Saleem Qamar Butt
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 a wonderful Hazara Motorway, besides the weather, overall serenity and natural beauty; however, the side roads linking towns were in 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 landscape were heartbreaking. The most scenic river Kunhar banks had come under illegal and precarious construction of hotels, motels and kiosks with obvious ramification as was recently witnessed in Swat valley during the recent monsoon season. My post visit tweet dated 8th October came as a reflex expression, “From south to the northernmost areas, Pakistan seems on the verge of population explosion. Besides causing resource scarcity, the conversions of farmlands into housing schemes are eyesores and lands look insufficient. Ruling elite may spare some time to address the ominousness.” This piece is a corollary to the above tweet.
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 a successfully designed urbanism are found missing, which are interconnected. The urban centers must facilitate spaces for living, working, shopping and recreation, travel times, density, daylight & sunlight, wind, view, 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 explosion has made all major towns and cities look like one continued urban area bang on the main and minor roads turning farmlands into unimaginable profiteering by the legal or mostly illegal housing societies popping up on the farms land, orchards, hills and most essential green areas. Resultantly, barring a few most expensive housing schemes, most of the urban centers are emerging as eyesores and present a pathetic blot on the face of the country’s image reflecting character and competence of all the concerned from top to the bottom. Not to forget the money guzzling dozens of departments and ministries, who cannot be doubted for their knowledge and expertise, but surely they need to be held accountable for the missing application of the available laws and parameters.
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 per cent increase in population to 366 million individuals by the year 2050. Needless to mention that even at 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% 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%. 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?
The Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) Acute Food Insecurity recently undertook analysis of nine rural districts of Balochistan, seven rural districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and nine rural districts of Sindh, amounting to around 8.6% of Pakistan’s population. As per IPC report, nearly 4.66 million people (25% of the population analysed) will experience high levels of acute food insecurity during 2022. For the whole of Pakistan in general and for the stated all three provinces in particular, food insecurity has consistently remained high over the years, and urgent action is required to protect livelihoods and reduce food consumption gaps of people in Crisis and save lives and livelihoods of those in Emergency.
As for Food Security, may it 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 range-lands. Agricultural land in Pakistan was reported at 47.09 % 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 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 instill a water conservation mindset in the people.
If managed professionally as per global standards, Urbanisation has positive impacts on technological innovation and economic progress. Cumulatively, cities in Pakistan generate 55% of the GDP. Moreover, Pakistan generates 95% of its federal tax revenue from 10 major cities. Much of Pakistan's urbanisation is driven by migration. Today, rural Pakistanis are entering cities to escape war, insecurity and natural disasters, and also to seek new livelihoods and better basic services, resulting in choking the existing infrastructure, civic amenities and causing over-crowdedness, traffic jams, street crimes and rebelliousness. Some of the major health problems resulting from urbanization include poor nutrition, pollution-related health conditions and communicable diseases, poor sanitation and housing conditions. In the most population-dense areas of Karachi, one toilet is shared between twenty people. The World Bank estimates that poor sanitation costs Pakistan around 3.9 percent of GDP; diarrhea-related death and disease among children under five being the largest contributors.
In 2021, population density for 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 km. 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 of China. Pakistan needs to learn a lot from China with the largest population in the world yet managing it in a positive and progressive manner, 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 or any system of governance 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.