Many analysts describe Pakistan’s population condition as a “ticking time bomb” that could explode at any time creating a widespread disaster in the country. Some argue against it and believe that the population growth rate could be exploited to stimulate the ailing economy.
As per the first post-independence population census in 1951, Pakistan’s population stood at 34 million. It became 132 million in 1998, an increase of around 100 million in less than 50 years period. In 2017, the population turned out to be a whopping 208 million, making it the fifth most populous country in the world. If Pakistan continues to add the numbers at the present growth rate, which is 2.4 per cent, the UN estimates that its population will exceed 450 million by 2050. Undoubtedly, the situation is a disaster in making.
Pakistan’s economy does not have capacity to absorb the potential of growing population. It is not in a position to create job opportunities for the growing youth and provide them adequate resources. Many challenges are associated with the rapid rise of population in Pakistan.
Firstly, youth unemployment is the most pressing issue linked to the enormous population growth in Pakistan. According to the State Bank, 1.8 million people enter the labor market annually in Pakistan. The country needs an economic growth rate of at least 7 per cent to create job opportunities for them. However, at present, the economy remains sluggish. According to the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics (PBS), Pakistan’s unemployment rate jumped from 5.8 per cent in 2017-18 to 6.9 per cent in 2018-19. It will keep accumulating if the prevailing economic situation is not improved.
Secondly, the youth unemployment results in the political instability and civil conflicts. The country like Pakistan, having 60 per cent population below the age 30 is more prone to it. The prolong unemployment fuels frustration among the youth. According to the report of Population Action International, between 1970 and 1999, 80 per cent of civil conflicts occurred in countries where 60 per cent of the population or more were under the age of thirty. Undoubtedly, these were youth who supported Imran Khan in 2018 General Elections with a hope that he would bring some change and improve their condition. Now the same youth have turned against him for increasing inflation and delivering poor economic performance. If the situation prevails, Pakistan would soon see a revolution lead by the young people.
Thirdly, the most pressing and immediate risk associated with Pakistan’s population growth, as explained by many experts, is youth radicalization. In the country like Pakistan where the state, from the beginning, adopted a soft rhetoric for the outfits and Madrassas involving in spreading extremism and indirectly sponsored so called Kashmiri freedom fighters and Afghan Taliban, the risk is having a multiplier factor. There are many examples where parents, owing to impoverished backgrounds, sent their children to Madrassas to get free meal and accommodations, came to know later when their sons were used as suicide bombers. It is overpopulation of youth combined with poverty and shrinking economic opportunities that create a fertile ground for the militant groups to attract youth for their dangerous ambitions.
Fourthly, the rapid rise in population causes urbanization, which eventually leads to the environmental degradation. The unemployed youth from the countryside move to the cities for the employment opportunities. At present, many environmental challenges confronting Pakistan such as climate change, deforestation, pollution and waste management are directly linked to the rising population. For instance, in many major cities, the new housing societies are constructed on the either agricultural lands or green belts disturbing the natural eco-system. Already Pakistan is the most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change and the rapid urbanization will contribute as the problem multiplier.
Finally, the population growth creates a burden on the already limited resources of Pakistan like water, food, electricity, natural gas and so on. Crises of these resources currently confronting Pakistan are rightly attributed to rising population density. The present water crisis in the country is also linked to the rising population. For instance, in 1947, Pakistan was a water happy country with per capita availability of water stood at 5700 cubic meter. It was because the population of the country was hardly 32 million. In 1994, it became a water scarce country with per capita availability of water becoming 1700 cubic meter because the population rose to around 132 million. In 2013, Pakistan became a water shortage country with per capita availability of the water reaching around 1000 cubic feet. The same is the condition with almost all the other resources.
Certain quarters claim that Pakistan’s population growth rate can be exploited to speed up economic development by properly educating the youth and absorbing them in the labor market. They are right to the certain extent.
The population of any country is divided into three wide categories namely young, working class (15 to 64) and old. The working-class population is considered an asset because it generates wealth and directly contributes to the uplift of the economy. The young and old class is considered liability as they consume more and produce none. Fortunately, Pakistan’s population is consisting of around 60 per cent working class. The young people in Pakistan are entering in a labor market at the time when the numbers of working-class are declining in the developed states.
Pakistan can export the young labor in the international market to increase remittances. At present, Pakistan receives only about $19 billion remittance annually as compared to India’s $87 billion and Bangladesh’s $25 billion. According to Shahid Javed Burki, Pakistan can generate $20 billion in export revenue from IT sector alone. Luckily, although, Pakistan overall literacy rate is around 58 per cent, it is 67 per cent in the young population.
Pakistan can exploit its youth population as an asset. The annual addition of population of Pakistan is 4.4 million, which is equivalent to 40 small countries of the world. Besides, in every 34 people in the World, one is Pakistani. According to one estimate, over the next two decades, Pakistan and Bangladesh alone will constitute nearly one-eighth of the world’s manpower growth.
To reap the dividend from the youth bulge, it is imperative for the country to provide the young generation a decent education and impart them some skills improvement training to make them competitive for the global market. The government must also try to improve its image in the international market by showing zero tolerance for the extremism and terrorism and cooperating with the global countries in almost all the issues. Thus, the growing population can be dividend or liability depends upon the management of the country.