Jun 23, 2010 - population, published work    20 Comments

Living and dying in Pakistan


Something really sad happened last week: Akbar Ali poisoned himself, his wife and three of his six children because of poverty. The man and his daughters are dead, while the wife is still alive.  Only God knows what he must be thinking before he decided to take the toxic pills and leave his younger children to suffer alone. But this is something we will never know. Akbar was a worker at a garment hosiery factory and lost his job because the factory closed due to the current energy crisis. His problems compounded because he had a large family to support.

This is not the first poverty related suicide in the country and it won’t be the last. Berating the government for rising poverty will not make much difference unless it is backed by some serious thinking and action to tackle the issue. Akbar and his family would have been alive if he had a smaller family.

The biggest threat to Pakistan is neither its hostile neighbour, nor an international Zionist conspiracy. Rather, it is the country’s rising population. Pakistan’s population grew exponentially — from 33 million in 1947 to over 180 million in 2009. With over three million Pakistanis born every year, Pakistan is the second largest contributor to the world population after India. The total fertility at 4.0 is highest in the region as women in Pakistan have more children than its neighbours.

Although Pakistan initiated its first population control programme in the 1950s, it has not achieved much since then. There is minimal impact on use of contraceptives (only 23.9 per cent) and fertility has not reduced dramatically like it has in Bangladesh and Iran, although they started their family planning programmes in the 1970s and 1980s, respectively.

One of the reasons for the failure of family planning programmes in Pakistan is the administrative structure. Family planning is curiously separate from the health ministry and while it comes under the federal government, health is a provincial subject which completely de-links the two. Amalgamation of family planning in health is integral to achieve any success. Provision of all health services should be linked with family planning. The government needs to be pro-active in teaching young people about family planning and sternly deal with populist politicians who try to derail any such educational efforts.

A coherent approach is needed to combat the social and cultural stigma attached to it and it should be combined with effective service delivery in all parts of the country. Running adverts on TV is useless if the information provided on ground is ineffective and outreach activities are non-existent. To date, the biggest reason for the failure of the programme has been the lackadaisical attitude of successive government’s and lack of political commitment. Unless that is altered, change will remain elusive.

Forty per cent of Pakistan’s population lives below the poverty line and it can no longer ignore the fact that small families can help in coping with poverty more effectively. The government needs to realise and impart this message to others that low birth rates are needed to create national and personal wealth. Problems of high unemployment, increasing poverty, floundering education system, crises of food, water and energy will be exacerbated if we continue to add more and more people. If the population growth is not checked on priority basis, the country will be undone by the sheer number of its own people.

Originally written for Express Tribune 

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  • Where is fordos ashiq awan now =/

  • Saddens me to see that you still think of India as a hostile neighbour..If I remember correctly, it wasn’t Karachi or Lahore that was being attacked by “Hindu Indian” gunmen who had been brainwashed into doing something they believed was what “Ram” wanted them to do. Before everyone starts ganging up on me, let me make it clear that I’m an Indian Muslim. I have relatives in Pakistan and have Pakistani friends as well having lived a long time in the middle east. I do feel for you guys because you are going through shit right now and probably my comment has nothing to do with this post of yours. Yet I still feel amazed to see a mention of my country when so many other things are going wrong in Pakistan. On a lighter side, I also love Coke Studio 🙂
    Ok, enough said, let the bashing begin!

  • @Affan:

    Relax bro.. I think she meant it in a lighter vein.. “hostile neighbour” and “international zionist conspiracy”?? Get it?

    Tazeen is referring here to the fodder the fundamentalists use everyday to validate their existence. Of course all this is purely my opinion. Tazeen may care to clarify?!? 🙂

  • This sounds so familiar. Family planning which was a big thing during Indira Gandhi’s regime, has completely taken a backseat, in government health initiatives. It’s impossible for any system to cope with a population that is so out of control, and a family to cope with poverty.

  • Roshni,

    Apa Firdaus is looking for the next celebrity who is getting married so that she can give them family planning kits while millions of Pakistanis continue to breed like rabbits.


    Bhai apkay baray main kya bolon, less said is better.


    Thanks for coming to my rescue. You got it right.


    Pakistan only made serious inroads back in 1960s, after that it is just darkness.

  • its mean you want to abolish Apa firdous ministry . yaara yeah na karo .:D
    when BB gave birth to her third child , muslim leaguers used to ridicule her because during her regime PTV use to play population control add ” hum do , aur humaray do “.

