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EDITORIAL: That about four percent of all newborns that came into the world on New Year’s Day were born in Pakistan is enough to show that our population growth rate is no longer just a ticking time bomb but has become more like a nuclear bomb in terms of the havoc that it wreaks on all our plans to develop and lift people out of poverty. For no matter how much we are able to tax, export and earn more, unless this problem is addressed resources will always be unevenly distributed and governments will continue to struggle with all sorts of things like health, education, employment, poverty, crime, etc. Already it is taking a very heavy toll on the economy. And since we are one of the poorer and smaller countries of the world, yet still its fifth most populous nation, it is simply unforgivable that no government so far has given this issue the kind of attention it deserves.

A very natural outcome of a high population growth rate in a poor country like Pakistan is the breakdown of the healthcare system and the government’s inability to provide even the most basic facilities to a very large part of the population. Such things have contributed to the fact that, according to World Bank figures, somewhere between 60 and 70 percent of all children in this country are being born stunted. So we can soon expect not just to be a very over-populated country but also one where most people are potentially physically or mentally handicapped. Then there are also other associated problems like extreme malnutrition, disease, very high infant mortality and also deaths of mothers during childbirth.

Overcoming these challenges will require a lot of planning and resources. But far more importantly it will require a lot of political will. The government must first formulate a comprehensive population control plan in which all important organs of the state, including the health and education ministries, will have to play important parts. There are examples of developed countries overcoming problems like over-population and climate change in part by educating their new generations about them, and we must also make such important issues part of the curriculum. The government already intends to overhaul education, and the plan extends to seminaries as well, so this should be a nice opportunity to introduce some common sense across the board.

It almost beggars belief that we have let things come to such a pass. For the longest time we have been borrowing just to run the country and at no time did any government feel the need to stop and think about how the population bulge alone was making the whole exercise pretty much worthless. The Pakistan Tehreek e Insaaf (PTI) government is so far the first one to have addressed issues like malnutrition and stunting at the top level, which is a very welcome step, but it hasn’t gone any further than its predecessors in terms of addressing the wider population problem either. Now we’re so deep in debt that if the International Monetary Fund (IMF) bailout programme hadn’t come along we would most probably have defaulted, yet the number of mouths to feed and people to spread the resources over is still increasing at an unacceptable and unbearable rate.

The government must give this matter its most urgent attention. This is a problem that everybody recognises so there’s no chance of irritants like the opposition playing politics over it. It must first build a national narrative about the importance of population control and involve politicians, academics, and religious scholars in the exercise. We have already wasted a lot of time in getting off the mark. And even if we start now it will be at least a generation before the sharp rising trend begins to plateau. Meantime, both the drain on national resources and the debt situation will no doubt progressively worsen. And if there are any more black swan events like the pandemic, when stimulus programmes and credit market solvency become the biggest concerns and take up all the money, then a lot more people will suffer needlessly than would have been the case had we not multiplied so outrageously rapidly. Hopefully, the government is already working on this matter and we will hear of a national population plan very soon. Otherwise, we will not have much of a future to speak of.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2021