Country’s soaring population poses serious economic threat


As the world population reaches seven billion, what do we see as our own population realities and our own future? Living in 2011 we can see sheer population sizes visibly having impact on daily lives, making it difficult to find housing, shelter, jobs, gas and most critically water and food. At the same time it’s worth asking whether all those who have the power to change things, in whom we presumably place our trust in shaping the current and the future, are blind to these realities? Pakistan’s population size has increased from 34 million in 1951, to 43 million in 1961, 65 million in 1972, 84 million in 1981, 132 million in 1998 and the current 180 million soon to become 200 million by 2018. By the end of the century we could have as many as 360 million Pakistanis.
Surely this would present an insurmountable challenge to our already stark scarcity of resources. It is time to seriously take in this reality, debate and discuss the options for our future and to take action while we can.
The Family Planning Association of Pakistan (FPAP) started its own voluntary non-governmental programme at that time and has probably had a huge imprint on the government programme operating by its side for many years.
Ironically, Pakistan was one of the earliest countries to have a population policy. But there has been no seriousness on the part of any sections of society or the state that have taken on the issue of planning for these exponentially rising numbers. Fertility decline began around 1990, about ten years later than in most of South Asia and at least 25 years after its clearly defined population policy. In fact Pakistan is one of the last countries in Asia to experience fertility decline.
The speed of the fertility decline from our current levels of just under four children per woman to replacement fertility is of utmost importance. Fertility in Pakistan has been slow to change, unlike Bangladesh, Iran and most of India. In fact reduction in fertility and the speed of fertility decline are the main drivers of population growth and its subsequent impact on all aspects of social and economic development. The main cause of differences between the projections lies in their assumptions about future levels of fertility.
What Pakistan is definitely experiencing are radical changes in the age structure. We know that the levels and trends in the age composition have important consequences for socio-economic development, particularly education and employment and poverty and health. Between 1950 and 2000 the population of Pakistan was very young with about 60% below the age of 25 and the age structure changed little in the 20th century. However, large changes are expected in the coming decades. This projected change in age composition is the result of declining fertility: with fewer births, the younger generations will become smaller than older generations. Obstacles such as lack of access to family planning, fear of side effects of contraceptive methods, husbands’ disapproval, lead some women to forgo contraceptive use despite their intention not to get pregnant. Such women have an “unmet need” for contraception. In Pakistan 37% of married women are estimated to have an unmet need. Contraceptive use has increased substantially over the past two decades, reaching 30 % in 2007.
Unwanted childbearing is more common among poor, rural and uneducated women than among their well-off, urban and educated counterparts. Unwanted fertility varies from 1.6 to 0.6 between the poorest and wealthiest quintiles. The policy option here is clearly to eliminate unwanted fertility through better quality and evenly distributed family planning services.
Foremost, family planning programmes can reduce the unmet need for contraception by providing access to a range of birth control methods. In addition they provide information about methods and their benefits through IEC programs which reduce obstacles to contraceptive use. Any programme-induced fertility decline changes the future trajectory of population growth. This impact can be large, because as noted above, a small change in fertility can have a large impact on future population size. According to the standard (medium variant) projection, the population of Pakistan will grow by 100 million between 2010 and 2050.
However, if no further investment in family planning is made, the fertility trajectory could easily be a half birth higher and in that case the population of Pakistan would reach 342 million in 2050. On the other hand if a strong new investment in family planning is made, the future fertility trajectory could easily be a half birth less leading to a population of just 266 million by 2050. In other words, the difference between a very weak and a strong programme scenario is 76 million by 2050.


  1. Because the population of the world ultimately affects most of the issues that we all really care about, the 7 Billion: It's Time to Talk campaign is working to open up the conversation on population to new audiences around the globe. When everyone recognizes that there is a need to talk openly about population growth and the importance of family planning, the empowerment of women, and reproductive health and rights, we can more easily find the solutions to issues like global hunger and the environment. When people discover how a rapidly growing world population affects them and their hopes for the future, we know that more people, particularly young adults, will want to lend their voices to the global discussion.

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