Human overpopulation is amongst the most pressing issues globally. World population is projected to reach 9.8 billion in 2050. The world is experiencing radical changes that are putting pressure on our food systems and creating environmental difficulties. We have already reached a point where the existing resources needed to sustain us are not available to half the world’s population. Can you imagine what will happen in the next 20 years if we don’t take this issue seriously?

Over the last two decades, Pakistan’s population has grown by 70 million making it the 6th most heavily populated country in the world. According to the World Bank’s Pakistan@100 report, the population of Pakistan is projected to exceed 300 million by 2050 making it the third largest in the world. This means Pakistan will have more mouths to feed and less land to grow food on. This situation is only likely to get worse if urgent action is not taken.

Multiple factors leads to high population growth. Poverty is at the heart of the issue, and it leads to high fertility, maternal deaths, malnutrition amongst women and children, early marriages, son preference and low literacy particularly in poor households across the country.

The UK is one of the biggest development donors in Pakistan and is committed to support the health sector here. Women and children are the UK’s number one health priority.

Pakistan’s fertility rate is the highest in South Asia at 3.7 births per woman. The high number of pregnancies and births has considerable effects on the health of women and children. DFID Pakistan through its Delivering Accelerated Family Planning programme is working to ensure that men and women have access to family planning information and services. We are helping to save the lives of women and girls by taking action such as providing basic health services including family planning and improving nutrition, making childbirth safer, and immunising babies and encouraging breastfeeding.

DFID Pakistan is increasing access to quality family planning information and services in Pakistan by those who choose to use it. I am pleased to say that since 2012, the UK support has reached over 1.7 million new family planning users and prevented 4,900 maternal deaths, over 3.49 million unwanted pregnancies, and 490,000 abortions. By March 2022, our programme aims to achieve 550,000 modern contraception users.

I strongly believe family planning empowers women. Access to family planning is the basic right of every woman across the world. I am delighted to see the difference that DFID Pakistan has made so far. I hear many success stories where women have practiced this right to space the birth of their children and plan less children through our support. I am confident that increased access to family planning will have a positive influence on a couple’s life, their ability to raise their children, and on women’s health and wellbeing. .

Along with family planning interventions, malnutrition should also be tackled to increase the ability of women to take care of their health, lead a heathier life with fewer, healthier children and to improve the wellbeing of the family at large. Healthy mothers raise healthy children, who will grow into healthy and productive adults who can then contribute to the economic development of Pakistan.

I am delighted that the Government of Pakistan has taken serious notice of this issue and is ready to invest in sustainable population growth. The high-level national symposium on population growth chaired by Prime Minister Imran Khan last December will disseminate its recommendations and build a national consensus on the rapidly growing population. This is a testament to the government’s commitment to this issue.

I am proud of the contribution that the UK is making to support Pakistan in its efforts but a lot more needs to be done. It’s high time that people stop considering family planning a taboo and start talking about it more openly. Family planning is an economic issue, as population growth will impact the economy, it’s a social issue, as child spacing is dependent on women’s empowerment and it is a health issue which requires a strong, integrated health system and increased awareness by men and women of the options and availability of different family planning methods. A successful population strategy therefore needs policy makers and institutions from across a range of disciplines to work together. This will enable couples to make informed choices and to be able to access affordable, modern contraceptives.

We will continue to work with the Government of Pakistan and other development partners and policy makers to expand our work to achieve sustainable population growth. I believe the Pakistan@100 report rightly highlighted the need to invest in human capital, especially for women in order for Pakistan to become a high middle income country. If we empower and educate women, give them the liberty to take decisions for their children and families, we see Pakistan on its way to become a prosperous nation.