By Zubeida Mustafa
What will life be like twenty years hence? If you read science fiction and have a lively imagination you might conjure up fantasies of space travel, computers and robots. But if you are a hard-headed realist your thoughts should turn to how 154 million — instead of 85 million —- impoverished people will eke out a living in an underdeveloped country.
Lite, at least in Pakistan, is not going to be easy at the turn of the century. Problems are to be anticipated if projections made by experts are to be believed, and there is no reason why they should not be. This is how life will be in the year 2001: Karachi is a city of 18 million.
A middle class family like that of the Ahmads lives at least 50 kilometres away from the city centre where accommodation is relatively cheaper the rent of a tiny flat being Rs. 8,000 per month.
Thatta is a suburb of Karachi and given the pressures on trains and buses it takes Mr. Ahmad three hours to commute between home and place of work every morning.
Transport is not the only problem. There is not enough food to go around so it is rationed and Mrs. Ahmed spends hours standing in queues. Food is expensive too beef sells at Rs. 100 per kilo, chicken Rs. 90 per kilo and eggs cost Rs. 25 per dozen.
At the end of the working day Mr. Ahmad walks down fifteen floors rather than wait for a lift. When he returns home at 8 p.m. there is no recreation to look forward to.
His flat is dimly lit because to conserve electricity only low powered bulbs are permitted and gas is supplied for five hours a day. Mr. Ahmad’s sole entertainment is TV. There is simply no question of going out of the apartment. At night, gangs of hoodlums roam the streets to descend on those who are vulnerable.
This is the scenario drawn up in Pakistan A.D. 2001, a report published recently by the Family Planning Association of Pakistan. If population continues to grow at the present rate, the year 2001 will not be an easy one.
The FPAP’s report rightly states, “No sector ia free from the ramifications of a three per cent annual population growth”.
Many of the trends anticipated for 2001 have already set in and they will grow as Pakistan’s population grows. It is obvious that Pakistan has been fighting a losing battle against the baby boom. The overcrowded maternity wards in the urban hospitals tell barely half the story. Figures speak out more accurately.
In 1901 the area now constituting Pakistan had a population of 16 million. In fifty years this doubled itself and in 1951 our population was 33 million. The next doubling came much faster and the 1972 census recorded a population of 65 million. The latest population count puts it at 85 million. It will be 154 million in 2001.
Population planning programmes have failed to make any headway in Pakistan and the country enjoys the dubious distinction of being singled out along with a handful of others for mention on this count in international conferences and reports on family planning.
After 17 years of an officially backed population planning programme in the country, the failure of family planning is quite shocking, especially if it is recalled that the world population growth is said to have slowed down to 1.7 per cent this year and some countries such as Cuba and China have achieved spectacular decline in fertility rates.
The socio-cultural and economic factors contributing to a high population growth rate in Pakistan are not difficult to pinpoint. It is generally the uneducated and the illiterate who resist the idea of birth control and are most difficult to motivate.
In view of the low priority given to education in this country it is understandable how there are so many people here who fail to grasp the implications of a large family for their own lives, leave aside the effect it will have on the country.
The demographer’s arguments have fallen flat before the unshakeable belief that God is the provider and every new-born (there being 248 of them every hour in Pakistan) will be fed by the Creator.
Popular resistance ranges from the pure and simple belief that offsprings are a blessing which should not be preempted to the more pragmatic that with the high rate of infant mortality (115 per 1,000) only a few children are sure of surviving and growing up.
For many parents, children are an economic asset rather than a liability, and an insurance for their old age. Since they do not believe in investing in the child’s education or health, such parents only have to feed him for a few years till he is old enough to become economically productive and start earning or helping in the family business.
Then of course there are those who look upon children as a status symbol. For the man they are a hallmark of his virility, for the woman, a source of security.
The woman who has the largest number of children, especially boys, can be sure of being the favourite daughter-in-law and can command some respect from her husband.
In the face of such beliefs, the population planner’s job is obviously not a bed of roses. But some headway should have been possible had our population planning programmes been more realistic in their goals, been backed with better organisation, had clearly defined communications strategies and the Government had shown sufficient commitment.
Although population explosion could doom this country forever, Governments have generally tended to fight shy of this all important sector of public planning. Except in the days when the TV and radio sought to spread the family planning message through jingles like “Do Bachay Khushal Gharana” this subject has been taboo in public life.
How the programme has been labelled is itself quite revealing. In the mid-sixties it was known as the family planning programme. Next it came to be called the population planning programme. Now it is the population welfare programme.
The strategies adopted have also varied. At first a target oriented approach was adopted in the sixties. This failed for contraceptives are not like antibiotics to be used for only a given period. High dropout rates and low continuation rates meant that targets might have been met but birth rates remained unaffected.
Then came the continuous motivation system of the seventies. Under this a team of male and female motivators approached a family to motivate its members to take to family planning.
Registers of every household in the locality were maintained and follow-up visits paid to supply contraceptive. But continuous motivation had to be a continuous process if it were to succeed in view of the high rate of illiteracy, lack of social awareness and the general indifference of both men and women. If the motivators became slack even once, months, of efforts could be wasted. This proved to be an expensive process.
