a family, less time, attention, affection, and resources each child gets. The choice is between QUALITY or QUANTITY of children.

    The government should pay male Pakistanis to get vasectomy after the birth of first child to encourage decrease in population. Instead of coercive measures (as in China or the failed example in India which saw Indira’s defeat), people should be bought out.

    Either find money to build schools, roads, houses, health, infrastructure, or pay people NOT to have children.


  • Indian muslim
    Feb 18, 2012 - 10:25AM

    Oh!! now I understand why our religion is the fastest growing in the world. In fact in my country also if you remove the hindu population, Muslims are the one who are going faster than others.Recommend

  • muneer
    Feb 18, 2012 - 11:08AM

    For all the people who are making pro-religion comments, i would have thought God would have blessed you with some intelligence! Even the Prophet underlined the responsibility which comes with bearing children, i.e., to provide them with good education and better life and the majority of Pakistanis are NOT in a position to do so. This fatalistic approach only hinders progress and its not a blessing.


  • Mudassir
    Feb 18, 2012 - 1:58PM

    ET Editor: Two things.

    Please get a better quality photo of the author.
    Add options to thumbs up as well as thumbs down a post, instead of just having the Recommend option.

  • Zain-ul-abdin
    Feb 18, 2012 - 3:03PM

    More Muslims more Islamic life oh plz…………….how many of these people actually follow Islam my guess non.


  • amit
    Feb 18, 2012 - 3:20PM

    my friend bangladeshi population is not desline their approx.2 carore illegal bangladeshi living in in india(mostly assam,w.bengal and mumbai).and they produced children .and you know in india hindus/sikhs/christen fertillity rate is vary fast decline after 1980. and approx.(not govt) 26% indian population is muslim ..and indian muslim population growth rate is also vary high.Recommend

  • Truth Teller
    Feb 18, 2012 - 3:21PM

    World is heading towards knowledge able societies whereas we Muslims are only interested in increasing our population who are under fed with no skills to compete in the global village. They would only be left by selling their body parts but biotechnology has advanced so much that in few years that need would also be eliminated. No planning for the FUTURE and everything left on ALLAH!


  • Genius
    Feb 18, 2012 - 4:36PM

    Everywhere in Asia, Africa and South America, people are becoming more and more desperate due to shortage of resources and essentials as water, food and shelter.
    God helps those who help themselves. God helps the intelligent.
    Everyone in the world needs to learn on this matter from the European people. They use their heads more than others, as such avoid self made catastrophe which the Asian, African and South American population willingly invite through their reckless misdeeds. Producing just too many trouble makers is their favorite pastime. So they suffer and will suffer more problems as they continue to take the path of recklessness.
    The author and everyone as concerned as her is doing great favor to the humanity by warning people about their self made catastrophe.
    Is is the Mullahs and the Catholic priests who produce trouble makers? No it is us. We the uncaring lot.


  • A.Khan
    Feb 18, 2012 - 4:42PM

    Well if we compare Pakistan’s population-density (#of people/ with UK, Germany and also the given example Bangladesh then Pakistan has a lower ranking. Population density in Balochistan is much lower than in Punjab. What I suggest, if the industries and work places are equally distributed in the country then this bomb will never explode.


  • Feb 18, 2012 - 6:11PM

    Malthus was proved wrong ages ago. A large population is not a problem. Its an asset in this hyper competitive world. A large population results in lower labour costs which is good for business. So stop spreading this about population growth being a problem. It’s not. China and India are prospering precisely because they have a large population. Pakistan will also prosper with a larger population. We should welcome 300 million Pakistanis instead of resenting them.Recommend

  • Aryan
    Feb 18, 2012 - 7:20PM

    Thumbs up for your comment.


  • quality-counts
    Feb 18, 2012 - 7:42PM

    @zaid hamid:

    Its a quality not the quantity.


  • Cynical
    Feb 18, 2012 - 8:45PM


    I second your suggestion.


  • Dr AK Khan
    Feb 18, 2012 - 10:42PM

    @A.Khan @abdussamad etc.

    Consider this:

    Average rainfall in Karachi is 167mm while in London it is 602mm. The rainfall in London is 3.6 times higher. Yet the population of Karachi is between 18 – 20 million while the population of London is 7.8 million.
    Pause for a minute, reread what I just wrote and then reflect and absorb what this means. I find just these facts very scary.
    Now add on on our numerous other problems. Don’t you think we are heading for catastrophe ?


  • Visibly Invisible
    Feb 19, 2012 - 12:08AM

    @Frank Observer:
    Are you for real?


  • Visibly Invisible
    Feb 19, 2012 - 12:16AM

    Yes the population can be an asset if they are well trained and nourished… which is clearly not the case in Pakistan. The 50% of Pakistani population that is under 30 years of age will go to waste because they do not have knowledge to compete in today’s world. Even our academic institutions are churning out students (with the exception of very few; No thanks to universities) that can not perform well in any of the standardized testing.


  • Akhtar
    Feb 19, 2012 - 8:29AM

    On a average, families have 4-6 kids per couple & I think it’s not really big!


  • from India
    Feb 19, 2012 - 11:34AM

    @ Indian Muslim – I think majority of the Muslims in our country (who live in rural India) still don’t realize that quality is more important than quantity. However, the situation is not as grave as Pakistan.


  • Random
    Feb 20, 2012 - 1:26AM

    You also need to tell the people who are from rich families to create more kids so that they can get an education and we have some one to take care of Pakistan. Telling rich people and families (the people who mostly read this post) to have less kids is not the solution and is backward thinking and i would be ok if they would pay for the education for orphans but people will never pay for the type of education that they would for their own kids.


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