The world population in 1800 was only one billion, which by 2020 had grown to 7.8 billion people. It is expected that by 2100 the world population, if it increases at the same rate, could reach 10.9 billion. Edward O Wilson, a leading sociobiologist at Harvard University, says that with known underground deposits of all types, the globe will be best able to support a population of 9-10 billion people.
Currently, the average population growth rate is 1.1 percent, which means that around 80 million people are added to the world’s population each year. However, there is another school of thought that predicts that population rates will level off and this scenario of global overpopulation seems far-fetched. As far as our region is concerned, at its peak, the Indus Valley civilization comprising present-day Pakistan and parts of Afghanistan and India numbered only four million people.
After independence, the total population of Pakistan in 1951 was 75 million people, including 42 million of the then East Pakistani population and 33 million of the West Pakistani population. Thereafter, our population growth did not stop galloping at an average rate of 2.5% – except in the years 1979 and 1982 when this rate of growth accelerated again to an alarming figure of 3.4%.
From 2003, however, it fell slightly below 2 percent, although it was still double the growth rates of India and Bangladesh. Today, while the global fertility rate is 2.5 births per woman, it is 3.5 in Pakistan, 2.2 in India and 4.32 in Afghanistan. The main reasons for the rapid population growth in Pakistan are high fertility rate, early marriages, low mortality, minimal use of contraception, lack of education, alarming poverty and religious constraints.
There is no doubt that one of the main reasons for our current socio-economic difficulties is the unbridled growth of our population. Unfortunately, no credible attempt is made to verify this. The population explosion combines with poor governance and leads to neglect of the education, health, agriculture and industry sectors. It is indeed a recipe for disaster. We add approximately 5.3 million people, the equivalent of Norway, to our population each year. A conservative mindset is also a big obstacle in this regard. Our leaders must understand that unchecked population growth is economically unsustainable.
As the population grows at an alarming rate, groundwater levels are dropping, rivers are drying up and glaciers are shrinking due to climate change. Water shortages due to the population explosion not only cripple our agro-economy, but also fuel political instability due to the problems of dams and the distribution of water according to agreed shares.
According to a World Bank report, around three billion people of the world’s population live in rapidly expanding cities due to urbanization trends. This demographic transition creates serious problems. In a city like Karachi, the water supply from the bouser mafias becomes a nightmare. In addition, most of the fertile agricultural land around the cities is occupied by large housing companies. It started to create food shortages. At one point, Pakistan had a surplus of wheat to export. Today, even with 27 million tonnes of wheat produced, we have to import three million tonnes of wheat to feed our growing mouths.
The government must therefore seriously curb this unbridled population growth. At the same time, improve industrial and agricultural production through agricultural research and the use of modern scientific and technological techniques to defuse the negative impact of the population explosion. It should also be remembered that if uneducated, unhealthy and unemployed young people become a handicap, a healthy, educated and skilled population can be an asset to any country. In addition, we must lobby and make concerted efforts to seek overseas jobs for our young people in order to reduce unemployment and increase much needed foreign remittances. These facts deserve consideration.
The writer is the former chairman of the Standing Senate Committee on Defense Production.