A few days back, I along with my three kids visited Balakot, Naran, Kaghan, and Garhi Habibullah after a gap of 17 years. While we enjoyed travelling on the wonderful Hazara Motorway, the weather, overall serenity, and natural beauty; however, the side roads linking towns were in a poor state and congested. The traffic and general population had increased beyond measure. And the consequent mushrooming of small and big houses without any town planning, overcrowded roads, and streets at the cost of cutting millions of trees and hills, and the destruction of the landscape was heartbreaking. As one travels by road or by train from Karachi to Torkham or from Bahawalpur to Mansehra on the motorways or even non-motorway roads, the very basic parameters of successfully designed urbanism are found missing. Urban centres must facilitate spaces for living, working, shopping, and recreation, travel times, density, sunlight, wind, view, the transport system, the environment and climate, the residents, areas in need of regeneration, resources available like water, energy, food, health and education facilities, the site context and the future, etc., which are mostly non-existent in case of Pakistan. The population of Pakistan by the UN estimates on July 1, 2022, was at 235,824,862 and it is likely to reach 245 million by 2030. It was revealed in the recent “UN World Population Prospects 2022” that Pakistan is expected to see a 56 percent increase in population to 366 million individuals by the year 2050. Even at the present population level, Pakistan is facing acute water, food, energy, education, health, infrastructure, internal & external debts, unemployment, and poverty crises. If the successive governments in Pakistan could not control the population growth through homegrown holistic policy implementation without any further delay, the implosion is imminent. Pakistan’s GDP is $347.743 billion (nominal; 2021) with 44th (nominal; 2021) GDP rank. Pakistan’s economy is forecast to slow to 3.5 percent in fiscal year (FY) 2023 (ending 30 June 2023) amid devastating floods, policy tightening, and critical efforts to tackle sizable fiscal and external imbalances, even as growth in FY2022 is expected to have reached 6.0 percent. The GDP per capita is $1,562 (Nominal; 2021). The country’s total debt and liabilities increased by Rs11.85 trillion in FY22, according to data released by the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) in August 2022. Pakistan’s gross external debt reached $130.192 billion in FY22 compared to $122.292bn in FY21; it increased by $7.9bn. However, the general government’s external debt rose to $86.134bn in FY22 compared to $82.5bn in FY21. With Pakistan’s economy hanging by the fragile and dictatorial thread provided by the IMF, how can any government ignore the inevitability of effective population control and professional resources management?
For food security, it should be highlighted here that out of the total area of 79.6 million hectares, only 22.1 million hectares are cultivated; the rest of the territory is made up of cultivable waste, densely populated forests, and rangelands. Agricultural land in Pakistan was reported at 47.09 percent in 2018, according to the World Bank collection of development indicators. According to zoning laws, one cannot build a residential house in an industrial or agricultural area and vice versa. For that reason, one needs to contact the local government if there is any issue regarding zoning before you build a house on agricultural land. Needless to say that if arable or cultivable lands in Pakistan are managed especially in Balochistan and in the desert and semi-desert areas in Sindh and Southern Punjab, Pakistan with an agricultural economy based on modern farming technology can free itself from food and water insecurity besides earning much needed foreign exchange. Pakistan’s water crisis is explained mainly by rapid population growth followed by climate change (floods and droughts), lack of the required number of dams and rain/flood water drains, poor agricultural sector water management, inefficient infrastructure, Indus water treaty violations by India and water pollution. This as a result is also unduly aggravating internal tensions between provinces. Pakistan has been ranked 160th, better than only 18 countries, in terms of water withdrawals to water resource ratio. Moreover, the country treats only 1 percent of wastewater, one of the lowest rates in the world. Therefore, Pakistan needs to create more storage facilities. It should build small dams and large dams and flood water management drains after due approval through the parliament on utmost priority. The country must also instil a water conservation mindset in the people.
In 2021, the population density of Pakistan was 292.1 people per sq. km. Over the last 50 years, the population density of Pakistan grew substantially from 79.6 to 292.1 people per sq. China ranks number 1 in the list of countries (and dependencies) by population. The population density in China is 153 per Km2. India is more than three times denser than China as the population density of India is 464 people per square km compared to 153 in China. Pakistan needs to learn a lot from China with the largest population in the world yet managing it positively and progressively, though China is blessed with relatively vast areas and resources. Pakistan has to follow a deliberately conceived comprehensive policy to control its population and urbanisation vis-à-vis indigenous resources. Pakistan needs to invest in improving its human resource capital through greater investments by the public and private sectors instead of raising overnight billionaires by cartels making illegal and unethical housing societies on farmlands, hills, and forest lands. It is universally recognized that democracy cannot survive overpopulation. Human dignity cannot survive it. Convenience and decency cannot survive it. As you put more and more people into the world, the value of life not only declines, it disappears.