Pakistan: The human capital debacle

December 2, 2013 • Asia/Pacific, Daily Email Recap

The human capital debacle

The Population Association of Pakistan, in collaboration with the National University of Sciences and Technology (NUST), organised a two-day conference with the theme, ‘Population: New Realities and Challenges for Human Development’ on November 20-21, 2013.

The conference was held at the NUST campus in Islamabad and was attended by senior government officials, eminent social scientists, parliamentarians, representatives of NGOs and civil society, demographers, and faculty and students of NUST. This was the second conference of its kind, held during the last three weeks, on the broader areas of human development organised by NUST – reflecting the university’s commitment towards human development in Pakistan.

The purpose of this conference was to sensitise the country’s political leadership and senior government officials on the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead on account of the rising population. It is well-known that a strong human capital base makes a country more prosperous; the concept of human capital is thus more relevant to a labour-surplus country like Pakistan, as it is endowed with more labour owing to the higher population growth rate. The surplus labour of Pakistan is its human resource which can be transformed into human capital with effective inputs of education, health and moral values.

Pakistan is a relatively young country with nearly 50 percent of its population below the age of 20 years. Pakistan’s population at the time of independence was 33 million; by mid-2013, the population is estimated to have reached 184 million. Therefore, in roughly two generations, Pakistan’s population has increased by 150 million, which means it has grown at an average rate of 2.6 percent per annum. Interestingly, Pakistan adds one New Zealand to its population every year and one Australian in every five years.

By 2050, Pakistan’s population is likely to increase to 350 million from the current level of 184 million, of which over 235 million will be of working age (15-64 years). Most importantly, Pakistan has over a hundred million youth today and this number will keep on rising as we move forward in time. Pakistan stands to benefit from its large population, provided that it transforms them into productive citizens by investing in education and health (popularly known as the demographic dividend). Pakistan stands to lose enormously if it fails to invest in its people because the large population, particularly the youth, will then serve as high-octane fuel, igniting repeated cycles of social and political instability (popularly known as demographic disaster).

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