The cities in the country are expanding most haphazardly. Villages are turning into towns, towns into cities and cities into megacities. In 1971, the population of then East Pakistan was about 65.5 million and ours was 58 million. According to stats, Bangladesh’s present population stands at 166.3 million and ours have gone beyond 220 million. Even the city of Lahore has crossed the 13 million mark. After becoming independent, Bangladesh’s successive governments managed to control the growth of its population while we continued to go into free fall. As a result, when Bangladesh improved its GDP, health and education levels, we are grappling with the idea of a Single National Curriculum. There’s no doubt that overpopulation stymies growth in all sectors related to public welfare. Understandably, the clergy in Bangladesh cooperated with the government in controlling the population by advising people not to compete in procreation. At our end, Maulana Tahir Ashrafi, the special representative for religious harmony, could advise the public to restrain themselves from multiplying. He could be effective in this matter since he regularly appears in the news media. His persuasive skill, impressive attire and demeanour would be enough to convince people to divert to other activities than focusing on the single pastime of enlarging their families. Overpopulation stymies growth in all sectors related to public welfare. Undeniably, most of our civic problems stem from the exploding population. The newspapers often report public complaints of mistreatment in government hospitals, public offices and other government institutions because the civic facilities are scarce and the needy have multiplied. Too many vie for too little. Most heart wrenching it is to read when some kill themselves, their wives and children for failing to feed them. It happens in the land where one segment of society rolls in the abundance of everything imaginable and the other layer, the largest one, languishes in extreme poverty. The latter cannot even meet its daily needs to survive. Overpopulation adversely affects all facets of national life. The cost of living goes up because the cost of housing and commodities of daily use go up. The government fails to create jobs at the pace at which the population grows. And unemployment results in a higher crime rate. Not only that, unemployment coupled with a low literacy rate degrades the value of human life. The nation begins to look more like a mob than a civilised society. The civilised nations ensure to control their population to be able to provide the people with all necessary amenities of life. Consider New Zealand. Its population has hovered around 5 million for some years while we added 5 million to our population every year. New Zealand boasts of achieving universal health coverage for its people, including mental health and long-term care of the elderly. Not to mention its literacy rate at 99 per cent. On the other hand, we seem destined to live like hordes of teeming millions – semi-literate and underfed. It’s for the leaders to think about. Various governments in the past ignored the importance of population planning. Why take refuge behind the euphemism of ‘planning’, why not declare overpopulation as a ticking bomb about to explode. The irony is that the educated among our society have relatively fewer children but the uneducated and lower rung of society breed no holds barred. Instead of creating unproductive jobs in the public sector, the government should consider establishing vocational institutes to train the unemployed youth in various skills. These institutes should be set up in rural areas to discourage large-scale exodus of the population to main cities. Those trained in vocational institutes should be given diplomas recognizable in other countries. For example, diplomas in plumbing and cookery that meet a certain standard are readily acceptable in Australia. The plumbers in Australia earn as much as the doctors. It reminds me of an anecdote. In the late sixties, we had a geography teacher who had just returned after doing his masters from Oxford. The immaculately dressed handsome bachelor was the favourite of the boys. They frequently questioned him why the then East Pakistan’s population was much more than ours. “Because it rains for days on end and people remain confined to their homes, hence the high growth in population”, he answered. The students giggled and enjoyed his explanation while he displayed an innocent face. The rains never lessened in Bangladesh, how did the country manage to control its population? What if we had such intensity of rains? The writer is a Lahore-based columnist and can be reached at pinecity @gmail.com.