Kalabagh or the pill?

  • The better alternative

Terrorism and money laundering are grave issues for Pakistan, but so are shortage of water, low literacy levels, and poor government education, the only education that the masses can afford. Yet the biggest problem of all, which impacts all these issues, even terrorism, is the phenomenal growth of the country’s population.
The size of an average household in Pakistan as of last year was 6.45 persons. That means almost seven persons to feed, clothe and keep in health; and if the family includes an elderly grandparent, around four to educate. Given that this is a third world country with low incomes, that is not good news. The first thing any new government must pay attention to therefore is controlling the population, since such a burgeoning population is a much worse threat than any neighbouring country.
Other countries have tried controlling their population by enforcing policies to lower it, foremost among them China with its one child policy, which three years ago became the two child policy. But the mind boggles at the idea of such a policy being implemented in Pakistan. Pakistan requires a firm hand, but there are factors to be taken in mind here which did not exist in Mao’s China.
One of those factors is the presence of extreme right-wing religious groups. Following this tampered election, the religious right has been unleashed onto an uneducated public with permission to stand for election. That segment of society is henceforth likely to be stronger than ever, although one would be extremely grateful to be proved wrong. That is the main segment opposed to population control, women’s welfare, and education. Only a concerted effort and meticulous planning can counter it, not a strong point with any of the governments in this country.
Other than right wing ignorance and bias, and the government’s lack of planning, there are other factors against population control.
Effective population control costs money. Also, aside from a lack of general education, there is a lack of knowledge specifically about what population control involves. There is also the cultural bias against living with a married daughter, which makes it the major reason why people hang out for a son, even at the risk of producing an entire cricket team until a male child arrives on the scene. Parents fear the future and what will happen to them if they do not rear a sufficient number of children to look after them in their old age. Yet in Pakistan, there is the distinct possibility that even if one has several children, only a few might survive the infant and child mortality rate in this country. It is a valid fear in a society that lacks facilities to support the elderly, where even if such facilities existed, most people would not be able to afford them.

The billions that would go towards the Kalabagh dam should be diverted towards family planning. It would pay for contraception, and better facilities for the aged who have no family to take them in

According to UNICEF, Pakistan has the worst infant mortality rate in the world. “The differences are stark,” the report in one of the newspapers says. “A baby born in Pakistan — the country with the worst newborn mortality rate — faced a one in 22 chance of death, while a newborn in Japan had only a one in 1,111 risk of dying.” The UNICEF report also says that more than 80pc of those deaths can be prevented.
Which means that for the average Pakistani couple, after producing that entire cricket team, there is a great and definite risk of just the captain surviving at the end of the day. A dire prospect indeed.
There is not much attention being paid to the issue of population control, although most people agree that something must be done. What that ‘something’ is, and how it is to be paid for is still up in the air.
Instead of population control, the issue being more generally discussed is how to ensure water for the coming years, especially with the prospect of a much larger population in the coming years. The idea of constructing dams is popular, although there are some very valid arguments being offered by the other side.
Think about it.
Building the Kalabagh dam is likely to cost billions of rupees. There will also be the additional billions in cost in damages to the more than million people displaced as a result. It is doubtful if these people will ever be adequately recompensed and resettled. In Lahore, to give a small example, with all the construction currently taking place in DHA, cards and bouquets were sent to the residences inconvenienced along the route but there was no provision for the commercial sector that lost business in the process.
Kalabagh will cause damage to the environment. Thousands of acres of agricultural land will come under water. Wetlands and agricultural land lower south are likely to be adversely affected.
So, although effective population control costs money, it would cost less than building a massive dam and have almost no adverse effects. It if works, and the population growth is controlled as a result there is the prospect of a smaller population requiring less water.
Besides, there are also other ways of obtaining and storing water, an issue which should by no means be ignored. Dealing with the matter should include a concerted drive to change agricultural practice so that crops requiring less water are planted. Currently Pakistan relies heavily on sugar cane and rice, two crops that need a lot of water.
The billions that would go towards the Kalabagh dam should be diverted towards family planning. It would pay for contraception, and better facilities for the aged who have no family to take them in. The media too can play a huge role in this, as it has shown itself capable of doing during these elections, by changing the current mindset that is wary of contraception, and ignorant about what it involves.
At the end of the day though, none of this can take place unless the powers that be are less corrupt than they have hitherto been, unless they are better organised and unless they plan with the best interests of the nation rather than themselves in mind.