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M Zafar Khan Safdar |

I was born and raised in Peshawar, the capital of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP), a transit hub near the famed Khyber Pass. It is an important military and communications center; historical limit of the Grand Trunk Road connecting India and Pakistan, and the major depot for trade with Afghanistan. It is famous for local handicrafts, fruit farms.

Peshawar is industrial capital of the province; industrial production includes food processing, steel, cigarettes, firearms, textiles, pharmaceuticals, furniture, shoes, marble, ceramics, match, paper, and much more. It is bordered to the north by Charsadda district, to the east by Nowshera district, to South by the tribal areas and Kohat districts and to West by Mohmand and Khyber agencies.

Even today as the NATO forces are fighting an unending war against terror in Afghanistan, millions of Afghans are taking refuge in KP as a whole and  Peshawar in particular.

The total area of the district is 1257 square Kilometres. Peshawar district is almost a fertile plain with a small hilly area in the South-East which is a part of the main Khattak Range and its highest point is 1173 feet above the sea level.

Peshawar, a city that has been a victim of rapid and unplanned urbanization for the past three decades. Once regarded as a city of fragrance, it has turned into a heavily populated and a stained metropolitan. Peshawar has been an important trade hub for Afghanistan and the Central Asian Republics.

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Peshawar had to bear huge influx of Afghans during and after the Afghan war (1979-1989), and Taliban rule in Afghanistan (1996-2001). Even today as the NATO forces are fighting an unending war against terror in Afghanistan, millions of Afghans are taking refuge in KP as a whole and Peshawar in particular.

Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) due to Swat and Waziristan operations also migrated to Peshawar during the years 2007-2016, most of them retuned following successful military operations, but the well-off settled permanently in Peshawar.

A study on the process of urbanization and urban growth in Peshawar since the beginning of the 20th century reveals a steady increase in the size of the urban population and the degree of urbanization. But the tempo of increase became faster from 1981 onward. From 1981 to 1998, Peshawar’s urban population grew three fold.

This myth has already been exploded by demographers. It may also be noted that the data under discussion does not include the Afghan refugees.

Urban population in Peshawar is growing at a rapid pace from 8% (1981) to 14% (2017) and approaching 18% by 2030. With its considerable advantages; the technological and industrial boom has also brought enormous problems to urban citizens including degradation of the environment, acute housing and water shortage, and lack of sewage treatment.

Considering population growth there exist severe lack of health and transport facilities. Increase in the number of slums around Peshawar is also evident. However, unlike the big cities in developed states, Peshawar is not able to take in more people because of unplanned and poor urban management and limited resource. According to 2017 census, Peshawar’s total population is 4.269 million and its urban population is 1.970 million; it is estimated that the urban population of Peshawar will likely increase up to 2.80 million by 2030.

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It is important to point out that most people including many social scientists and journalists believe that rural to urban migration is the prime factor of urbanization. This myth has already been exploded by demographers. It may also be noted that the data under discussion does not include the Afghan refugees.

Technically speaking refugees are not citizens of Peshawar, and their inclusion would make the decennial census data incomparable; although it is necessary to consider them while analyzing the root cause of urban problems. This aspect is, therefore, included in the analysis and discussion of the problems associated with urban sprawl, especially in the context of Peshawar city; where these Afghan refugees live in a large number.

The problem becomes more severe in peak hours and credit goes to inefficient land use planning, poor infrastructure, and absence of sound traffic-management system.

A comparative study of urbanity level of Peshawar vis-a-vis KP as a whole during 1901-1998, 1980-2017 brings out some interesting facts. As early as 1980, the urbanity level in KP was 12.7% while for the territories now comprising Peshawar, the corresponding figure was 9.8%.

Peshawar maintained a higher urbanity level until 1941, but afterward, it lagged behind the KP’s overall averages in census counts of 1951 and onwards. In the year 2017, the urbanity level of Peshawar was 18.9% and of KP as a whole was 38.5%.

