By George Moffett, writer of The Christian Science Monitor
The Christian Science Monitor
AFTER wavering over whether to boycott the United Nation's population conference in Cairo, Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto's decision to attend the conference was a logical one, since her country has paid such a high price for its inaction on population growth.
Like most developing nations, Pakistan's population growth rate soared in the years following World War II because improved sanitation and health-care measures increased life expectancy.
But unlike most developing nations, Pakistan has never mounted an effective family-planning program, mainly because of the opposition of the country's Muslim religious establishment.
The result: Pakistani women, less than 10 percent of whom use contraceptives, still have an average of 6.7 children - more than twice the global average. At current growth rates, Pakistan's population will double from 130 million to 260 million within the next 23 years, a prospect that all but extinguishes hope for a bright economic future.
Until now, Pakistan's sustained average economic growth of between 5 and 6 percent per year has matched the performance of such Asian "tigers" as South Korea and Singapore. With that kind of showing, Pakistan should have had a larger piece of the Asian economic miracle. But rapid population growth, among other factors, has robbed the Asian nation of the fruits of its success.
In South Korea, which is now heading toward zero population growth, per capita gross domestic product is nearly $1,000. In Pakistan, where the population is increasing at a much faster rate, per capita GDP is just $350, lower even than nations like Yemen and Honduras.
As one World Bank official notes: "With half the population, Pakistan would have done twice as well."
As for the country's economic future, limited surplus capital, scarce raw materials, an underskilled work force, and a low adult-literacy rate suggest that Pakistan would have difficulty under any circumstances creating a modern industrial economy capable of generating growth and jobs.
With such rapidly expanding numbers to feed, house, and educate, the task will be even harder. Any growth in the country's domestic product will be needed to finance government social services and will thus do little to fuel the economy or improve the quality of life. …