After a hiatus 13 years, the government is finally undertaking the gigantic task of putting an official figure to the number of heads vying for the scant resources of Pakistan.
The magnanimity of the task can be quite daunting. After all, many important policy decisions are based on this exercise until the next census takes place.
Simple as it may seem, what hold particular importance vis-à-vis this exercise are the policy implications that the census embodies. From the allocation of fiscal resources, to the distribution of social services, many policy decisions are based on the findings of the census.
“The census is important for many critical areas such as migration, education planning, distribution of public resources, etc. It provides a foundation for basing several policy decisions in the country, for example, the NFC Awards,” says Dr Asad Sayeed, Director at Collective for Social Science Research.
However, the key to extracting the juice out of the collected data is to use it in a strategic capacity, by analysing the implications of demographic trends for the overall economy and social growth of the country for at least another decade down the road.
For example, development economists agree that the direction of demographic change in Pakistan is towards a youth bulge in the country’s population. Likewise, policymakers need to ensure the provision of the impetus to output growth in the country to utilise the rising proportion of youngsters.
Similarly, the implications of a high dependency ratio in terms of a larger population of dependent children may point towards rising consumption and a reduction in saving and investment over time. This carries hints for future inflationary trends, and the country’s overall social security and stability, since crime may become a catharsis for the capable-but-frustrated, unemployed youth.
The findings of the census will be critical in formulating a policy suitable to these changing demographics.
Unfortunately, however, the conduct of the census is not fool proof in Pakistan. Besides the usual errors involved in survey and analysis, the compilation of census data is also mired with some political issues, said a renowned economist on condition of anonymity.
“Different groups want different figures for the population to be quoted as per their vested interests. However, this may not have a very sweeping effect on the results,” he said.
As the country marches on to enumerate the number of individuals, such are the policy dilemmas and issues that have to be borne in mind. A strategic vision for the planning and formulation of policies can be inculcated only through a 360-degree analysis of the census data.