Unsustained population growth is one of the biggest environmental and socio-economic issues facing the world today, putting the global human population at risk. Population growth automatically increases energy consumption, which in turn means increases greenhouse gas emissions (Gotmark, 2018). The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) sees population growth as a factor behind climate warming, but tackling it has been a grey area, even for them. Due to unchecked human population growth, the Earth’s natural resources, such as fossil fuels, freshwater, arable land, and forests are dwindling, which is placing undue stress on these non-renewable resources and leading to a diminished quality of life.

Overpopulation and increased competition for available resources also results in elevated crime rates, leading to theft, robbery and formation of drug cartels, as people do not have alternate sources of income to survive. A study undertaken by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Global Environment Outlook, stated that human consumption has exceeded available resources. Each person on Earth now requires a third more land to supply his or her needs than the planet can supply (Bongaarts, 2018). According to an article published in the year 2012 in The Lancet, a peer reviewed science journal, greenhouse gas emissions could be reduced in the long term by 40 per cent or more, as long as population growth is controlled. Another study from 2010 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences stated that greenhouse gas emissions could potentially decrease by 29 per cent by the year 2050 by keeping a check on population growth.

Pakistan, one of the high fertility countries of the world with the majority of its population consisting of young adults and children, had a population of 33 million in 1950. However, today its population has soared to nearly 210 million, making Pakistan the sixth most populous country in the world, after China, India, the USA, Indonesia and Brazil. If the population of the country continues to grow at the same rate (2.40 per cent per annum), it is likely to double in the next 37 years, making Pakistan the third most populous country in the world; whereas arable land area will be reduced due to urbanization. Pakistan’s current rate of population increase is almost double compared to neighbouring countries in the South Asia region such as Bangladesh, India and Sri Lanka. Pakistan is currently ranked at 147 in the Human Development Index, with an unflattering literacy rate of 58 per cent and widespread unemployment among the youth, which constitutes 60 per cent of the population. Pakistan should take heed from fellow Muslim countries such as Bangladesh and Iran, which have been successful in their attempts at curbing their population by reiterating the economic and social benefits of small families.

In terms of global land area, Pakistan is ranked 34 and envelopes 0.6 per cent of global land. On average, Pakistan’s birth rate per family is 3.48 (World Bank, 2016). Post-separation, Bangladesh’s population was close to 67 million compared to Pakistan’s 60 million. Currently Pakistan is over 200 million while Bangladesh is at 164 million. This is an alarming statistic that showcases the negligence of successive governments in Pakistan regarding unchecked population growth. Meanwhile in Bangladesh, access to cheap contraceptives and healthcare for women has led to a sharp decline in birth rates.

A plethora of factors are responsible for the high population growth in Pakistan, which include high fertility, low use of contraceptives, lack of awareness of family planning, declining mortality, prevalence of child marriages, social customs, poverty, illiteracy and lack of women empowerment, religious constraints and beliefs, and lack of recreational activities. However, the lack of awareness and focus on education is so minute, and reforms in education ignored by almost every government that comes into power, that seeing light at the end of the tunnel has become a pipedream. Even though such sweeping changes in the country’s reforms will take time, it does not mean the steps which can be taken right now have to be delayed as well. Free distribution of contraceptives and their access in rural areas is one such step which is a must, given the unchecked rise in Pakistan’s population. The government should also gather the backing of local religious leaders to start a nationwide population control programme, and reiterate the importance of providing awareness regarding the use of contraceptives in sermons at local mosques. Mass awareness is also needed via advertisement campaigns through all media channels, and one good outlet for this could be to gather the support of Pakistan’s mainstream celebrities. If this does not happen on a mass scale, Pakistan’s economy will keep sinking and will result in severe difficulties for the entire population.

The writer is currently working as Officer Programme Development with WWF-Pakistan.