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Maham Khan Afridi

The writer is an undergraduate scholar of Public Administration at Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad.

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Hilal English

Overpopulation: Navigating Challenges and Charting Solutions for Pakistan

May 2024

In a world where overpopulation strains every facet of society, it's like we're all stuck in a traffic jam of existential proportions, with urban infrastructure groaning under the weight of too many dreams and too few lanes.



The world is presently grappling with multiple socioeconomic, political, and ecological challenges, thereby posing a grave threat to both the natural habitat and humanity. One such existential threat is the bursting population worldwide, which, if not addressed, could have disastrous repercussions in the near future. Imagine a world on the verge of overpopulation, where the existing equilibrium of nature hangs on the edge of collapse, where natural resources are stretched thin, and ecosystems are strained to their limits. As we progress into the 21st century, the world is defined by a complex interplay between human demographics and the finite resources of our planet. Nevertheless, the nations with developed economies and farsighted approaches have formulated effective and equitable policies to tackle the looming threat of overpopulation, as compared to the underdeveloped nations. 
According to Thomas Malthus, an 18th century British philosopher and economist, “Population, when unchecked, increases in a geometrical ratio. Subsistence increases only in an arithmetical ratio. A slight acquaintance with numbers will show the immensity of the first power in comparison of the second”.1


In societies where there is a strong preference for male offspring, families prioritize the allocation of resources such as access to education and healthcare to male children over females, perpetuating societal norms that discourage women's empowerment.


Considering the incredible number of humans inhabiting the earth can provoke anxiety. Do we have enough food to fulfill the nutritional needs of 8 billion people? How do we scale back the pressure on our environment and adapt to climate change? How will global economies, fueled by limitless population growth, address the issues of ethical and sustainable production? 
The answers to all such questions are counterintuitive or paradoxical. Generally, experts hold two contrasting views. Some among the experts argue that the human population needs to be drastically reduced to avoid ecological catastrophe.2 Others believe that technological advancements can lead to smart and efficient solutions without the need to actively tackle the issue of overpopulation.3
Challenges of Overpopulation and Case Studies of Resilient Nations
Strain on Urban Infrastructure. With the increasing urban populations in rapidly growing cities, the municipalities face increased pressure and heightened demand for public services such as transportation networks, housing, clean water and sanitation systems. The quality of life for urban residents diminishes as the overpopulation strain manifests in various forms, such as traffic congestion, limited access to basic amenities and exacerbated social disparities. Acknowledgement of overpopulation as an existential threat would be the first step in addressing these multifaceted challenges. Implementing comprehensive urban planning frameworks, improving strategic infrastructure investments and adopting sustainable development policies can be used to accommodate the evolving needs of burgeoning urban populations. 
Despite being one of the most densely populated countries, Singapore has effectively tackled the issue of strain on urban infrastructure by investing heavily in infrastructure development to accommodate its growing population. The Mass Rapid Transit system in Singapore is a prime example of successful urban planning that provides residents with a convenient and reliable transportation option. Furthermore, Singapore's initiatives of public housing program, maximizing land use efficiency through high-rise developments and vertical expansion optimize limited space in urban areas and promote social cohesion within communities. Singapore serves as a model for other urban centers facing similar challenges around the world.4
Increased incidents of domestic abuse are more commonly experienced in overcrowded households. This is due to cramped living conditions, economic strains and lack of resources that contribute to tensions and conflicts within families, exacerbating the problem of abuse and domestic violence, particularly against women and children. In urban areas where there is high population density, the lack of career opportunities can push individuals towards criminal activities as a means of survival. Increased competition for limited resources in densely populated regions can exacerbate social tensions and create fertile ground for crime and delinquency to flourish. 
Gender Disparity. The interplay between overpopulation and gender equality creates cyclical challenges where uncontrolled and increasing population exacerbates gender disparities. Inhumane practices such as female infanticide, prenatal sex determination and gender-biased abortion have become common practices in over-populated regions. In societies where there is a strong preference for male offspring, families prioritize the allocation of resources such as access to education and healthcare to male children over females, perpetuating societal norms that discourage women's empowerment. Societies where male dominance is entrenched perpetuate stereotypes and limit women’s autonomy and opportunities.  
The misconceived religious beliefs among poor and middle-class families view children as divine blessings and assume that their coming to the world is preordained. The patriarchal norms upheld by male-dominated states disregard the health of women who have to bear frequent pregnancies and maternal health problems. The societal expectations put women under stress that a woman's worth is tied to her reproductive capacity. All of this is due to limited educational and economic opportunities that hinder their ability to make informed family planning choices. Maternal mortality rates rise in densely populated areas due to limited access to skilled birth attendants and lack of emergency obstetric care. The disparities in healthcare outcomes due to the restricted role of women in family planning exacerbate gender disparity in overpopulated regions.5
One prominent example of a country that has made major efforts over the past two decades to reduce the maternal mortality rate is Rwanda. There has been a remarkable decline in Rwanda's maternal mortality ratio, representing a substantial reduction of over 80 percent. The Rwandan government's significant investment in the healthcare infrastructure of rural areas and community-based healthcare initiatives improved access to maternal and child health at the grassroots level. Furthermore, by leveraging technical expertise and financial support through collaboration with non-governmental organizations, Rwanda has successfully proved to be a notable example for other countries.
Fertility rates in most of the countries around the world have fallen sharply. As countries get richer, the people tend to have fewer children. As better-educated women tend to delay childbirth and have fewer children, the regions having lower fertility rates indicate a rise in gender equality. Additionally, women in leadership roles are more inclined to champion efforts to combat climate change and have higher contributions to environmental preservation. 
Environmental Hazards and Global Warming. In the recent global debates, the rapidly increasing human population has been blamed as a key reason for the climate crisis. A grave challenge to humanity is posed by environmental problems such as pollution, habitat destruction, and waste management issues which contribute to deteriorating the quality of life. There is a growing consensus that economic growth is the chief culprit that threatens environments at global, national and regional scales. Environmental degradation is a consequence of per capita consumption multiplied by the number of people consuming. The current economic model of short-term profits has sacrificed the planet's future and threatens the ecosystems of a biologically rich world. Half a century ago, population was considered to be a serious issue for both the developing world as well as for the planet as a whole. Initially, it was possible to feed more people through green revolution practices in agriculture, but the costs of such initiatives were soon understood. As the United Nations (UN) has most recently projected the global population to reach 9.7 billion by 2050 and 10.4 billion by 2100, it is expected that another 2 billion of us will bring the already stressed ecosystems to the point of a major collapse.
Implications for Pakistan and the Way Forward
In Pakistan, the consequences resulting from overpopulation are becoming increasingly evident across various sectors. The rapid use of land, out-space housing infrastructure, water scarcity, energy shortages, road networking, and segregated residential colonies leading to slums or slums-like patterns in urban areas are the major factors contributing to changes in landscapes, affecting the economy as well as the local environment of Pakistan. Due to this, public spaces, urban green land, cityscapes and local public services are limited, and air pollution, traffic congestion, solid waste disposal and other such issues persist in the densely populated regions of Pakistan. Furthermore, the increasing population of Pakistan exerts pressure on the education system, overcrowded educational institutions and resource shortages that hinder educational outcomes. As a result, children drop out of school and are seen begging on roads, working in workshops, picking garbage trying to make a living. 
Over the last few years, Pakistan has experienced severe environmental degradation as a result of population growth, industrialization, deforestation and a lack of adequate environmental regulations. All such factors pose serious threats to public health and biodiversity. Pakistan's current landscape reflects how the lack of adequate policies is visible in all walks of life, including economic, social and cultural ramifications.6 A major chunk of our population lacks access to adequate food supply due to affordability issues. State-run hospitals fail to provide health care to ordinary mortals. The overwhelming demand for medical services exceeds the existing capacity of hospitals, especially in rural areas of Pakistan, where healthcare infrastructure is scarce. The social fabric of the country is strained as the burgeoning population intensifies the competition for unemployment, leading to a higher unemployment rate and higher poverty levels.7 As the majority of the population struggles to secure sustainable livelihoods, the nation's ability to keep pace with global advancements decreases.
The growing storm of overpopulation in Pakistan needs to be addressed through strategic interventions across various sectors using a multifaceted and comprehensive approach. Investment in educational reforms should be prioritized, particularly for the youth. Expansion of access to family planning services and reproductive healthcare facilities should be provided in rural and underserved regions of Pakistan. To enhance Pakistan’s efforts to address overpopulation, the government and relevant authorities should focus on incorporating technological advancements such as telemedicine, digital education platforms, and data analytics that provide improved access to healthcare and education and enable targeted interventions. Moreover, prioritizing economic empowerment and promoting environmental sustainability can mitigate the impacts of overpopulation on public health, socioeconomic development, and environmental degradation. 


