A Decade of Urban Decay

During the 1980s, Pakistan’s urban population increased from 28.3 to 31.2 percent of its total population. Expressed in these terms, the increase does not seem excessive. However, what these figures mean is that in the last years Pakistan’s urban population has increased by 44 percent, or from 23.8 to 34.3 million.

Contrary to popular belief, the bulk of this increase has taken place in the secondary cities and not in the two metropolitan cities of Karachi and Lahore. Gujranwala has grown at a rate of 7.5 percent per year, attracting more migrants than Lahore, and Peshawar has grown at a rate of 8.4 percent per year. Karachi’s growth rate, on the other hand, has gone down from 6 percent in the seventies to 4.5 percent, and Lahore in the last 10 years has grown at a rate of 3.5 percent.

Only 22 percent of Pakistan’s urban growth has been due to rural-urban migration. Again, contrary to popular belief, over 60 percent of this migration has been in the Punjab and not to Karachi from other parts of the country. As a matter of fact, the growth patterns of the last 10 years suggest that at least four Punjab cities, in addition to Lahore and Faisalabad, will have populations of over 1.5 million by the end of the next decade.

This massive increase in urban populations has not been accompanied by the development of the necessary urban infrastructure and facilities. Not even the backlog in housing and sanitation from previous decades has been taken care of. This has led to severe environmental degradation, an increase in the incidence of disease, lawlessness, social and political alienation, a growing crisis in the budgets of local bodies and urban development institutions and an increasing debt burden on the country.

The most acute problem facing the urban centres in Pakistan is the failure of government and formal sector developments to provide lower income groups with affordable land for housing. All attempts at tackling this issue have ended in absolute failure. As a result, squatter colonies have grown at a rate of 7.5 percent in the last ten years against a total urban growth rate of 4 to 4.4 percent. This is in spite of the fact that in the eighties, the government has, with massive international funding and technical advice, promoted the katchi abadi regularisation and improvement programme. However, the programme has managed to improve only 5 percent of the settlements and regularised only 12 percent of the houses in them. If this trend continues, by the year 2000, over 50 percent of Pakistan’s urban population will be living in katchi abadis without de-jure security of tenure and basic amenities.

Katchi abadis usually crop up on government land. In the cities of the Punjab and NWFP, little or no government land is now left for conversion into abadis. As a result, valuable agricultural land has been informally divided and sold on the outskirts of urban settlements for housing the poor. As this land is becoming increasingly expensive, the plot sizes and road widths are decreasing so as to make land affordable for the poor. The result is the creation of the worst type of scheme, compared to which the katchi abadis of the previous decades are posh residential areas.

In addition to the development of unserviced settlements on the city fringes, the city centres are also being degraded and their housing stock and service infrastructure has become dilapidated. Many of these centres house the architectural and cultural heritage of Pakistan. An increase in land values in the city centres, expansion of old markets and transport terminals located in them, the migration of the elite – and hence of political power – from the city centres to the suburbs, are all factors bringing about major land-use changes. These changes are transforming old residential areas into wholesale bazaars and warehouses and old commercial retail outlets into sweatshops.

Beautiful halls, pavilions and other institutional buildings have been abandoned or replaced by shopping plazas, and the functions they fulfilled are now carried out by the airconditioned halls of five star hotels and garish marriage halls in the new localities. Pakistan’s cities have broken with their history and lost their soul.

Attempts by development authorities and professionals at conservation have done no more than document inadequately or preserve on an ad hoc basis a few architectural monuments. Because the causes for degradation have not been understood their removal and subsequent rehabilitation cannot take place. The last decade has seen the large scale destruction and degradation of old Karachi, Lahore, Peshawar, Multan and Hyderabad, and in the smaller cities such as Sheikhupura, Thatta and Rohri, history is all but dead.

The incidence of disease, in spite of the massive immunisation programme of the government, has increased in the last decade. Surveys in slums show that as many as 60 percent of the surveyed population has been affected by major water and air borne diseases in the three month period before the survey was conducted. The reason for this is poor quality water and a lack of it, the absence of sanitation and solid waste disposal, and contamination of water bodies by an increasing outflow of waste water from the urban settlements.

The number of homes in urban areas with access to a reliable water source has increased in the eighties. However, it is estimated that 40 percent of all water generated for the urban settlements through the government’s piped water schemes is lost due to leakage and almost all of it is contaminated due to its proximity to leaking sewers.

