Pakistan will be one of the nine fastest growing countries population-wise by 2050.
Our population will swell to 403 million in the next 31 years, according to the United Nations. In fact, according to the recent census, our population is already higher than 200 million. The country does not have enough resources for the growing number of people.
All this was emphasised by Dr Agha Zahir Gul, head of business strategy at Marie Stopes Society Pakistan, on SAMAA TV’S programme Naya Din on Thursday.
July 11 marked the UN’s World Population Day. Created by the UN’s Development Programme in 1989, this day is meant to raise awareness about the changing nature of the challenges faced by the world’s population.
In Pakistan, “for the last 10 years, we have seen an increase of three million people every year,” said Dr Gul.
He explained how the growing population puts a burden on limited resources. This is reflected by the alarming statistics relating to child health. Around 40% of children under five years of age in the country are stunted, he said, adding that Pakistan has the third highest rate of stunting in the world.
“Growth cannot recover after stunting. It affects the brain and cognitive abilities. The child’s overall IQ decreases. At this rate, our national average IQ will fall,” Dr Gul warned.
He said one way to prevent this was to make sure children are exclusively breastfed till two years of age. Unfortunately, this does not happen in Pakistan, he said.
People in our society assume formula milk is superior to mother’s milk, said Dr Gul, adding that nutritionally, it cannot compare to mother’s milk. It is also difficult to ensure proper hygiene while preparing bottled milk. He lamented that around 50% children die from pneumonia and diarrhoea due to hygiene issues.
Dr Gul said that as a society we do not have the right approach to family planning. “Think of starting a family as a journey. You’re supposed to prepare for the journey before it starts.”
The health expert mentioned how many people in our society do not understand the importance of intervals between the births of children. “It is very important to teach young couples the importance of family planning and intervals between children. We need to have these conversations as a society. Parents should talk to their offspring about how to raise children, not just encourage them to have children.”