Implications of Population Growth

Columnist A RASHID addresses the vital issue of this ticking time-bomb.

The silence and serenity of Edwards Road (now Bank Road) of Rawalpindi Cantonment would be disturbed by the very rare passage of an odd motor car, while we would be leaning on the steel railing at the entry point into the Edwards Road from Dilhousie Road (now Kashmir Road). This was almost our routine while in college, during fifties. It worked as a sort of unwinding for us from the day’s gruelling studies. We, friend, would come all the way from Government College, at Asghar Mall, the only degree college, besides Gordon College, during those days, in whole of Rawalpindi district, while the district of Islamabad had not yet been born. We would come to the cantonment area to refresh ourselves. A leisurely walk, in the evening, on the posh roads of Sadar and a gossip over a cup of hot tea in Kamran or Supper’s Cafe would see us through for the day’s entertainment.  The people going about on the Edwards Road during evenings, could be counted on finger tips. As far as the number of motor cars is concerned, these were so few that we remembered even the registration numbers of the cars frequenting the cantonment area. A similar environment prevailed in all the cantonments of Pakistan during those days. Very few people and very few vehicles frequented the streets of cantonments. The standards of general cleanliness were very high and environmental pollution was almost non-existent. Things were not all that bad even in the municipal areas. One did not experience the crowd phobia, while proceeding to Raja Bazar, to which one goes through now.

Presently all the significant boulevards of Rawalpindi cantonment and the bazars of the municipal area, from morning till midnight, present the scenes of continuous flood of humanity, interspersed with swarms of vehicles of different kinds. Instead of the trip to the cantonment being a recreation and unwinding of the olden days, the smoke and dust, in addition to the noise pollution of pressure horns, are the recipes that cause perpetual physical and psychological trauma to the visitors. In the present context what is true about Rawalpindi is also true about every place in the country. The cities housing industrial component of the country, like Karachi, Lahore, Gujranwala and Faisalabad etc are in much worse straits. The quality of life in these cities is more hazardous than rest of the country due to overall congestion, emission of industrial smoke and faulty, nay; no disposal of industrial waste. The implications of rapid population growth are varied and many. The general cry is “more mouths to eat, more economic resources required”, but this is an over simplification of a very complex issue. Of course the economic dimension of the issue appears dominant but the aesthetic and health care proportions are no less weighty and crucial either. Generally, the rising population growth has adversely affected the quality of life of the people, in geometrical progression. Pakistan’s economy being essentially agrarian, majority of the populations’ economic dependence had to be on agriculture. Apart from downward slide of prices of agricultural raw materials in the international markets due to myriad factors, exponential population growth has contributed in progressive reduction of sizes of land holdings of the people in the rural areas. Thus the uneconomical land holding has rendered the profession of agriculture less remunerative and, in economic terms, less feasible. Massive migration of agrarian population to the cities, in search of bread and butter, therefore ensued. The existing infrastructure of services of towns and cities could not withstand the congestion thus caused and succumbed to the pressure, turning the city and town centres into virtual slums and hovels.

During my education I had to move from city to city and town to town, due to professional requirements of the family and have attended numerous high schools and colleges in the process. I never came across an educational institution where adequate facilities for games and sports were not available. It used to be one of the obligatory requirements of the affiliating board or university to have a variety of playgrounds for a school or college. Now- adays, playgrounds are considered a luxury and most of the educational institutions don’t possess this facility at all. Why go far, the most prestigious college in the northern Pakistan, Federal Government Sir Syed College for boys, has no playgrounds annexed to its premises. Once in a blue moon the students are taken for sports to the playgrounds quite a distance away from the college.

Absence of sports and recreational activities in the educational institutions and dust, smoke and noise pollution  in the congested town life have rendered the overall quality of life miserable in various ways. Inadequate food, shelter and medicare facilities, coupled with acute scarcity of water have taxed the physical side of the citizens, while the increasing pollution and lack of recreational amenities have adversely affected the psychological disposition of the people. Such conditions of extreme misery have contributed in making the people intolerant, which gave rise to violence. Of course the economic misery of the people has mainly been instrumental in giving rise to crime rate but the psychological factor accentuated the overall violent temperament and as such escalated the criminal tendencies. Mutual suspicion and distrust has destroyed the fabric of community life. At nightfall the entire nation gets besieged in the respective dwellings and none can think of sleeping in the open air like in good old days.

In the face of rapidly increasing population, coping with the resources presents a Catch 22 situation. For example to improve the literacy graph of the nation, mere addition of educational institutions of various levels has not proved adequate. Promotion of real education demands many allied reforms, which is not possible due to overall economic stringency of the country. We are thus faced with a dilemma of irreconcilable contradictions. Only proliferation of real education can arrest the breakneck rate of population growth. After Ayub Khan’s administration, no government has so far been able to take up the cause of population control with the masses in a befitting manner. Due to hypocritical lip service to religion and to keep the religious lobby in good humour, all governments have since been apologetic while trying to educate the citizens about the hazards of population explosion. A lot need be done in this direction before the country crumbles under the weight of its own population.

The great cities of the developed world have also expanded but the citizen of the west has not experienced the trauma that the people of the third world countries are going through. All expansion is economic growth oriented and not population growth based. The expansion over there is of infrastructure and not merely consumption based. Even if you visit the cities and towns of the west after twenty years, you will not be struck by any adverse change in the urban life. Population growth being static in most of the western countries, the psychological profile of the people is materially the same that was decades ago. The towns and cities do not have the maddening crowds all through the day that turn people crazy in the countries with unchecked population growth in the east.

The implications of fast growing population in Pakistan encompass all imaginable aspects of citizenship. The fall out goes deeper down than is generally imagined. In the presence of the kind of alarming growth rate, even the most judicious use of country’s resources cannot turn the corner in any field of socio-economic development. Only highly drastic measures to arrest the population growth should be on the anvil. Only genuine attention to get rid of the mother of all ailments, the population explosion, can save the day. All other measures, how best intended those may be, will prove only cosmetic.