Simultaneously, an attempt was made to motivate the people by contraceptive inundation. But by itself the strategy of making contraceptives accessible in abundance produced no results. Now this bold approach, which many believe only produces a backlash as happened in India during the Emergency, has been abandoned in favour of the indirect integrated strategy.
The Population Welfare Planning Plan, as its name implies, seeks to reduce the crude birth rate from an estimated 2.9 per cent in 1980 to 2.7 per cent in 1983 by raising the level of human development. The approach is to be the indirect one. Thus the Plan does not even make a direct call for family planning and the field service of the Population Department is being de-emphasised.
Only recently, 8,000 employees were retrenched and other organisations such as railways, industries, local bodies are being called upon to cooperate in promoting the concept of family planning. Some of the basic assumptions underlying the Welfare Plan are correct. It is known that an increase in the level of development, especially in the lives of women, leads to a drop in birth rate.
Prevalence of education, more so among women, low infant mortality rates, female employment and improvement in the status of women are known to have been important factors contributing to low fertility rates. Sri Lanka is a good example where investment in the social sector has paid off.
But there are dangers in abandoning the direct strategy altogether in Pakistan, as the Government appears inclined to do. We spend so little on health and education, and whatever progress is made is promptly neutralised by the growing population, that we might have to wait till eternity for social development to yield results in the family planning sector.
Moreover the Government’s commitment to this programme appears to be minimal. The financial allocations for the programme speak for themselves. In 1976-77, a sum of Rs. 243 million was allocated for population planning and Rs. 202 million was actually utilised. In 1980-81, Rs. 159 million was allocated and only Rs. 130 million was utilised.
Even after the new plan was launched in July 1981, financial allocations did not touch the old level. Rs. 190 million was allocated and Rs. 144 million was to be utilised — even less than the previous year.
Significantly, nearly a third of the funds has come from foreign sources. As the momentum of the early seventies has slowed down, the use of contraceptives has sharply declined in the last few years. Today, only six per cent couples in the country use contraceptives.
At the present rate, the population explosion will absorb over 10 per cent of the national income just to maintain the present level of economic development. In other words,1 we find ourselves in the rather unenviable situation in which Alice found herself in Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass where “it takes all the running you can do to keep yourself in the same place.”
Since it is now becoming increasingly difficult to keep up the “running”, we can expect a downward slide. Pakistan A.D. 2001 should come as a.i eye-opener.
The employment scene will become more and more bleak. Although the labour participation rate in Pakistan is extremely low (only 30 per cent) unemployment has already begun to produce adverse repercussions.
The flood tide of emigrants has acted as a safety valve. But in due course many Pakistani labourers and technocrats will be forced to return home. They will be competing for scarce jobs as the labour force will be expanding at the rate of 800,000 persons every year.
The return of the emigrants will have profound social, political and economic repercussions. At present 22.9 million people form the labour force. By 2001, 32 million additional jobs will have to be created, even at the current low level of participation. If this level rises, competition for scarce jobs will increase.
The food situation will be no better. Merely to maintain the current average diet, the agricultural sector will have to make herculean efforts. Wheat production, for instance, will need to increase from 8.7 million tonnes in 1978 to 18.2 million tonnes in 2001; vegetable ghee from 332,000 tonnes to 919,000 tonnes and meat from 655,000 tonnes to 1.45 million tonnes.
And this would merely maintain the unsatisfactory level of caloric intake. Even this will pose problems for a levelling off seems to have occurred in agricultural production. The increase rate has dropped considerably. Thus, between 1960 and 1969, production of wheat, cotton and rice went up by 73 per cent, 75 per cent and 97 per cent respectively.
But between 1970 and 1979 the increase was 36 per cent for wheat and rice, while cotton production actually fell. Now that the potential of the green revolution has been tapped, it will be difficult to keep hunger at bay when the population continues to increase.
Another area where the picture is most depressing according to FPAP’s report is the social sector. To give primary education to all Pakistani children, 23.7 million school places will be required in 2001. At present there are only six million and at the current rate of increase there will be shortfall of over 10 million places in twenty years.
Health cover which is most inadequate will be stretched even thinner in the year 2001. And what does the future hold for the people of Pakistan.
According to Pakistan A.D. 2001 the population increase, urbanisation and inequitable distribution of scarce goods and services will swell the constituency of the dispossessed and alienated people who will perceive themselves to be the havenots Crimes, food riots and peasant marches will become common occurrences.
“This massive population increase cannot be swept under the carpet indefinitely, the issue must be faced squarely and a clear policy evolved. For instance, if it is decided that the State should not try to influence the birth rate in any way, this should be recognised and reflected in policy-making.
The present attitude of sitting back and hoping that the birth rate will decline suddenly on its own and not providing adequately for the rising population is an ostrich-like approach”, observes the report. It might be added that this could prove disastrous for Pakistan. The Family Planning Association of Pakistan has rendered a great service to the cause of progress and development by publishing this report.
It is to be hoped that this is to be a periodical exercise. However, greater care needs to be taken in preparing the graphs, which are most relevant and informative. A few of them are not accurate, for instance, the ones on Government revenues, imports, wheat and rice production, rail tracks and emigrant workers.
Others have been amatuerishly done, are not clear and labels have been dropped e.g., the chart on major imports gives figures without indicating the currency.
Dawn Archive Library
Published in Dawn on 27 August 1982