Population growth: Official programmes misdirected

By Zubeida Mustafa

THE KEY factor which will, in the final analysis, determine Pakistan’s economic and social progress in the coming years is the size of the country’s population and the rate at which it grows. In view of the present population explosion in the country, it is difficult to hold out much promise on this count.

The official population planning programme, which will complete two decades of its existence in 1985, has so far made not much of an impact on the demographic scene. The rate of population growth in this country is one of the highest in the world. In 1901 the area now comprising Pakistan had a population of 16 million. This doubled itself in 50 years, the 1951 census recording a population of 33 million.

Then it took only 20 years for the population to double again — it was 65 million in 1972. Today Pakistan’s population stands at 88 million, with an annual growth rate of 2.8 per cent. According to the optimistic demographic projections of the government, the population will be 135 million at the turn of the century if the growth rate declines to at least 2.1 per cent by then (Sixth Five-year Plan).


Otherwise, the country will have a population of 154 million as has been projected by more pessimistic but realistic observers, such as the Family Planning Association of Pakistan (Pakistan AD. 2001). Pakistan’s population statistics are appalling even by Third World standards. The rate of population growth in the developing countries today is 2 per cent (it is 0.6 percent in the industrialised states).

According to UN estimates the total fertility rate (the average number of children a woman can expect to give birth to) in the Third World is 4.64 (2.05 in the industrialised world). In Pakistan it is 5.9. Here the crude birth rate is also alarmingly high at 41 per 1000 when it is 33 per 1000 in the Third World and 16 per thousand in the industrialised countries. Government planners have pointed out that the economic benefits of declining fertility are difficult to establish although they calculate the present value of a birth averted to be twice as much as per capita income. This works out to 600 dollars saved for every birth prevented.

Maybe a more helpful exercise will be the one carried out by the Family Planning Association of Pakistan. According to the FPAP, if the population growth rate is not cut down, in the year 2001, 32 million additional jobs will have to be created simply to maintain the present level of employment. To maintain the current average dietary intake, the country will have to raise wheat production from the current 12.4 million tonnes to 18.2 million tonnes, vegetable ghee from 532,000 tonnes to 919,000 tonnes and meat from 655,000 tonnes to 1.45 million tonnes.

To give primary education to all children 23.7 million school places will be needed in 2001. At present there are 6 million places and at the current rate of increase there will be a shortfall of over 10 million places. Thus it is clear that the population growth can be expected to neutralise whatever progress is made in the economic and social sectors. The danger of a decline in all fields is also very real.

Simple answer

How seriously does the government take its population planning programme which is now called the population welfare programme? The simple answer is: not very seriously. Leaving aside the strategies which have been tried, the simple test of a government’s earnestness and the effectiveness of a programme is the financial allocation made and the contraceptive performance. Of course in the long run, the rate of population growth is the ultimate yardstick to evaluate the success or failure of population policy.

The funds committed to the population welfare programme do not indicate much of a political commitment on the part of the government to implement a vigorous family planning programme. Under the Fifth Five-Year Plan a sum of Rs. 1.8 billion was earmarked for population welfare. But only Rs. 885 million was actually allocated by the ADPs and Rs. 692 utilised. In other words only 38 per cent of the sum targeted was really spent.

For the year 1983-84 Rs. 273 million have been allocated. Although this is more than last year’s allocation of Rs. 190 million (and implementation of Rs. 177.9 million) much would depend on how much is actually utilised. But as far as the government is concerned it will be spending much less from its own resources this year since the foreign aid component is expected to be much bigger in 1983-84.

It might be pointed out that the allocations made for the population welfare programme by the government since 1978-79 (with the exception of the current year) have been nowhere close to what the previous government was spending on population planning. In 1976-77 a sum of Rs. 243 million had been allocated and Rs. 202 million had been spent.

Foreign aid

Another significant aspect of the matter is that a very high proportion of the population welfare programme is financed through foreign assistance. In 1982-83, nearly a third of the programme’s expenditure came from foreign donors

This year, of the Rs. 273 million allocated for the population programme Rs. 169 million, that is, more than half, will be provided by foreign agencies and governments. This does not really reflect well on the governments own commitment to the programme. Foreign donors appear to be attaching more importance to the need to cut down Pakistan’s population growth rate. The low financial allocation has serious implications.

Since the new strategy adopted by this government is more broadbased than before and seeks to improve the status and quality of life of women in the child-bearing age group, it can logically be expected to cost more to produce the same results in terms of population growth rate than a programme with a more direct and clinical approach. But the population welfare programme budget has not grown accordingly. The Sixth Plan has allocated Rs. 1.8 billion for this sector — the same as was allocated in the Fifth Plan. The Sixth Plan describes the previous investment in population programmes to be misdirected.

But the figures for contraceptive performance show that the levels reached in 1976-77 have so far not been reached except in the case of contraceptive surgery. The table that follows is quite instructive. The impact of the contraceptive performance for any year makes itself felt on the crude birth rate the following year. In 1976-77 the population programme received much attention and the following year the crude birth rate in Pakistan declined from 42.8 per 1000 in 1976 to 40.6 per 1000 in 1977. It has again gone up to 41 per 1000. With such ineffective performance and the low level of commitment it is not quite clear how the government is hoping to reduce the crude birth rate to 36.20 per 1000 by the end of the Sixth Plan

Contraceptive performance

(In millions)

Year           Contraceptive             IUD             Oral Pills          Conventional

                surgery   (Cases)        (cases)           (Cycles)       Contraceptives (units)

1976-77      0.0146                   0.1680           4.00                        94.5

1981-82       0.0255                  0.0782           0.2334                      7.89      

Source: Dawn, 2 October 1983