Housing growth-rate in Peshawar has multiplied manifold in the past three decades. Increasing trend of urbanization in most parts of the country has its impacts on Peshawar as well. In the access to improved facilities, people are trying to migrate to urban areas. In order to make them settled in these urban areas, there is unmet demand for more infrastructure in Peshawar.

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The number of houses is increasing in wake of these migrations. According to the Housing Census 2015 and data available with the Peshawar development authority (PDA), the total number of houses in Peshawar was 0.167 million in 1981. It went to 0.236 million in 1998 and the number of houses in Peshawar remained 0.897 million in 2015. The projected trend could be much more in the near future.

With an alarming population growth rate of 3.99 per annum, the already over-populated Peshawar with massive urban sprawl is confronting allied challenges like traffic congestion, a rise in temperature, environmental pollution, shortage of agro-land, lack of sewage-treatment facilities, contaminated drinking water, poor sanitation, law and order situation, and much more.

According to data available with the Directorate of Water and Sanitation (PDA), they supply water to 0.335 million housing units in Peshawar, whereas, the rest rely on their own sources.

Traffic congestion, as a regular feature, has been affecting every commuter irrespective of holidays, characterized by slower speeds, longer trip times, increased vehicular queueing, high operating costs, and the drivers becoming frustrated and engaging in road rage. The problem becomes more severe in peak hours and credit goes to inefficient land use planning, poor infrastructure, and absence of sound traffic-management system.

Adding to the sufferings, the PTI provincial government started Rapid Bus Transit project (BRT) in October 2017 aiming to provide better and cheaper urban transportation but the project succumbed to inefficient supervision and it still cannot provide completion deadline.

Unplanned urban extension and rapid growth in population have resulted in a significant rise in temperature. According to Director metrological department Peshawar, Mr. Liaquat Nazir “Average mean temperature of Peshawar remained 35 °C during summer throughout, but a constant and disturbing shift towards higher side is observed during the past three decades; seeing the temperature of Peshawar has risen from 35 °C (May-Sept) to 50 °C (May-Sept)”.

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Likewise, the directorate of water and sanitation, Peshawar development authority (PDA) admits lack of sewage treatment facilities in Peshawar and denote its budgetary constraints. Visible smoke and dust all around the city is not only posing the high threat to human life but has put the environment and beauty of the city at stake. In 2003-04, a study was conducted by Pakistan Space and Upper Atmosphere Research Commission (SUPARCO) in six cities including Peshawar.

The study concluded that emissions of all pollutants gases are too high in these cities. The study also showed that concentrations of PM10 in Peshawar are more than 150ug/m3 (micrograms/meter-cubed) which is very alarming. The study also indicated that air pollution level in Peshawar is 20 times higher than the actual standard set by of the World Health Organization (WHO).

The managerial decisions focused on short-term results are absolutely unacceptable. All factors like the natural, historical, social, economic, environmental, cultural etc.

These findings are based on a study conducted 15 years ago, today the situation is even worse. According to data available with the Directorate of Water and Sanitation (PDA), they supply water to 0.335 million housing units in Peshawar, whereas, the rest rely on their own sources.

According to PDA, water quality survey of River Kabul revealed that concentration of Coliform bacteria in river Kabul water is 1600/100 ml of water as compared to World Health Organization (WHO) standard of 3/100 ml of water. Three treatment plants were established for Peshawar but they are not working to their full capacity.

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Socio-economic changes in the city are indivisibly linked with alterations in urban policy and active investment processes in construction, engineering, development, and urban landscaping. The managerial decisions focused on short-term results are absolutely unacceptable. All factors like the natural, historical, social, economic, environmental, cultural etc. must be taken into account to address and to restore the magnificence of a city that was once known for its refinement and beauty.

M Zafar Khan Safdar is Ph.D. in Political Science. His area of specialization is political development and social change. He can be reached at zafarkhansafdar@yahoo.com and tweet@zafarkhansafdar.The Views expressed in this article are author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.

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