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Population growth and development
Dawn, Page 6 - August 26, 2002
While the World Population Day was being observed last month, (July 11), concern was expressed on the high rate at which Pakistan's population had been growing.
During the last 50 years, our population had increased from 33.5 million (according to 1951 Census) to 146 million in 2001-02. It was feared that if the population growth was not checked, with the passage of time, poverty, unemployment and illiteracy would become unmanageable.
The government, however, expressed its determination on the occasion, to further bring down the population growth rate, which has already declined from 3.Q6 per cent in 1981 to 2.16 per cent in 2002.
Although the wisdom to check the population growth rate can not be denied, it is felt that the increase in population may not be viewed in isolation. The factor on the other side of the equation, namely the country's resources, has also to be given due consideration. Growing population had put tremendous pressure on the country's existing resources because we have failed to explore and exploit new ones.
Japan has a surface area of 378,000 km compared to 796,000 km of Pakistan and it had a population of 126 million compared to 132 million of Pakistan (as of 1998). Still, Japan did not consider itself as overpopulated and it has the second highest GNP per capita in the world. This is because Japan had been able to develop its manufacturing sector fully, which provided employment to the bulk of its workforce.
Few years ago, the country used to have one of the lowest jobless rates in the world. However, the same had now slightly gone up due to continued economic stagnation. On the contrary, in Pakistan, the population has increased in geometrical progression, whereas the country's resources have gone up in arithmetical progression. This is exactly what Malthus had said, about two centuries ago.
Malthus presented his well-known theory of population in 1798, which stated that whereas population grew in geometrical progression, food resources increased in arithmetical progression. Because of this, Malthus said, it was necessary to control population growth through 'preventive checks', which included moral restraint, late marriages etc. Malthus warned that if this was not done, then nature would apply its own crude methods (called 'positive checks' by Malthus) to reduce population from its higher level. These positive checks included epidemics, floods, earthquakes, droughts and other natural calamities. The theory presented by Malthus had created an alarm during his own lifetime. But later day economists criticized him sharply and called him false prophet', arguing that food produce no longer increased in arithmetical progression, as Malthus had claimed, since agricultural output could now be increased to any level, with the help of scientific methods of cultivation and modern technology.
These economists, also, said that the use of contraceptives in modern times had made it possible to check population growth effectively. The 'preventive checks' and 'positive checks' introduced by Malthus had, therefore, now become irrelevant and obsolete, these economists said.
A more modern and scientific theory of population, known as the optimum theory of population, had received considerable appreciation from the present-day economists. It stated that, for every country, there was a certain optimum level of population which, at a given point of time, was required to exploit and use its resources in the best possible manner.
If the population was below the optimum level, the resources of the country would remain partly unexploited and unutilized. On the contrary, if the population was above the optimum level, a certain percentage, of the country's population was likely to remain unemployed.
This theory was more realistic, since it took into consideration both the relevant factors namely a country's population and its resources. Moreover, it rightly acknowledged that neither a higher population was always a curse nor a lower population was always a blessing.
The United States had the third largest population in the world (270 million), after China and India, and at the same time it enjoyed the highest GNP per capita. On the other hand, many industrialized countries in the West had succeeded in bringing down their population growth rate to almost zero. But, this situation had forced these countries to depend on immigrant labour in spite of the hazards posed by it, since their dwindling workforce could no longer take care of their ever growing resources.
Unfortunately, we in Pakistan are still living in the Malthusian age, when any increase in population was fraught _ with disastrous consequences. During the last fifty years or so. while the entire world had marched ahead we are still crawling at a snail's pace. The gross domestic product (GDP) of Korean Republic moved up from $62 billion in 1980 to $442 billion in 1997. The GDP of Malaysia went up from $24 billion in 1980 to $ 97 billion in 1997. The GDP of China increased from $202 billion on 1980 to $ 825 billion in 1997. As against the performance of the above mentioned countries, Pakistan's GDP had crawled from $24 billion in 1980 to only 664 billion in 1997. Therefore, the entire blame could not be put on the rate of population growth. The successive governments must accept a share in the blame, since they failed to accelerate the pace of development in Pakistan, as accomplished in other countries.
Pakistan's failure in transforming its economy and achieving a rapid and sustained economic growth is attributable to a multitude of factors such as political instability regional tensions, internal law and order situation, lack of good governance, corruption, absence of tax culture in the country coupled with reckless government spending, seasonal factors like flood and drought and international factors such as global economic slowdown, economic sanctions imposed against Pakistan and war against terrorism etc.
However, one of the most important factors impeding our economic growth has been the inability of successive governments to develop the country's human resources. The success achieved by the East Asian economies and China in the economic field is attributable inter-alia to their success in achieving a 90 percent to hundred percent literacy rate, while Pakistanis literacy rate was still far less than 50 per cent.
If Pakistan has a desire to accelerate the pace of its development and find additional resources to match its growing population, it has no other option but to wage a war against illiteracy and ignorance. Only an educated, trained and enlightened workforce can help in exploiting the country's resources and using them in the best possible manner.
However, human resource development is a time consuming process. Therefore, simultaneously the government may consider the option of involving friendly countries in our development. The government has, no doubt, taken a step in the right direction by involving China in Gwadar Port, Saindak and Thar Coal projects and some other friendly countries in the exploration of our gas and oil resources. The policy of economic co-operation and collaboration may be expanded and extended to other economic sectors. After careful consideration.
It may be concluded that while there should be a check on the population growth rate, the government may also make relentless effort to find new resources to match the growing population. The task of the government would become easier through the development of the country's human resources and preparation of an educated, trained and enlightened workforce, which could assist the government in its developmental efforts.
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