Islamabad – Federal Government and Provincial Governments pledged to boost human development in Pakistan through priority investments in education and health, including reproductive health at the Population Summit 2015.
The two-day Population Summit 2015, organized by the federal ministries of national health services and planning and development, along with the Population Council and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), was attended by a vibrant spectrum of stakeholders, including senior figures representing the federal and provincial governments; religious scholars and leaders; civil society organizations; international organizations; and the diplomatic community.
Population Summit 2015 marked the first time in Pakistan that the issue of rapid population growth in the country was acknowledged candidly by all stakeholders, including ulema from all schools of thought, as a matter of urgent national concern. Participants termed it a milestone and a turning point in the national development discourse.
The inaugural session of the high-profile event was chaired by the Honorable President of Pakistan, Mr. Mamnoon Hussain. He said that the population issue must be tackled expeditiously to safeguard the interests of future generations of Pakistanis and ensure that they could thrive in a progressive, technologically advanced, and peaceful country.
The President hailed the fact that a wide-ranging consensus had been reached among all stakeholders, including all provincial and regional governments, all political parties, and the ulema, on this issue and said we must now build upon this consensus. He said it must be ensured that affordable reproductive health services are available to the people at their doorsteps, as this is their basic right. He also spoke on the need for focusing government attention on girls’ schooling and skill development of the youth.
President Mamnoon Hussain said that government commitment to population programs has been inconsistent in the past, but the broad-based consensus unveiled at the Population Summit should assure all stakeholders that Pakistan is now moving firmly in a positive direction. The President pledged that, by 2020, Pakistan will raise its contraceptive prevalence rate (CPR) to 50%, which is a composite goal based on goals set by the respective provincial governments. The President also announced that, to ensure that the fruits of development reached all people, a national census would be conducted in 2016.
During the event, senior representatives of the provincial governments and special regions also pledged the specific provincial CPR goals, including 55% for Punjab; 42% for Khyber Pakhtunkhwa; 45% for Sindh; and 32% for Balochistan. In addition, they shared the unique challenges they face, such as the problem of large distances, high maternal mortality, and illegal immigrants in Balochistan, and the progress they have achieved in terms of improving and expanding their networks of family welfare centers (FWCs), mobile service units (MSUs), other reproductive health facilities, and outreach workers; developing training centers; social mobilization efforts; and efforts to secure their contraceptive supplies beyond 2015. All provincial and regional representatives expressed their strong willingness to increase access to family planning as well as the great need for technical and financial assistance from the federal government and international organizations to achieve their goals.
The modalities of how the federal and provincial governments could work together after devolution were discussed. The Federal Government assured provinces that they now owned the population programs, and should make their own plans and secure assistance from international organizations directly; the role of the federal government is restricted to facilitating coordinating, and international reporting.
Representatives of the international community and organizations congratulated the country on coming together to identify the population and human development issue as a core priority and assured the gathering of their continued support.
Addressing the closing session Federal Minister for Planning and Development, Prof. Ahsan Iqbal said it was deplorable that while Pakistan is a middle income country, its performance against social indicators is at the level of the least developed nations. He said it is time for the country to put people first in the development agenda through urgent investments in reducing population growth, and in improving education and health so that the nation can emerge as a strong player in the current era of knowledge-based economies.