The implications of Pakistan’s unbridled population growth

While a steady increase has been observed in the world population during the past two or three centuries, it has been especially rapid during the last 20 years. However, it is important to note that the rates of population growth are not the same in all parts of the world. Industrialized countries like USA, Australia, Canada and New Zealand are doubling their populations in 30 to 40 years while the pre industrial, low income and less developed areas of the world like Africa, Asia, and Latin America are growing at rates ranging from moderate to very fast. According to a world population report, Pakistan is one country whose total population is estimated at 220.9 million and it is growing rapidly with an annual fertility rate of 3.6 children per couple.

With its population growth rate standing 2 per cent which is almost twice the global average of 1.05 per cent, Pakistan belongs to the top quartile of 200 countries. Though the increasing share of working age population provides a direct channel for increasing per capita incomes, in the short and medium term it means that the country would have to provide for large numbers of dependent children. However, some authors offer theoretical arguments and empirical evidence to prove that robust population growth enhances economic growth while others find evidence to support the opposite conclusion.

Empirical evidence suggests that there is a significant reduction in fertility rates preceding high per capita income growth rate in developing countries. Vietnam and China were the first countries in the developing region to tread on the path of economic development after lowering their fertility rates. Despite having a fertility rate above 4 in the 1960s and early 70s, China’s rate declined in the eighties to below 2 by 1992. Similarly, Vietnam’s fertility rates rapidly declined in the 1990s to reach around 2 by 2000. Following in their footsteps, India and Bangladesh have also made serious efforts to bring down their fertility rates and this has resulted in an increase in their respective per capita GDP.

In all countries that have achieved high levels of economic growth, and where women are well educated and have reproductive freedom, fertility rates are at or below replacement levels. Citing overpopulation as one of the biggest threats to the world, David Attenborough said “Anyone who thinks that you can have infinite growth in a finite environment is either a madman or an economist.”

Between 2000 and 2019, China, Vietnam, India and Bangladesh saw their per capita income increase by 900 per cent, 600 per cent, 370 per cent and 345 per cent respectively as their fertility rates declines. Pakistan with its high fertility rate, saw income per capita grow by only 122 per cent in the same period.

India’s overall fertility rate has now declined to 2.24, and is below 2.0 in all of the country’s more economically successful states such as Kerala, Maharashtra, and Gujrat which solidifies the stance that a low fertility rate is imperative for economic growth.

Pakistan’s growing working population on the other hand feels threatened in a world where manufacturing is expected to get entirely automated, and where much manufacturing output, though very few jobs, may return to developed countries.

Pakistan has also got some of the highest rates of malnutrition, undernourishment and childhood stunting in the world. And all this is set to be worsened due to the rising population growth, growing water shortage and climate change in the next two decades.

Water scarcity and Food insecurity

According to a survey conducted by the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics (PBS), forty percent of Pakistani households are facing moderate or severe food insecurity in the aftermath of the pandemic.

The country’s economy being primarily agriculture in character has seen a drastic decline in the production of staple crops, such as wheat, rice and cotton, due to natural disasters, volatile security situation and low economic growth. As a result, the national nutrition survey 2018 points out that an estimated 37 percent of the population faces food insecurity. Presently, Pakistan is grappling with lower-than-expected levels of food output and therefore needs to import key food items like oil, wheat, pulses, sugar and tea. This rising food insecurity poses a threat to future prosperity.

However, it is also important to note that Corporate Social Responsibility has now become an integral part of the organizational ethics and it has resulted in increased expectations of what the companies owe to the society. In Pakistan, companies like Engro and Mari Petroleum have embraced major CSR initiatives and have undertaken robust measures to help counter the food security challenge.

Read More: Enhancing agricultural productivity to tackle food insecurity

Engro Corporation has been actively working on its initiatives to improve rural livelihoods through sustainably increasing agricultural production and sales and enhancing food security for the poor. It specifically targets low-income and vulnerable rural populations empowering them to effectively pursue profitable agricultural activities and break free from the cycle of poverty.

Mari Petroleum is also playing an essential part in ensuring food security in Pakistan as approximately 80% urea production in the country is based on MPCL supplied gas.

Apart from food insecurity, Pakistan is also dealing with an acute water crisis as it does not have the governing capacity to manage urban growth. Being an arid to semi-arid country, water is at the heart of Pakistan’s development needs. By 2025, Pakistan’s water demand is expected to 274 million acre-feet while the supply of water could remain at 191 million-acre-feet.

Population control measures

Less developed countries like Pakistan need to understand that slower population growth translates into a slower accumulation of environmental pressures stemming from human activity. Therefore, the government should strive to educate the masses on the advantages of family planning as this reduces fertility, raises the average age of childbearing, and slows population growth.

We can take the example of Bangladesh which was able to bring down its fertility rates by enabling women to work in their garment industry by providing them with ‘women only’ transport buses. Encouraging women participation in the workforce helps them become breadwinners and because their family’s welfare is tied to their income, the fertility rate drops down.

The government should also make sure that the youth are properly skilled for the future demands of the rapidly evolving labor market so that they are able to make ends meet as the number of unemployed people in the country has been estimated to reach 6.65 million during the fiscal year 2020-21, compared to 5.80m of the outgoing financial year.

All in all, overpopulation, acute water shortages, a, growing pollution with limited work opportunities, is a future that Pakistan will have to face if it fails to take urgent action.