Population boom | Pakistan Today

Population boom

  • This problem must be acknowledged

By: Hamza Naveed

Thomas Robert Malthus was a world-renowned demographer of his time. In 1798 he wrote his masterpiece ‘An Essay on Principle of Population’ and spoke his mind about the intricacies of population growth with respect to subsistence. Malthus showed that population grows geometrically (1, 2, 4, 8, 16, 32) whereas the food source arithmetically (1, 2, 3, 4, 5). In the early 19th Century, when the population of Europe grew exponentially the thesis of Malthus was given wide acceptance. Malthus predicted that if checks on population growth were not put in place it would lead to a catastrophe such as famine, disease and war. But, in the end, greater innovation and use of technology in food production prevented the doom and gloom predicted by Malthus.

Although, the thesis of Malthus and Malthusianism lost in popularity, it has again gained prominence at least for the developing countries with booming population. And it is not only the food scarcity we are talking about this time around, rather, the limitations of the state in providing for basic amenities such as housing, water supply, security and education, which are under stress. Can the Malthusian catastrophe become a reality?

The need of the hour is to take a strong hard look at our resources and plan accordingly. What resources do we have (water, oil, minerals, agri etc) and how are we going to distribute it among our ever-increasing citizens?

Consider the case of Pakistan for example. We are a nation of approximately 210 million and the fith most populous country in the world. As per the latest census of 2017 we are growing at an approximate rate of 2.1 % annually. The population of any place doubles in 30 years if the annual growth rate is 2.3 %. What it means in layman terms is that the population of Pakistan is bound to be around 400 million in the year 2045. With our meagre resources, will we be able to keep ourselves safe from the catastrophe predicted by Malthus?

Let us consider on a more miniscule level the province of Punjab. The population of Punjab is 107 million as per the census report of 2017 (approx. 52.94 percent of the country’s). The population growth rate in Punjab has gone down to 2.1 percent now from the previous 2.6 percent in 1998. Even after this reduction in the population growth the population of Punjab is estimated to touch 141 million in 2030 and 183 million by 2050. Population of this magnitude is bound to create socio-economic problems related to health, education, housing, drinking water and sanitation etc. Karachi and Lahore have already passed the threshold of mega cities by any standards. Although Lahore has fared a bit better than Karachi, but both cities, like all other major cities of Pakistan, remain without any real megacity-worthy transportation, sanitation and housing master plans.

The new government has done admirable work in highlighting issues which were considered trivial previously, such as pollution, climate change afforestation etc. It was however, the ex-Chief Justice of Pakistan, Mr Justice Saqib Nisar, who brought forth the all-important issue of population boom. All of these issues are interconnected and cannot be seen in isolation. Population affects each and every aspect of governance, be it energy policy, economic policy, social policy or others. On the rate we are growing, any number of hospitals, roads, underpasses would still remain insufficient. We are running out of space even to dump our waste. The huge landfill site at Mehmood Booti Lahore has filled up quickly and is already brimming with waste. The number of jobs, and housing units would be under constant strain no matter how many of them are added each year as the population would keep on increasing geometrically (refer back to Malthus).

To counter this problem of population explosion, the first and foremost requirement is political ownership. As stated earlier, the new government has taken ownership of novel issues such as climate change, pollution etc. It is the right time to take charge of the issue of population as well. Next in line is strengthening the departments dealing with the issue of population at grassroot level. After the 18th Amendment, population is now a provincial subject but the provinces need to pool up their resources and be in synch with each other to create a national impact.

According to the Punjab Population Policy, 2017, Family Planning is to be treated as a right. We have come to know from examples around the world that there is a direct relationship between the level of education and the population rate. Sadly, the issue of birth control is still considered taboo in our society. We need to get out of this mentality. The government departments are already engaging religious scholars in spreading the message of population control. Aggressive awareness campaign is need of the hour and who better to lead it than our political leaders. Moreover, the government needs to use a system of incentives and coercions. China as we all know embarked on the one-child policy and the policy is showing dividends. Bangladesh has successfully implemented a population strategy. Similarly, Fatwas issued in Iran protect a woman’s right to her fertility. We on the other hand are lagging far behind in this all-important issue.

The need of the hour is to take a strong hard look at our resources and plan accordingly. What resources do we have (water, oil, minerals, agri etc) and how are we going to distribute it among our ever-increasing citizens? The great urban centres of Karachi, Lahore, Faisalabad, Gujranwala, Rawalpindi and Peshawar hold great promise as hubs of knowledge and industrial activity but at the same time they can become concentrations of poverty, famine and chaos as predicted by Malthus. Sadly, we are already too late but still we need to take prudent decisions NOW before things get even worse than they are at the moment. It is upon us whether we want to have a future for our coming generations that looks prosperous and happy or a future that looks gloomy and full of competition for meagre resources.