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Monday Sep 11 2017

Making sense of the census

Better known for its bravery, the MQM’s sense of humour often remains under-appreciated. The party is angry that Karachi’s population has not been properly counted in the “rigged” census. According to the MQM, city’s population can’t be less than 30 million while it has been counted at 14.9 million. Does the party of the founders of Pakistan really want 15 million more Punjabis, Pakhtuns, Baloch etc in the city of lights or, if they are already there in such large numbers, does it really want them counted and included in census results and in the electoral rolls? Or does the MQM feel that the Mohajirs, under its energetic leadership, have become the most fertile people on the planet?

For any Pakistani interested in development, the current results of the census are shocking because of the high population growth rate. A fast population growth symbolises lack of social and economic development, poverty, lack of primary health care, lack of education and of course, lack of awareness and women empowerment. It also often means an unsustainable youth bulge, high crime rate, violence and conflict. The current census symbolises a huge failure on the part of the Pakistani state and its successive governments.

Pakistan’s failure in population control can be best seen in contrast to the remarkable success of two Muslim nations – Bangladesh and Iran. In 1984, Iran’s population growth rate was 4.1 percent while in the case of Bangladeshi, it was 2.7 percent. Today, Iran’s growth rate is merely 1.2 percent while in Bangladesh it is 1.1 percent. India during the same period has brought down its population growth from 2.3 percent to 1.2 percent.

This difference can also be seen in terms of the total fertility rate. If a woman bears 2.1 children, the population growth rate reaches a replacement level. That means that after a while population will stop growing. In Bangladesh the total fertility rate is 2.14. In Iran, it is 1.68 and in Turkey 2.05. In Pakistan, it is 3.6 – based on the estimates made before the current census.

As expected, the census has turned out to be the revenge of the poor on the rich. Population in the less developed areas has grown at a much faster pace than that in the relatively developed areas. The developed areas will pay the price of uneven development not only through lesser numbers, but also by attracting multitudes of the poor from less developed areas.

The census shows that in two federating units the population has grown above the national average – in Balochistan at 3.3 percent and in KP at 2.9 percent. Sindh grew at the national average of 2.4 percent while Punjab grew at less than the national average – 2.1 percent.

Disparities between provinces are only a part of the story. There are huge differences within provinces, particularly in Punjab and KP, that manifest disparities. It can be helpful to look at the statistics of different divisions in this regard. Divisions comprise a number of contiguous districts that have ethnic and geographic affinity.

In KP, Bannu, Dera Ismail Khan and Malakand have grown at 3 percent or more. Peshawar too has grown at 3.4 percent but we can assume that it has received populations from other areas, particularly the tribal region. However, Hazara, Kohat and Mardan division have grown at less than 2 percent.

In Punjab, except for Lahore (2.55 percent) and Rawalpindi (2.16 percent), all other areas in central Punjab have recorded a population growth rate of less than 2 percent. These divisions include Faisalabad (1.92 percent), Gujranwala (1.82 percent), Sahiwal (1.69 percent) and Sargodha (1.94 percent). In southern Punjab, only Multan division has recorded a growth rate of less than 2 percent (1.98 percent), while Bahwalpur has grown at 2.16 percent. The highest growth rate in Punjab has been recorded in the least developed division, Dera Ghazi Khan (2.81 percent).

It can be safely assumed that both Lahore and Rawalpindi have received population from other areas. People from other parts of Punjab are migrating to Lahore in large numbers because the Punjab government has concentrated public goods and civic facilities in this city by consistently spending more than half of the province’s development budget on it. Khadam-e-Ala, through his love for the city, has turned it into a huge population magnate.magnate.

Interior Sindh does not have a growth rate as high as KP or Balochistan, but it is still quite high. Its population growth rate is comparable to southern Punjab. Not a single division in Sindh has registered a growth rate of less than 2 percent.

Hyderabad division grew at 2.34 percent, Sukkur at 2.53 percent, Mirpur Khas at 2.62 percent, Larkana at 2.05 percent and Shaheed Benazir at 2.17 percent. The Sindh government may not be happy, but to me these statistics appear scandalously high and hint at a serious public health and education problem.

Though the comparison between the cities of Karachi and Lahore has been much hyped, Karachi division (2.60 percent) has recorded slightly higher growth rate than Lahore (2.55 percent). This, however, is less than what was estimated earlier.

Though Balochistan has a very high growth rate of 3.37 percent, some statistics appear erratic and may need explanation by experts. Fata also has a high growth rate of 2.41 percent, but its statistics reflect the turmoil it is going through. While Khyber Agency has a growth at the rate of 3.16 percent, Orakzai agency shows a growth rate of merely 0.64 percent. Perhaps, Fata may need another counting after normalcy returns to the region.

Another alarming aspect of the census is the imbalance in sex ratio. Pakistani population is 51 percent male and 49 percent female. That means millions of missing women? Sex selective abortions, inadequate healthcare and inadequate nutrition for female children are considered the major reasons for such an imbalance. Many women also remain uncounted in statistics because in some areas there is a taboo against mentioning women’s names in public.

The new count also means that Pakistan’s GDP per person is 4-5 percent less than earlier estimates. As The Economist noted in its latest issue, it means that Bangladesh’s GDP per person is now higher than Pakistan’s. Converted into dollars at market exchange rates, it was $1,538 in the past fiscal year (which ended on June 30th). Pakistan’s was about $1,470.

According to The Economist: “Bangladesh’s GDP per person received a boost from another source. Its last census, in 2011, led to a large revision of the country’s population, larger even than Pakistan’s. But in Bangladesh’s case, the revision was downwards.”

No Naya Pakistan or Naya Pakhtunkhwa is possible at this pace of population growth. It is no coincidence that the regions with high population growth rates are also the most unstable and conflict prone areas in the country. Unfortunately, we have not heard from the federal or the provincial governments about their plans to control the population by the next census. Our public representatives may have their eyes on new constituencies and the NFC Award, but what really matters to the people is their quality of life.

The writer is an anthropologist and development professional.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @zaighamkhan

Originally published in The News

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