Home Global Village The unplanned cities of Pakistan: A problem without solution

The unplanned cities of Pakistan: A problem without solution


Dr Zafar Khan Safdar |

Pakistan is one of the fastest urbanizing countries in South Asia and the share of the urban population has risen from 17% in 1951 to 37% in 2010 and to 39.7% in 2017 with an annual rate of urban change at 2.77%. Projections show that in the next 10 to 15 years half of the population will be living in urban areas. Population growth and net migration are the major forces behind urban growth. About one-fifth of the annual rise in urban population can be attributed to net migration.

Large cities with a population of one million and above had a share in the total population of 50% in 1998 which by now have risen to at least 66% or more. Urban areas contribute 80% of GDP, almost all the country’s tax revenues, and account for 60% of the employed labor force. The urban poverty rate is almost one half of that the rural poverty rate. Per capita income levels and growth rates have also been relatively higher in urban areas. Literacy and Enrolment ratios for both males and females are also better.

The lack of tolerance towards divergent views continues to pull urban Pakistan in different directions, which is not conducive for growth and development.

With a mix positive outcome, public policy towards urbanization in Pakistan is like sporadic spurts of enlightened political leaders who assume power but lack foundational stability or consistent planning and execution. A cursory look at the large urban conglomerates in Pakistan does not provide a satisfactory picture. Master plans are prepared with great effort and at considerable costs only to be breached in their practical applications or execution. Between 35 and 50 percent of the urban population still, live in Katchi Abadis.

In Karachi, there are 500 such informal settlements while in Lahore more than 300. Islamabad has been spared the agony because the master plan formulated 55 years ago is still the main guiding instrument and the deviations are far and few. Lahore has benefitted by the personal interest taken in its growth by successive Chief Ministers over last 10 years. Sialkot is a typical because the local citizens and the business community have taken matters in their own hands and created productive infrastructure and connectivity without the involvement of the government.

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Karachi saw some semblance of better governance when it had its own City District Government structure in place between 2002-2008. Since 2008, Karachi has suffered from benign neglect as the institutional structure of the City District Government and Town Councils was abolished without any alternative system. Land, water, transport mafias, and criminal gangs have assumed ascendency to the larger detriment of the citizens of Karachi. Negative externalities have turned Karachi into a highly polarized, deeply contested an almost unliveable metropolis.

Peshawar, Quetta, Faisalabad, Rawalpindi have witnessed some mixed outcomes at different time periods but overall do not present a wholesome picture. Gujranwala, Hyderabad, and Sukkur are typically the worst examples of unplanned urban sprawl. Multan has made some modest progress in infrastructure development in the last 10 years. All this indicators and estimations pose a very alarming situation for the country where businesses sector is small, jobs scarcity is high, and economic opportunities are little.

Population growth and net migration are the major forces behind urban growth. About one-fifth of the annual rise in urban population can be attributed to net migration.

Urbanization has both positive and negative sides that move parallel but the analysis has shown as if the negativities of urbanization are not addressed; it results in far more dangerous implications that overcome its entire positive tendency. By 2025, Lahore’s population, currently about 11.12 million, will reach 12.13 million. Karachi’s will be 17.12 million, it is 14.91 million today. Strikingly “What these numbers show” according to renowned economist Shahid Javed Burki “is that Pakistan is at the threshold of a major demographic transition”.

It is also a fact that in Pakistan the urban development has shifted from public land to some privileged classes. Hence land in Pakistan has become an important mean for earning money. This unwanted and unjustified process has left serious implications by setting inequalities in urban centres. There is no role of low-income communities in deciding the fate of urban cities. Movement or shifting of people from rural to urban has a direct link with the shifting of the economy from rural to urban.

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The agriculture sector is the major contributor to Pakistan’s economy. This sector accounted for about half of GDP in the years of 1949-50, but with the growth in cities, this fact decreased to 27% of GDP for the year 2015-16. Whereas during the same period the share of the manufacturing sector has increased to 29% from 8% to the GDP while the share of services sector has reached from 25% to 55%. Likewise, agriculture sector accounts almost 65% to the labor force but it declined to 38% in 2016.  The rise of population in cities increase the low-demand for employment in urban areas.

Currently, Pakistan’s major cities are facing the challenge of housing deficit for about 3 million units (while nearly 50% of Pakistani urbanites live in slums). One of the major indicators of urban decay is infrastructure deficit. According to the World Economic Forum survey (2012-13), out of 125 countries of the world, Pakistan ranked 67th in lacking basic infrastructure. Poor infrastructure services result in constrained economic activities and reduce the potentials of growth. The balance between demand and supply of infrastructure facilities has faced a chronic imbalance.

Karachi saw some semblance of better governance when it had its own City District Government structure in place between 2002-2008.

A report released by the World Bank in 2014 says Pakistan would need to increase its infrastructure development investment from existing 3% of the GDP to 10% of the GDP with policy interventions and improvement in regulations for attracting investment by facilitating private sector and foreign investors. It is now imperative that we should have an urban development policy addressing infrastructure, improvised basic facilities, and community-based services.

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There are certain inherent flaws for urban decay in Pakistan, such as low employment rate, unstable economic growth, incapable entrepreneurship, and weakening of civilian institutions. It is validated that the fastest growth rate in Pakistan is of the ages between 15 and 25. Although the education ratio in urban areas is almost high but getting an employment is even difficult. For incapable entrepreneurship and a dearth of employment for youth, emotional distress and disappointment emerge among them that result in the eruption of street violence and aggression.

A study reports an increase in violent crime during the last 15-20 years in Pakistan that is yet a reason for unemployment and lack of opportunities for the youth. Another challenge in urban Pakistan is the intolerance towards the diversity of views and virtues for the future of Pakistan. On one hand are the conservatives who would like to see the economic growth of cities divorced from cultural evolution and diversity. On the other hand are the pragmatists who see cultural evolution a natural outcome of the urbanization process. The lack of tolerance towards divergent views continues to pull urban Pakistan in different directions, which is not conducive for growth and development.

M Zafar Khan Safdar is PhD 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 the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.

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