The policy, among other things, seeks to attain a balance between resources and population


July 22 - 28, 2002



On the occasion of World Population Day on July 11 this year, the first ever Population Policy was announced by the government of Pakistan. The policy envisages population stabilisation by 2020 through the expeditious completion of the demographic transition that entails declines both in fertility and mortality rates. The policy, among other things, seeks to attain a balance between resources and population, address various dimensions of the population issues while remaining within our national, social and cultural norms. A hefty amount of 49.5 billion rupees is proposed to be spent over the next 19 years to achieve its goals.

In their messages for this year's observation of World Population Day (11 July) with the theme "Poverty, Population and Development," President Pervez Musharraf and others concerned with the menacing problem of population growth, have rightly stated that the gains of economic growth have remained eroded, notwithstanding the lately declining rate of population increase. For even at the low levels the situation will appear fraught with grave dangers as this country figures among the countries with highest population density. The need for a concerted and well coordinated effort in that direction can, as such, be hardly overemphasised. Viewed in this perspective, our task, as reflected by this year's theme, has become all the more challenging. For its serves as an indicator of the urgency of looking at it from a combination of efforts aimed at addressing the problems by linking it with poverty and development. On the negative side of the development effort, it is distressing to note that gains have yet to be reflected in the lives of the people.

Pakistan's march on the road to progress has considerably been slowed down by the galloping population growth. Its population has increased from 34 million in 1951 to 144 million in mid 2001 and with the current high growth rate it is expected to reach 220 million by the year 2020. If no genuine measures were taken to tackle this population explosion, all efforts aimed at accelerating the pace of economic development would be neutralised. While population growth rate has declined from over 3 per cent in previous decades to its current level of 2.1 per cent per annum, the country still has an unacceptably high rate of growth rate compared to other developing countries. Rapid increase in population has serious implications for provision of schooling, health services and other basic amenities of like for the coming decades. According to an estimate, over-one-third of Pakistanis are living in poverty living in poor housing and sanitation conditions and lack of access to safe drinking water. Low income leads to pressures on food consumption and adversely affects caloric intakes and increasing malnutrition in poorer families and contributes to high levels of child and maternal morbidity and mortality. In this background, it is pitiable that the past governments did not take up the problem in its right earnest. Apathy of the governments, social norms, lack of awareness and religious beliefs were the major impediments in smooth functioning of about 35-year-old family welfare programme. Economic constraints have now forced people to change their behaviour and now more and more people are willing to have small family.

It will be recalled that the last year's theme "Population and Environment," though seemingly relevant to this country, hardly proved of much avail in the attainment of the goal from that approach. The same can be said about preceding year's theme "Saving Women's Lives," In fact, our problem from unbridled population increases revolves around continued erosion of the gains of economic growth by a burgeoning population, irrespective of the some falls in its rate of increase. For at this rate, without any substantial reduction is dreaded population explosion may lead to blowing up the entire socio-economic scheme of things in as developing country like Pakistan. For us, the problem of all problems is the preponderance of illiteracy and massive ignorance that goes with it. So much so that expected gains from disjointed education schemes stand variously defeated by the warped perceptions generated from the ill-conceived verdicts of most of the half-educated Madaressa-trained reformers' unmistakeable bias against modern, progressive ideas, aimed at better life and living.

There can be no denying the fact that this year's theme carries a special appeal for us, as it focuses, in a nutshell, a combination of efforts being pursued by the government with the specific idea of providing the teeming millions with the gains of freedom and development, with due emphasis on poverty reduction. Needless to point out, with highest population density in the region, Pakistan has remained dangerously exposed to a serious erosion of civic amenities, adding to the mounting predicament of the disillusioned people year after year.