In addition, in the more arid regions, such as Karachi and Quetta, water sources are being rapidly depleted and it is possible that the next decade will see serious water famines in these cities. Sewerage and effluent generated by increased water supply enters canals, rivers and the sea untreated. It also contaminates subsoil acquifers because in most low lying areas it is common practice to drill a well linking it to subsoil water. In 1981, in Karachi, for instance, 80 million gallons per day of sewerage went untreated into the sea; in 1986, the figures had increased to 176 million! In industrial cities, this effluent contains mercury and other toxic pollutants which endanger human and marine life.

The collection of solid waste is also inadequate, and in the eighties, this inadequacy has increased. In the case of Karachi, only 30 percent of solid waste is collected and the figure for Lahore is only marginally better. In most of the secondary cities, garbage collection systems are even poorer and in many smaller settlements they are non-existent.

The government’s involvement in providing urban facilities has decreased in the eighties. The number of transport seats and educational places, hospital beds, doctors and para-medics per thousand population provided by the state has fallen substantially. This has resulted in the emergence of an aggressive private sector in health, education, and transport which caters only to the more affluent sections of the population. This has also led to an increase of more than 150 percent in the number of private vehicles on the already crowded roads of the urban centres in addition to creating severe air and noise pollution. In spite of the private sector’s involvement, the overall health, transport and education sectors in urban areas have not improved and access to them by the poorer sections of the population has become more difficult. Apart from the VCR and video games, entertainment opportunities too, have declined for the vast majority of urban dwellers. Cinemas have closed down. Parks per capita have decreased and so have playgrounds, libraries and reading rooms. Traditional sports such as kite-flying, malakhro and kabadi are considered backward and retrogressive and cricket has not really replaced them.

The urban development agencies, line departments and local bodies who plan, develop and manage our cities face severe financial problems. Their revenues per capita are decreasing and their expenditure per capita is rapidly increasing. The health expenditure of the Karachi Municipal Corporation has fallen from 121.46 million rupees in 1987-88 to 37 million; education from 1.92 million rupees to 2.43 million rupees; and overheads have increased from 62.73 million to 85.43 million in the same time span. Increasingly, the local bodies and urban development agencies have to depend on loans from federal and provincial sources for survival and international loans for their development projects. Their failure to generate revenue is related to a number of factors apart from their capability and capacity. Large urban settlements are not regularised and hence pay no taxes. Illegal water and electric connections deprive them of large sums of money. For instance, in Lahore there are 100,000 illegal water connections and for Karachi the figure is over 215,000. This deprives WAPDA and KWSB of over 1700 million rupees a year!

The 1980s, especially the second half, have seen the preparation and attempted implementation of a large number of urban development projects supported financially and technically by international agencies. Many of these projects have failed to take off because their planning and implementation methodology was incompatible with the sociology and economics of the urban poor, such as the sites and services programmes. Others that sought to involve the people in them, such as the katchi abadis programme, failed because such an involvement could not be obtained due to rigid bureaucratic practices and attitudes. Programmes for transportation systems, old city developments, conservation and traffic management, failed due to their inability to involve people and raise awareness levels, develop appropriate institutional arrangements, and building capacity.

Bigger and more ambitious programmes, involving loans amounting to thousands of millions, are in the offing for the next decade. A 16,000 million rupee loan is expected for the Karachi mass transit system alone. However, all these schemes will meet the same fate as the previous programmes unless three conditions are met; policies have to establish a relationship between targets and the available natural, human and economic resources. For this, innovation is necessary. Secondly, policy has to be backed by proper legislation, and legislation by popular will or a powerful lobby that can prevent law from being subverted by vested interests. Finally, institutional arrangements that involve the urban population in planning, development and maintenance have to be developed. The achievement of these conditions is directly related to the political positions taken by the government in power. Given the present conditions in Pakistan, the next decade promises little for the much needed urban development programmes.

The failure or absence of state policies in the urban sector has led to the growth of the NGO sector in Pakistan and the development of community action groups. It has also led to an increase in unemployment, social and political alienation, increase in crime, and the creation of a parallel government backed by drug money. Both these trends, which undermine the power of the establishment, are likely to increase in the 1990s.

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