ISLAMABAD - Pakistan plans to slow South Asia's fastest population growth rate through enhanced education for women to ensure sustainable economic expansion for the world's sixth-most populous country.
The country will try to reduce its population growth to 1.2 percent a year by 2025 from about two percent now, Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission Ahsan Iqbal said in an interview with foreign media at his office in Islamabad. The nation of about 196 million people each year adds some 4.4 million more people, the equivalent of New Zealand's population, he said.
"We actually need to apply brakes," Iqbal said. "With current almost two percent growth rate, it becomes very difficult to sustain your development," he added.
"If we can give our young population the right education, right skills, it is a big demographic dividend for the next 10 to 15 years," Iqbal said. "If it doesn't happen it becomes a demographic disaster."
The government would focus on making planning programs available to married couples and prioritising education for women, he said. Growth at the current rate would strain natural resources and hinder growth, he said.
About 30 percent of married couples use contraceptives in Pakistan, compared with 55 percent in neighbouring India and 73 percent in Iran, according to a finance ministry economic survey published last year. Pakistan's population grew about two percent, compared with 1.3 percent in India and one percent in Iran, it said.
While Pakistan's population growth is ‘out of control,’ a middle class of 55 million to 70 million people is helping to drive the $225 billion economy, according to Sakib Sherani, a former finance ministry adviser and now chief executive officer at Macroeconomic Insights, an Islamabad-based research firm. "Even if it's a smaller middle class, it's really spending a lot," he said. "A lot of companies, both Pakistani companies and some foreign ones, are already benefiting from the consumer space."
Nestle Pakistan Ltd, a unit of the world's biggest food company, reported a 26 percent increase in earnings for the year that ended in December 2012, while Unilever Pakistan Ltd profit surged 34 percent in the same period. Pakistan profits at Colgate, the world's largest toothpaste maker, had surged 39 percent in the year ended in June 2012.