Limiting human numbers is imperative


News & Views

Mohammad Jamil

ACCORDING to the World Bank, annual population growth in Pakistan last measured in 2015 was 2.08 per cent, and according to Pakistan Economic Survey 2016 it was 1.89 per cent showing decline in population growth. Anyhow, there is no other way to assess the growth except census; and sixth census is now being held after 19 years, as the last census was conducted in 1998. Increase in human numbers means less for each – less land for every farmer, less water for everybody and less education and health facilities for impoverished sections of society. According to UN there would be four billion people living in countries defined as water-scarce or water-stressed by 2050, up from half a billion in 1995. In Pakistan, more than 2% annual population growth and declining economic growth exert pressure on Pakistan’s economy.
In these circumstances, it is difficult to allocate adequate funds for social sector for the ever-increasing population. As population planning can reduce the pressure on the economy, all-out efforts should be made to achieve the population growth rate of 1% for eradicating extreme poverty, achieving universal primary education, reducing child mortality, improving maternal health, combating diseases and ensuring environmental stability. Geologists and scientists look at the causes of natural calamities and disasters on the basis of scientific knowledge and studies. They opine that when man violates the ecological order, the nature limits the human numbers in its own way. On the other hand, religious scholars have different perception and consider natural calamities like earthquakes and floods as punishment for the sins of the people. They, nevertheless, cannot explain as to why pious people are also punished along with the sinful lot in event of a natural calamity.
The necessity of human numbers to conform to environment, and how this may be achieved, has been argued since Malthus propounded his theory. Historical evidence suggests that human population numbers had been subject to cyclic variations as a result of boom, gloom and doom. First half of the twentieth century had recorded great prosperity and improvement in living conditions, but at same time saw savage wars that limited human numbers nature’s way. Though Pakistan faces many challenges vis-à-vis trade deficit, current account deficit, fiscal deficit and spectre of terrorism, population explosion seems to be biggest challenge, as many problems emanate from this phenomenon. With present rate of more than 2% increase in population, Pakistan’s population would be 220 million by 2020 and 380 million by 2050.
In Pakistan, social indicators with regard to human resource development vis-a-vis health care, education, employment, income distribution and skill formation lag behind other countries of region. Pakistan confronts a dual challenge ie to alleviate poverty/improve the living standards of existing population, and to make provision for additions to population. Pakistan’s economy is in dire straits, and due to inequities more and more people are being pushed below the poverty line. Evidence suggests that no developing country in the world has been able to solve the problem of mass poverty without containing population growth. One may not entirely agree with Malthus when he reckoned that population increases in geometric progression whereas resources increase in arithmetical progression; but one thing is sure that population outstripping resources could pose a serious challenge to Pakistan. He had cautioned to limit numbers because whenever world population increased to the level of outstripping the resources, there were natural calamities, chaos, tensions, conflicts and wars. Because of crowded conditions of life and acute shortages, signs of stress and tension become evident.
In turn these conditions give rise to abnormal behavior patterns, as according to sociologists, murders, crimes, extremism and terrorism are the result of inadequate resources, unemployment, poverty, and of course unfair and unjust economic system. There is no denying that with better management, fertility of soils can be maintained and improved, which could help match requirements of food for quite some time. But there is a limit, as ‘land’ is a critical factor, which cannot be increased once all cultivable land is brought under the plough. In this backdrop, necessity for human numbers to conform to environment cannot be overemphasized. If numbers become too great, obviously there will not be enough food for them. Disposal of wastes will also pose a serious problem in the form of pollution, which could result in epidemics and chronic diseases.
The numbers then would inevitably come to be controlled in nature’s way of removing the excess. The classical economists were somewhat hopeful that slowly and gradually the working classes might become educated to resort to a reasonable degree of moral restraint. In UK, it was once felt important to abolish or modify those provisions of poor-relief system, which weakened whatever moral restraint was forthcoming. Therefore, in 1834 the system was made harsher by withdrawing relief to the poor; but it was considered as inhuman way of persuading the population to limit its numbers. The world population has indeed risen alarmingly, and there is concern about food, energy and other material resources. Science has, indeed, made it possible to increase agricultural yields through the use of fertilizers, pesticides, and by conservation of water resources. But in the face of rising populations, these efforts would prove infructuous.
There is indeed a positive way of controlling population i.e., to give people the desire and incentives to limit family size by making them prosperous because people living at subsistence level with a short life expectation have no incentive to limit family numbers. If socio-economic justice is not ensured there would be turmoil and violence in the society. And of course, wars for oil, water and other resources could roil the world. It has to be noted that at the present there are a dozen countries having nukes and delivery systems, fear would continue looming large. Apart from resolving disputes among the nations, population growth must be checked in a planned way, otherwise nature would limit in its own way, as there are more than a dozen declared/undeclared nuclear states, and war between then could destroy world.
—The writer is a senior journalist based in Lahore.

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