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Population growth

A senior United Nations official revealed that Pakistan's total population is 180 million making it the sixth most populous country in the world, the population growth rate is 2.05 percent, a third of Pakistanis have no access to birth control. His advice to the federal and provincial governments, "demonstrate full commitment through sustained and prioritised allocation of additional resources to family planning services and commodities."

Population measures the quality of life in a country given the sum total of all products and services as indicated by the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Thus if the growth in GDP is less than the population growth rate then the per capita wealth, which does not take account of the distribution of wealth within a country, would be negative in real terms. The rate of population growth provides useful data for planning for the future in terms of the number of healthcare facilities required to be developed, the numbers that would join not only elementary school within a short space of time but also the need to develop secondary and higher education in years to come. And, of course, the population growth rate also provides data that must be used by the government to plan the infrastructure and social sector development that would be required to meet the demands of the increasing population in the long-term. Thus the rate of population growth not only provides useful data for the country's economic managers to plan for the short-, medium- and long-term but also is a measure of the quality of life of the people.

As matters stand today, Pakistan's population growth rate of 2.05 percent is lower than the 4 percent estimated GDP growth rate for the current year, and is even lower than the International Monetary Fund's estimated GDP growth rate of 3.2 percent. The critical question is whether this demographic data is accurate. The population census was tentatively scheduled for March/April 2012. However, the Population Census Organisation website does not note that this was successfully completed though it indicates that the house listing census was successfully completed.

The census is conducted decennially (every ten years) in Pakistan and was held in 1951, 1961, 1972 and 1998. The 1972 census was delayed by a year due to the war with India and the one in 1998 was delayed due to political reasons premised on the fact that a specific number of government jobs are available to specific ethnic groups based on their population strength in any given area or city. This explains why in spite of the completion of multiple census counts the resulting data has been labelled unreliable. A UN-led census is now to be conducted with staff training and GPS digitisation. It is not a foregone conclusion that a UN-led census would prove more successful in rendering the results more reliable.

Pakistan's population growth rate is a major source of concern for development economists and it is hoped that the government through consensus with its coalition partners undertakes a census that would be considered 'reliable'. This would, in turn, pave the way for realistic economic plans that are designed to achieve the Millennium Development Goals focused on improving the quality of life of the poor both in terms of social sector as well as infrastructure development.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2012