‘Pakistan’s young population devoid of health, education could turn into demographic disaster’

A country with a young population but devoid of social sector investment, health and education could turn into a demographic disaster.

Economist Dr Asim Bashir, who is also a member of the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics (PBS) demographic committee, said this at a session arranged by the Urban Resource Centre in Karachi on Wednesday. The session was titled ‘Census Results — An Analysis’ on Wednesday.

Speaking on the topic of ‘Social Contract and Incentives, Problems and Population Census 2023’, Dr Bashir said there are four things directly linked to the population census. He said the most important one is the distribution of seats in assemblies. Article 51 of the Constitution of Pakistan says that the seats’ distribution in the National Assembly and provincial assemblies is linked with the population.

The second important thing is electoral delimitation, the third is elections and electorates and the fourth is resource distribution. As for the census, Dr Bashir said, the federal government through the PBS carries out listing, framework and design of the census and the PBS committee also finalises the census questionnaire.

The enumeration process, he said, is decentralised, which means it is spearheaded by the provinces. The training of enumerators is done by PBS across Pakistan in different phases, while enumerators are employees of the provincial government as they are mostly from the education or health department and they are supervised by the provincial government-appointed assistant and deputy commissioners.

In the 2023 census, he said, the Balochistan population doubled due to which their seats in the assemblies were also going to be increased. As per the unofficial results, there is going to be an increase of 14 seats in Balochistan and this is a huge anomaly.

The Balochistan growth rate, he said, is also an anomaly which is nine per cent. Either in the earlier census, he said, the Balochistan wasn’t counted at all or there was an over-enumeration this time.

Speaking on resource distribution, he explained the National Finance Commission (NFC) award, which is defined in the constitution’s Article 160 and talks about resource distribution between the federation and the provinces.

The NFC distribution is based on a formula for the distribution of financial resources. The indicators of the formula are: population (82 per cent), poverty and backwardness (10.3 per cent), revenue collection and generation (5 per cent) and inverse population density (2.7 per cent).

“This means those [provinces] with more population will have an increased relative share in the financial distribution,” he said, explaining that over-enumeration is a big incentive to get financial resources.

Nowhere in the world, he said, is the population indicator 82 per cent for financial resource distribution. Due to this formula there was a deduction in financial distribution in Punjab in the previous census, which was compensated in other provinces. “This was a zero-sum game,” he said.

The same problem, he said, existed in India. The way to discourage over-enumeration, he explained, is to minimise population indicators from resource distribution. He said that Pakistan’s median age is 20 years. “Out of 210 million people in Pakistan, 105 million are below 20 years and another 105 million are above 20 years of age. “This means Pakistan is a young country,” he said, adding that since 1960s a theory exists in the country that due to the younger population the country would have a better demographic dividend.

He then explained how there was a study in India which said how the country would be in 2050. The study explained that a country with a younger population without social sector investment, education and health “will be a demographic disaster”.

“The same is the case for Pakistan,” he stressed, adding that the emphasis should be on reducing the population growth, not increasing it. India, he said, has reduced the population indicator to 10 per cent for its resource distribution, whereas indicators such as tax collection and infrastructure development have been increased. “They restricted the population indicator percentage, because after every census the same disputes emerged there,” he said. Chairman URC Arif Hasan and urban planner Muhammad Toheed also spoke at the session.

Published in The News 18 May 2023