The writer is an undergraduate scholar of Public Administration at Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad.


1.    Malthus, Thomas Robert. 2019. Essay on the Principle of Population. Yale University Press eBooks. https://doi.org/10.12987/9780300231892.
2.    Lidicker, William Z. 2020. “A Scientist’s Warning to Humanity on Human Population Growth.” Global Ecology and Conservation 24 (December): e01232. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.gecco.2020.e01232.
3.    Bradshaw, Corey J. A., and Barry W. Brook. 2014. “Human Population Reduction Is Not a Quick Fix for Environmental Problems.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 111 (46): 16610–15. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1410465111.
4.    Sh, Saw. 1980. “The Development of Population Control in Singapore.” Contemporary Southeast Asia 1 (4): 348–66. https://doi.org/10.1355/cs1-4d.
5.    UNFPA. 2024. “A Transformative Journey to Reach Zero Preventable Maternal Deaths in Rwanda.” UNFPA East and Southern Africa, February 24, 2024. Accessed April 21, 2024. https://esaro.unfpa.org/en/news/transformative-journey-reach-zero-preventable-maternal-deaths-rwanda#:~:text=RWANDA%20%E2%80%93%20Rwanda%20has%20undergone%20a,100%2C000%20live%20births%20in%20201
6.    “Overpopulation Alarm.” 2024. Pakistan Today. January 12, 2024. https://www.pakistantoday.com.pk/2024/01/12/overpopulation-alarm/.
7.    Talib, Adeel. 2023. “High Population Growth in Pakistan: A Supply and Demand Side Issue (Blog).” PIDE. December 11, 2023. https://pide.org.pk/research/high-population-growth-in-pakistan-a-supply-and-demand-side-issue/.


 

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Maham Khan Afridi

The writer is an undergraduate scholar of Public Administration at Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad.

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