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Demographic analysis: pragmatic use

Huzaima Bukhari

“If you’re a scientist, and you have to have an answer, even in the absence of data, you’re not going to be a good scientist”—Neil deGrasse Tyson (American astrophysicist)

Most organized households first make a note of their members, their categories and needs after which income and expenditure are evaluated for balancing the books. This enables them to sensibly chalk out their life ensuring comfort, certainty, steady flow of funds and effective management during any unexpected contingency. Those that fail to assess their typical conditions usually end up confronting different crises, among which depletion of material resources and financial ones usually topping the list. On a small scale, this type of an analysis is fairly simple and manageable yet there are many households that suffer from low income(s) or who have individuals with special needs for whom it is difficult to cater. There are many who live below poverty line and survive on a day to day basis. In a nutshell, this means that each household is unique in terms of its composition, needs, income etc.

In the event of present corona virus affliction, the government seems totally directionless as how to reach out to the truly needy segments of the population. In addition to handling health issues there is no clarity regarding the number of persons working on daily wages who are the main focus of concern for the government in these extraordinary circumstances. No mechanism to deliver essential supplies to ones living in areas that are remote. It would be interesting to see if there are any details with respect to households comprising on an average, eight family members living in one-room houses. In the absence of this vital information, how would it be possible to execute a welfare scheme so that the ones meriting aid can be distinguished from free riders. The Ehsaas programme is attempting to filter out the better-offs and compiling a list of the impoverished.

History of census in Pakistan dates back to 1951. Since then population count has been made in 1961, 1972, 1981,1998 and 2017. The quality of these censuses can be gauged from this fact that whenever a crisis hits the country there can never be found reliable data on the basis of which relief measures can be designed. Pakistan Bureau of Statistics established in 1950, is responsible for, in addition to many other things, collecting, compiling, analyzing and publishing, statistical data relating to various economic and social sectors, including population census as one of its primary source. It is also duty-bound to supply the government departments with veritable figures. Under the Constitution of Pakistan census is a subject contained in Part II of the Federal Legislative List requiring discussion under Council of Common Interests (CCI) as required under Article 154(1). Thus, consultative process is essential for formulating and regulating policies in respect of census by CCI. Had it been done through proper constitutional process, national reliable data could have been collated with authenticity.

Importance of the evaluation of population data through demographic analysis cannot be denied as these are vital indicators of birth, death, migration, age, sex, marital status, religion, literacy, occupation etc. According to United Nations (1998), Principles and Recommendations for Population and Housing Censuses, Revision 1: “Information on the size, distribution and characteristics of a country’s population is essential for describing and assessing its economic, social and demographic circumstances and for developing sound policies and programmes (in such fields as education and literacy, employment and manpower, family planning, housing, maternal and child health, rural development, transportation and highway planning, urbanization and welfare) aimed at fostering the welfare of a country and its population.”

These analyses are pivotal in countries where there is a lack of independent registration facilities and sample surveys—remarkably Pakistan does not fall in this category. In 1998 National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA) was launched to meticulously gather information of every person living in Pakistan along with family backgrounds, household make-up and addresses. In the last two decades NADRA has emerged as one of the most technically advanced department of the Pakistan government yet its efforts appear meaningless in the event of a national episode. Compared to NADRA, the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) has a better data base of 165 million cellular subscribers as on 31 December 2019.

From multiple statistical departments found in this country, one thing can be averred and that is, abundance of information but absolute dearth of management. Too many cooks spoil the broth fits our situation where hundreds and thousands of people appear to be working but nothing is really achieved nor any work is actually done. In critical times, the government behaves as if it is groping in the dark and resolves to make plans for determining basic information to carry out relief work. Definitely amazing!

Just when the government is fully inclined to provide billions of rupees of cash and/or rations and loans to millions of daily wagers and those living in abject poverty, it is facing difficulty in touching base with them. Why? Principally because policies of successive governments have hardly been pro-people otherwise, it would not be an impossibility to trace identities of labourers, daily wage earners, industrial workers, domestic help among others. All the while we have been obsessed with appeasing traders, benefitting the privileged, providing concessions to the rich and mighty, watching their interests and encouraging a monarchical elitist structure but never showed interest in the welfare of the majority less privileged. It is during these critical moments that importance of establishing a welfare state becomes more obvious, rather inevitable.

The world has experienced first hand, the significance of life and health over wealth and power. Before anything, a human being takes priority. Beautiful cities lay barren with bustling localities turned into ghost towns but lessons remain unlearnt. During better times we never brace ourselves to confront unexpected circumstances and once they befall upon us, we are gripped in a state of panic. Our governments also pass through similar situations. Homework is never complete and those at the helm of affairs fail to do their own bit timely, honestly or efficiently. At the end of the day each one looks at the other blankly with no clue as to appropriate solutions.

Even after six censuses and a seventh one due in 2027, the governments have no plausible data base to manage a difficult state of affairs. From the available statistics of thirty seven million households, a rough estimate of the needy twelve million having an average of seven members each has been made. This is good enough! The main issue with the government is the way forward. The suggested methods are through the use of android phones (the lowest price is around Rupees 15,000), through short message service (SMS) and a Tiger Force of youngsters willing to risk their lives to supply essentials. In a country where the governments have failed to provide its citizens with basic necessities, the private telecommunication companies have successfully connected people of even those areas that are deprived of electricity. Perhaps, a more sensible approach would have been to utilize their data for reaching out to those in dire need.


The writer, lawyer and author, is an Adjunct Faculty at Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS)

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