EDITORIAL: United Nations Population Fund’s (UNFPA’s) recent Pakistan-specific dashboard projects the total population of the country at 220.9 million people in 2020 with an annual growth rate of 2 percent (2015-20). This is a projection as Pakistan’s last census was held in 2017 the results of which remain controversial with the Sindh-based political parties – Pakistan People’s Party and the Mutteheda Qaumi Movement (Pakistan) – repeatedly expressing their concerns at several fora, including the Council of Common Interests (CCI), to this day. Their concern is premised on the fact that population is not only a determinant of a possible change in constituencies but also of quota allocation in terms of finances and jobs.
Soon after the census results were made public in 2017 the PPP leader publicly alleged that Sindh population had been “intentionally” under-estimated by at least 10 million, and that the population of the then PML-N government’s stronghold Punjab “over-estimated” by 10 million, while the MQM-P leadership focused on the census results in Karachi and Hyderabad. And the Awami National Party’s Bushra Gauhar tweeted at the time that the reported 5 million population of the then Federally Administered Tribal Areas was understated given the 2 million internally displaced persons registered in North Waziristan alone.
On 23 December 2020, the Cabinet, chaired by Prime Minister Imran Khan, approved the sixth national 2017 census results though the MQM-P, a coalition partner, submitted a dissenting vote. A week later, on 31 December 2020, a three-member delegation of the PPP comprising Taj Haider, Education Minister Saeed Ghani and Waqar Mehdi visited the MQM-P’s Bahadurabad headquarters and exchanged views on the overall political situation with specific reference to the Cabinet approval of the census. In the subsequent press talk Faisal Subzwari of MQM-P stated that the PPP and MQM had not accepted the results of the census and his party had challenged the provisional results by filing a petition before the apex court; he, however, added that the MQM-PTI had agreed that a five per cent audit of census blocks would be conducted in Karachi – an agreement that was also reached during the tenure of the previous administration but never implemented.
Politics aside, the population growth rate projected by UNFPA for Pakistan was 2 percent – a rate that compares favourably with over 3 percent growth in previous decades; however, there are serious concerns about the credibility of this rate. The UNDP in a September 2019 publication noted that “Pakistan is the sixth most populous country in the world with its population estimated at 207.8 million in 2017. Its population growth rate of 2.4 percent is the highest in South Asia and stands in sharp contrast to the 1 to 1.5 percent growth rates of other South Asian countries. Pakistan’s population has increased by more than six-fold since the first post-independence census held in 1951. The massive growth in population poses serious challenges for the country’s socio-economic development.”
The UN’s study on Economic and Population 2030 Demographic Challenges and opportunities for sustainable development planning 2015 highlights the negative impact of high growth rates: “According to the United Nations’ median projection, the world’s population will grow to around 8.5 billion in 2030, the target date for the 17 sustainable development goals outlined in the 2030 Agenda…. The degree to which that population growth will stress natural resources and harm the environment will thus depend on: 1) the consumption and production patterns that accompany population growth and economic growth over that period; and 2) success in developing and implementing the technological advancements needed to improve efficiency and reduce humanity’s global environmental footprint.”
The PTI administration continues its litany of complaints at all the negative elements/factors it inherited, including shortage of funds after the passage of the 18th Amendment, yet it has ignored the high annual population rise that continues to compromise its own capacity to provide social and physical infrastructure to an increasing percentage of the people of this country. Hence the need for advocacy efforts aimed at promoting the concept of practices related family planning.
Copyright Business Recorder, 2021