One of most serious issues the new government will face is unchecked growth in Pakistan's population which is posing insurmountable challenges to the national economy. It is estimated that without urgent measures to arrest the present growth rate, the projected population would rise to about 400 million by 2050. This number will be more than the projected population of Brazil and Indonesia. This will make Pakistan the fourth most populous country in the world for adequate food and water availability will become a serious problem.According to the Pakistan Demographic and Health Survey (PDHS) 2013, the fertility rate (number of births per woman) has remained high, at 3.8 percent. In the Annual Plan 2017-18, the Planning Commission estimated 3.6 percent as the total fertility rate (TFR), showing a small decline from the PDHS result. It means that future population growth projections will depend on assumptions made under the revised TFR.
The Population Council has worked out three scenarios of population growth on the basis of high, medium and low rates of the TFR. Thus, the population is presumed to rise to 344 million, 299 million and 235 million respectively in the three scenarios. The government is making efforts to keep to the lowest projection growth. The hopeful signs in this regard are that the demand for birth-spacing among the people is gradually increasing. Religious scholars too are supporting the practice of birth spacing for the purpose of raising and maintaining small families. But there are hurdles in the way. The current rate of contraceptive prevalence (CPR) is only 35 percent which needs to be doubled for effective short and long term family planning. The need is to create new groups of Lady Health Visitors to popularize contraceptive use in areas not yet covered.
While planning to control population growth, we need to look at the phenomenon of population growth from another angle. The population upswing of the last four decades is not without its positive side. The growth rate in the age group of 15-64 - the productive group - is higher than in other groups. Nearly 50 percent of our population is less than 15 years of age. This is an asset which has great potential for the future of the country. Also important is the fact that the dependency ratio will be declining with smaller families. Household consumption will also decline and more savings and investment possibilities will emerge.
This is what is called the demographic dividend. The trend in the demographic transition began in the early 2000s and is likely to continue until 2040. But we have not yet been able to translate the democratic dividend into economic dividend. To make the bestof our youth potential, there is need for complete overhaul of our economic policies with more emphasis on human development. Without the needed reform, the demographic dividend may turn into a nightmare as the rising tide of frustrated youth may result in a social upheaval of uncontrollable dimensions.
For decades we have neglected to make investment in human capital the centre-piece of our development planning. To this end we need increase our spending in the social sector - education and health. Our topmost priority should be the achievement of universal primary education. Above all, we need to strengthen and upgrade technical and vocational education at the secondary level. There has to be a suitable mix of education and skills at all levels to improve the employability of new entrants into the labour market. Our social sector is badly neglected. The consolidated spending of the federal and provincial governments on health and population welfare is about one percent of GDP, which is extremely low as compared to countries in similar situation. Needless to say, if we do not plan right now to control our population, all our grandiose economic plans will fail to achieve their targets.