  • This article makes me despair. I visit Pakistan at least annually and frankly, over the past 10-15 years, feel it has declined on the poverty front (unless I was just ignorant and less observant as a child).
    You guys might be able to correct me but isnt there any strong political activity in terms of engaging with the community, at ground level? E.g. women politicians meeting women in provinical areas and seeking to educate them on such matters?
    Also this story is not just about population control, its about a corrupt government guzzling international aid funds into the dirty hands of politicians. Maybe Im just a cynic.

  • this is really strange.. a couple of my friends recently visited Pakistan and they came back claiming there is zero poverty in Pakistan…no slums and garbage-strewn streets either…for a mumbai resident it sounded like paradise..
    and they reasoned this to the various charities running in pakistan..

    so either they were taken to “sanitized” locations only, like a south mumbai gora foreigner hangout or Pakistan (karachi, lakore, multan, the cities they visited) is indeed very clean and poverty-free…

  • Tazeen:

    Even though I advised you in my comment to your ‘A country only for fanatic men’ about English mistakes, I see that even though the mistakes have been reduced, they have not been eliminated.
    Why don’t you read this piece again and fix the mistake(s)

    In Peace,

    Edit Nazi

  • A similar problem faces India but thankfully it has been countered hugely in the recent past…

    Btw, isn’t there a religious angle as well to this problem?

  • Bonjour Tazeen,

    Population growth is probably THE great problem of our time. If it goes on like this, some countries will be obliged within a hundred years to live in accordance with the movie “Soylent Green”.

    Welcome to crowded times.


  • Tanzeen:”Akbar and his family would have been alive if he had a smaller family.”

    That might have been true if everything else, except the size of his family had remained the same in your hypothetical claim.

    One can also say, Akbar’s family would have been alive if there wasn’t such a high rate of unemployment.

    There are so many things one can think of that would have resulted in Akbar’s family still being alive. But there is only one that matters: If Akbar wasn’t poor he and his family would have been alive today.

    However, that is probably the connection you’re making here. More people result in less food to go around. Because for you, the quantity of food is fixed, or the rate of growth in food is slower than the growth rate of population. Hmm, where have I heard of this before. Oh yes Thomas Malthus. He predicted an impending human catastrophe and yet it never came. And do you know why? Because man did find a way to increase food production to keep pace with the increase in population.

    Let me also tell you something else about wealth. The most important element in creation of wealth, is not earthly resources, but the human resource. Wealth is created by man. The more people you have, the more wealth you get.

    You could have all the arable land to yourself, but if there is no one to till it, then you’ll die of hunger.

    So one might say that in Akbar’s case he would have been alive if he had a smaller family to support. But to claim the world would be better off with fewer people is complete hogwash.

  • It’s education of girls and the health of women that works best. In India, ‘family planning’ has worked best in states and pockets that spend more on education and primary healthcare.

    That’s also the reason why it works in Iran. That country has better literacy rates that the South Asian countries.

  • W eshould not blame growing population only. What we are witnessing is utter mismanagement in every field. Looting and plundering by some is on the increase. We badly need to address the issu of governance more than anything else.

  • Not just poverty, I think women’s health, their best and most productive years and even the quality of their lives (- and hence the entire society’s life) depends on how many pregnancies women have.

    Easy availability of contraception and enough information to counter some ridiculous myths, can make a tremendous difference.

    India faces this too.

  • Tazeen, excellent post, I think an outreach campaign “could” draft political workers, in their local naighbourhoods to go out and work on physical door to door outreach. Warna yeh aik had tak kafi farigh bethay hoay hotay hain.

    And a minor piece of good news for you (and the pessimistic Georg), is that population increase has significantly declined throughout the world even, in relative numbers, in Pakistan. So the dear old fatherland can benefit from this global trend.

    Pakistan has proven that it isn’t immune to global trends. 😉

  • May all their souls rest in peace…
    God Bless


    You have really out done your self.

    So Pakistan’s problem isn’t corruption, energy crises, stupid politicians, journalist who cant think for themselves and just parrot what westerne news say, the war of terror.

    No these are not Pakistan’s problem.

    Pakistan’s problem is more kids.


    Thanks for the joke. Don’t get married and pollute the gene pool. E will all consider it your contribution to Pak society.

    He wouldn’t have killed himself and his family if he had fewer kids. lol.

    Citizen X

  • Tazeen, I am surprised. No doubt overpopulation of any particular species threatens its existence but I think you are being naive by laying the blame for all Pakistan’s ills on the doorstep of overpopulation. If I had to identify the biggest threat to South Asia, I would identify it as the social oppression prevalent at every level.

  • Vikram and X, I believe that the problems you speak of are partially, if not largely born out of overpopulation.

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