GROWING POPULATION AND POVERTY

TARIQ AHMED SAEEDI (tariqsaeedi@hotmail.com)
Aug 17 - 23, 2009

PAKISTAN is one of those countries in the world where population is increasing with monstrous speed. Total population of Pakistan in the first population census after partition was 30 million, until last census in 1998 this figure reached to 132 million. Minus-census (population census organization) estimates put it to over 167 million until August 15, 2009. On the eve of last century, the population of areas that now constituted Pakistan was calculated about 16.58 million. According to the first population census in March 1951, the population was recorded at 33.7 million in Pakistan. This implies that in 58 years (1951-2009), as per population census organization's calculation, population of Pakistan was added with 134 million heads. Different governments spent billons of rupees in family planning programmes, resulting in slight decline in population growth rate to 1.8 percent from 2-3 percent. However, family planning programmes have not achieved the desirable success owing to several reasons, underlying being improper demographic data collections and over-delayed surveys.

IMPORTANCE OF CENSUS

Population census is important to determine headcounts and it is necessary for political, economic, and social policymaking. Without census, it would be very difficult for the state to earmark funds for developments. In fact, unless the government has clear picture of exact numbers of people living in the country it cannot have full access to revenue sources, which should be basic determinant of allocations. The belated census means dependence on rough estimates of population and households, meaning misplacement of health, or provisions of other necessities. The sugar crisis can be cited as an example. Although, people find machination of bureaucrats and sugar hoarders in triggering sugar crisis, one may find reason in miscalculation of demand and supply by the government. That miscalculation, which has resulted in over expected price of sugar, deluded economic coordination committee into thinking that sugar supply would meet the demand this year. In contrast, there has been so far a shortfall of 0.7 million ton, being available sugar 3.65 million tons and demand 4.35 million tons. Nevertheless, one cannot rule out the conspiracy of hoarders entirely to earn more profits by concocting artificial shortage.

The actual census figure is equally important to ascertain suffrage in any constituency, therefore lack of it is tantamount to derailment of and detriment to democratic process. Through census, government in a systematic survey and with precision gathers data about rural and urban population, gender, age, marital status, children, dependency, language, place of birth, displacement, literacy, quality of education, employment, unemployment, period of unemployment, occupation, etc. The data are utilized to determine provision of foods, health facilities (hospitals, doctors, paramedics, equipments, medicines), drinking water, school, colleges, universities (government funded education projects, books, etc.), transport and communication facilities (public transports, infrastructure network), law enforcement services (police personnel), employment opportunities. In other words, censual results guide direction of public services.

For private sector as well as for government the data play a pivotal role in short and long term planning for marketing and administration. The inaccuracy in data put the entire planning process near the risk of failure. The inefficiency of public service departments have not always roots in paucity of funds or lack of resources, but sometimes the shortsightedness with which they are saddled with, causes inappropriate reach of services to society at large. This manifests in low number of police stations and personnel, unavailability of drinking water in rural and suburban areas, inadequate health services, and, for instance, government's inability to eradicate polio in so many years. They are only few cruel implications of shallow population research. Can over 150,000 workforce engaged in census (data collection, compilation, and interpretation) not bring about accuracy in research?

HISTORY OF POPULATION CENSUS IN PAKISTAN

Almost nine years have elapsed since last census was held in 1998 in Pakistan and despite revision of date of census commencement many a time, government is yet to kick start population census. Either on estimates under the light of economic survey of Pakistan or other calculations based on annual growth rate, government has been making budgetary allocations. The delay of national finance commission award that determines allocation of resources among provinces from divisible pool by the federal government may have reason in overdue national population census. The census was scheduled or due in September 2008, but postponed until end of 2009 or the start of 2010. The first census was conducted in March 1951 and second in March 1961. The political crisis and debacle of Bangladesh in 1971 distanced the census to next year in September 1972. Fourth census was conducted in 1981 and fifth was overstretched and delayed over traditional a decade buffer to 1998. Different countries in the world go for population census normally after five or ten years.

It is highlighted in economic survey of Pakistan 2008-09 that Pakistan's population will reach 194 million by year 2020. Adolescent population in the age group of 15-24 years weights the high growth rate in the country compared to other developing economies, posing high potential population growth for several decades, the survey notes. There are challenges in collection of data and persuading people to have less number of children. Low literacy rate and societal taboos make respondents in mostly rural areas and conservative families not to register female names in survey forms. The corollary wreaks dual disadvantages. First, government is incognizant of accurate numbers, and thereby prioritizes less number of maternity homes, for example. People should understand that poverty in Pakistan has seamless link with high growth of population. Even if one can afford a team of kids, he (and she) pulls up the graph of poverty by creating [revocable] hands for scarce national resources.