POPULATION and POVERTY

Two Distinct but Interlinked Phenomena. Population, poverty and economic development are the three phenomena which are closely inter-linked and highly inter-related. Economics suggests that the rapid population growth brings a steep fall in per capita income which results in a continuously faltering state of human well-being. This, in turn, leads to increased level of poverty. Thus, this vicious circle keeps on haunting the policymakers as well as the masses that are most directly affected.

Population growth that is higher than the country’s GDP growth rate would definitely impair the economy. Besides this, it will also weaken the country’s social fabric and will adversely affect the quality of life and living standards of the people. Thus, it can be safely said that population growth is directly proportional to poverty and inversely to economic progress and prosperity. This is apparently the general rule applicable to almost all countries of the world, Pakistan being no exception.

Economic and political system of a country is also central to a country’s economic development and for this population growth is the key determinant. According to a recent report by the UN Population Fund (UNPFA), larger families and fast growing populations obstruct development and perpetuate poverty by slowing growth and diverting consumption away from the poor. The countries with high population growth rates have economic growth rates lower than average, and countries with low population growth rates have economic growth rates higher than average.


A number of predictions as well as projections based on trends and statistics suggest that global population would increase from about 7 billion today to over 9 billion by 2050. Moreover, the population of the 48 Least Developed Countries (LDCs) will be more than doubled. Of the projected 9 billion, about half of the world’s population will reside in China, the USA, India, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Uganda, the Congo, Bangladesh, and Pakistan.Developing countries have sufficiently comprehended that rapid population growth is a serious impediment to their economic development. They have realized that high population growth surpasses the production of goods and supply of the amenities required to improve the living standard of the people, and thus perpetuates poverty and deprivation. This realization makes population control an integral part of their national development plans.

For those seeking to explore the relationship of economic development with poverty alleviation and population growth, Pakistan makes a fascinating case study.

History is witness to the fact that our struggle for freedom from the clutches of the colonial rule and creation of Pakistan was more than an escape from the impending tyranny of the Hindus following the departure of the British Raj; it actually aimed at ensuring assertion of popular sovereignty and an embodiment of their hopes and aspirations for a better life marked by political liberty, economic opportunities and social equality.

When Pakistan emerged on the world map on 14th of August 1947, as an independent, sovereign state, it was economically among the poorest countries of the world and the people of this nascent country had nothing to share save their poverty and miseries, except for a small fringe of the population of prosperous parasites living off the lands, whose real producers were the dispossessed peasants, constituting the mass of the population. Its reconstruction and reform was, therefore, both an opportunity and a challenge to the custodians of the new state.

Though Pakistan started off well yet the road was too bumpy to be trod on easily. Intermittent change of governments too marred the prospects of Pakistan’s economic growth. In addition, no robust policies were introduced to spur economic growth and control the unbridled growth of population. In 1947, Pakistan’s total population stood at 31 million individuals and the growth rate was 4.5 per cent per annum. Since then, the population of Pakistan has increased significantly. Today, the situation is still very grave. Pakistan Economic Survey 2013-14 states:

‘Pakistan is among those developing countries where population growth is fairly high. At present, it is the sixth most populous country in the world with projected population of 188 million. According to World Population Data Sheet 2013, Pakistan with population of 363 million in 2050 is expected to retain the same position (i.e. sixth position). The population growth rate in Pakistan is 1.95 per cent which is higher than average growth rate of South Asian countries.’

Rapid population growth can generate food security problem, environment problem and urban congestion and it is the major factor behind the international migration. And, not surprisingly, it has been a serious problem in Pakistan and one of the main impediments in the way of efforts for achieving the overall national development goals and sustained socio-economic growth.

It is also to be noted that capitalism has been the chosen path of economic development in Pakistan in theory as well as in practice, and the man who followed this course in real earnest was Field Marshall Muhammad Ayub Khan who governed the country from 1958 to 1969 and gave the Pakistani capitalists, industrialists and financiers the fullest freedom and maximum incentives to set up industries and produce wherever and whatever their free enterprise, business judgment, and profit motive dictated. All that promoted industry, increased the GNP and the per capita income, and thus improved the rate of growth, was allowed.

Today, majority of the common people in Pakistan do not have resources enough to meet their basic necessities. About 70 per cent population of Pakistan lives on less than $2 per day. The population of Pakistan grew, on average, at a rate of 3 per cent per year from 1951 until the mid-80’s. From then on until the year 2000, the growth of the population slowed down to about 2.6 per cent per year: and from 2000 to 2012, to about 2 per cent per year. However, Pakistan Economic Survey 2013-14 reports that it has shown improvement and it decreased from 2.0 per cent in 2012 to 1.97 per cent in 2013 and 1.95 per cent in 2014.

With the growth rate of almost 2 per cent  per year, Pakistan’s population is estimated to eventually double in the next 36 years. Judging from how the population has grown since 1947, this doubled population figure does not seem to be far off and if it is allowed to go unchecked, there will not be enough natural resources, jobs, health or educational facilities for so many people’ quite in contrast to the very ideals that were designed to be translated into reality in the new environment comprising areas (now constituting Pakistan) that had been intentionally kept backward under the dictates of imperial strategy. It is important and imperative, therefore, that the country’s population is stabilized so that the burden on existing infrastructure is reduced.

Unless well-coordinated and concerted efforts are directed to carve out a combination of measures to reduce fertility rate; and to fully implement government policies, population growth will continue to be a major hurdle to economic development of the country.

Control over rapid population growth to narrow and ultimately eliminate the gap between population and economic resources calls for an enhancement of education, health, housing facilities and the resolve to maintain population control measures. Because smaller families share income among fewer people, average per capita income increases. This will help pull the nations out of the maelstrom of high population growth, which has been having a negative impact and slowing down the pace of social and economic development. Enabling people to have fewer children contributes to upward mobility and helps to stimulate development.

Rapid population growth is a serious problem adversely affecting Pakistan’s infrastructure and resources. For overcoming the issue and getting rid of poverty, ignorance and disease, the vast reservoirs of its natural resources had to be developed to make Pakistan a modern progressive state. Sadly, however, this was not done; a large number of population is still condemned to live even without the basic amenities of life like housing, food, water, electricity and conservancy services even in a city like Karachi considered as the country’s most developed metropolis.

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