The Population Surge
Thinking beyond Orthodoxies
Population surge is the mother of all evils in a society, yet, regrettably, it is not conceded as such. The United Nations commemorates the World Population Day on July 11 every year. The global body sets forth different themes each year, pushing the governments of its member states to devise a course of action to curb the menace of upward population-growth trends. Lawmakers, around the globe, in their respective assemblages, formulate new policies, launch different campaigns and make promises afresh only to find a renewed surge in population figures. As of now, the world population is around 7.6 billion and, each year, there is a rise in numbers by over 83 million. If conscious efforts are not undertaken to halt this upward trend, the year 2050 is going to be an annus horribilis, with a global population of nearly 10 billion to cater for. Pakistan, arguably a ticking population bomb, is no exception. The country has a population of 220 million and it is expected to go beyond 240 million by 2030. By 2100, says a World Economic Forum report, the population of Pakistan may reach 350 million, a distressing 60 percent rise. Ironically, the hike in population figures between 1998 and 2017 censuses was 60 percent too. It is evident, thus, in all these decades that there is little to appreciate. Despite this alarming state of affairs, not only do the lawmakers fail in preventing the rise in population, but also at realizing the impacts this unbridled growth shall inflict upon the nation. This July 11, think tanks and policymakers, as well as the civil society, need to think beyond traditional recommendations to curb this menace of a bulging population.
Unplanned growth in population begets scores of serious threats to society. Soaring poverty, lower per-capita income, worsening food insecurity, acute water scarcity, stagnant literacy rates, low human development index, increasing pollution, swelling discrimination, heightening lawlessness, exacerbating intolerance and below-par performance in several indices of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are but a few of the evils that exponentially rise with the rise in population. Even then, successive governments have tried to resolve the remaining issues while keeping the population surge out of the loop. Instead of restricting the ever-increasing population below the poverty line, governments have attempted to reduce poverty by providing financial assistance through conditional and unconditional cash transfers, under different captivating titles ranging from Benazir Income Support to Ehsaas Kafaalat. Such schemes, plausibly, provide bare minimum sustenance, but policymakers cannot ignore the swelling size of families depending on the cash transfers remaining nearly stagnant. Hence such actions, to a larger extent, are futile in the fullness of time unless they restrict the population to the sustainable, manageable and affordable numbers.
Unplanned population growth has serious repercussions on almost all domains of life. Taking the Happiness Index, for instance, if one studies closely the list of happiest countries in the world, it can be deduced that the lower the population figures of a country, the higher it scores on the Happiness Index. Not a single country from the ten most populous countries fares well on the happiness index. While the countries with the least population density, like Finland and Denmark, make way to the list of the happiest nations. In addition to this, not a single country from the ten happiest countries, as reported in the annual publication of the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network, is included in the fifty most populous countries in the world.
Lawlessness is another impact of the population surge. The countries with small populations witness more respect for the law. For instance, according to the World Justice Project’s Rule of Law Index 2021, the top three law-abiding countries – Denmark, Norway, and Finland – are not even in the world’s 100 most populous countries, standing population-wise at 114th, 117th, and 116th positions respectively. In addition to this, there is an annual Global Prosperity Index (The Legatum Prosperity Index) released by the Legatum Institute, a London-based think tank. This index lists the healthiest, the safest, the richest and the happiest countries in the world. Interestingly, the top five countries on this index – Norway, Switzerland, Denmark, New Zealand and Sweden – are far below when it comes to population index.
The relation of the population with problems is proven further with the example of pollution. The most populous countries, i.e. China, India, and the United States, topped the list of most polluted countries in the year 2020. Similarly, the most populated cities around the world top the list of most polluted cities around the world, citing Lahore, Dhaka, and Delhi as examples. The rise in population is changing the landscape of our country and its agricultural terrain is gradually being turned into blocks of cement to cater to an ever-growing housing demand.
The issue of population surge is, however, here to stay. Hence, there has to be a holistic approach to thinking beyond traditional solutions. One strategy that the policymakers need to inculcate is bringing fertility rates “below the replacement” threshold. If the fertility rates are kept below 2.1 births per woman, the number of newborns cannot replace that of the parent population. Europe is a glaring example in this regard. China is another quintessential example of successful population-control strategies. China is the most populous country in the world, but it is highly likely that, by 2025, India will overtake it as the most populous nation on the face of the Earth. In addition, the list of countries that are expected to contribute most to the global population in the coming couple of decades – issued by the World Economic Forum – excludes China. India tops the list while Pakistan will be the 4th largest contributor to the global population surge in decades to come.
Another strategy is the justified role of religion. Islam has clearly defined the scope of parenting and has highlighted the upbringing of children with their rights duly fulfilled. These rights include, but are not limited to, proper diet, education (worldly as well as religious), earning of livelihood and marriage. Logically, if the parents are convinced that they can fulfil all these rights justly, only then they are supposed to have more children.
On the other hand, the nation must also stop tabooing this topic. There is a dire need for awareness. One report by the World Health Organization (WHO) says that while the prevalence rate of contraceptives in South Asian countries is 53 percent, it is only 35 percent in Pakistan, the lowest among all the neighboring states. To add further to this sorry state of affairs, 71 percent of the total population using contraceptives rely on traditional methods, and are not using modern contraception tools.
Besides, the rise in population needs to be curbed where it happens, i.e. at the local level. If the local governments are reinstated, which is mandatory after the 18th amendment to the constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, a separate department of population control should also be created and it shall work in synchronization with the local administration and National Database & Registration Authority (NADRA).
The exponential growth in population and its impacts is an endless vicious circle; so is the debate on this topic. Our nation can never perform better on any of the indicators enumerated above unless we work in cohesion and unity against this disastrous concern. Political parties need to rethink the way they need masses in politicking. The role of religion needs to be redefined. And the masses must also understand that bearing a new child is not just bringing forth a new life, it’s a responsibility which, if not taken care of, will become a burden that our nation could least afford to carry. While some countries are already planning to inhabit other planets in decades to come, let’s not leave our Earth with a population more than it manages to endure.
The writer is a qualifier of several competitive exams including PCS 2013, PCS 2019 and CSS 2020, and scores of general recruitment. He is, presently, under training at Directorate General of Training and Research, Lahore.