On Wednesday 15 March, Pakistan launched its first census in 19 years amidst widespread concerns that it will be of little use. This year’s census will omit to collect vital information on current demographics. Fears are that this will impede the country’s ability to deal with its rapid population growth, and fuel existing crises like housing and water shortages.
A census is designed to help a government assess the socio-economic health of a nation and better plan for the future and for the nation’s growing needs. It does this by gathering a range of demographic information. Yet this census will be no more than a headcount.
The two most urgent problems tied to its fast population growth that the census could help the country deal with is its rapid urbanisation, currently the highest in south East Asia with a 3% annual growth, and migration.
“In the past few decades, millions of people have migrated to Pakistan from Afghanistan as well as Bangladesh. This has overburdened our cities and changed their demography,” Mazhar Abbas, a senior Pakistani journalist, told DW.
Yet the data omitted from the census deals precisely with migration and fertility. Without that data, it will not be possible to calculate Pakistan’s actual growth rate.
Family planning and development
The missing data is also essential for family planning says DKT Pakistan, an NGO raising awareness of family planning in Pakistan. The information provided would have helped map out areas where family planning is most needed and the scale of the services required, giving Pakistan a real chance to tackle population growth.
According to DW, experts are concerned that Pakistan’s inability to deal with its population growth will exacerbate problems it is already facing, such housing and water scarcity, and fuel existing political and military conflicts. It will also affect the provision of other services, such as education and energy. It is estimated that working age population will increase by 70 million in next 20 years posing a huge development challenge.