World Bank and Karachi

According to media reports and the World Bank website, the Bank has approved a US$ 652 million loan for six projects in Karachi. These include US$ 40 million for making KWSB more efficient; US$ 230 million to make Karachi a more livable city; US$ 382 million for improving “mobility” in Karachi by financing the Yellow Line BRT; US$ 200 million for a resilience/solid waste efficiency project; US$ 86 million for neighhbourhoods improvement project, and US$ 100 million for development of infrastructure to reduce urban flooding and public health risks.

In all these projects there are bound to be major evictions of local populations. However, the World Bank Environmental and Social Framework (ESF), which went into effect in 2018, is committed to protect people from “potential adverse impact that could rise from Bank-financed projects”. Adverse effects can be “physical displacement, loss of residential land or shelter, assets or access to assets leading to loss of income sources or other means of livelihood or both”. The ESF goes on to say that borrowers have to “avoid or minimize involuntary resettlement by exploring project design alternatives” and “mitigate unavoidable adverse impacts from land acquisition on land use through timely compensation for loss of assets at replacement cost and assisting displaced persons in their efforts to improve or at least restore livelihoods and living standards in real terms to pre-development levels prevailing prior to the beginning of project implementation”. Furthermore, the ESF states that resettlement activities should be “planned and implemented with appropriate disclosure of information, meaningful conversation, and informed participation”.

What the ESF provides is exactly what the citizens of Karachi have been asking the State and the Bank for for the last 30 years and in the process being dubbed as anti-development and sometimes even as traitors by certain bureaucrats, politicians, and sections of the city elite. It is hoped that the ESF will be enforced in the coming projects and the necessary procedures and institutions for its implementation will be created. It is important that the lead for this should be taken by individuals and organizations who have lobbied unsuccessfully (except for a few projects) for years.

However, it must be stated here that Saddar was a part of the World Bank’s Neighbourhood Improvement Project. In spite of that over 2000 shops were demolished and more than 40,000 hawkers displaced, without any dialogue, compensation, or relocation, as a result of the Supreme Court-backed government’s anti-encroachment drive. There was no reaction from the World Bank against this major attack on Karachi’s street economy and we do not know if Bank money was involved in the eviction process.

As a sequel to the flooding in Karachi in 2020 the government is in the process of demolishing about 14,000 houses and 3000 commercial units along three nalas of Karachi. Demolitions along other nalas are planned. Those who are being evicted from their homes have not been consulted, nor are they being provided sufficient funds or land for relocation, most of them are living under the open sky on the rubble of their homes in a period of COVID, inflation, and recession. The rumour in the settlements is that this demolition and clearing of the nalas is being carried out with World Bank funding.

Whether these allegations are true or not is irrelevant. The fact is that in the areas where World Bank projects are located major housing rights violations have been and are being committed in violation of the Bank’s ESF policies. Also given the scale of World Bank involvement in development, it is in a position to influence the decisions taken by the government. The fact that it remains silent on the issue means, for many observers and for the effected communities, that it is complicit in the demolition and eviction process.

So far the only visible World Bank input in the development of Karachi is the People’s Square. A detailed study of the project design, implementation, and repercussions by Mansur Raza informs us that key stakeholders who used this space for recreation, sports, and cultural purposes were never consulted and in the process lost their cultural assets. In additional, an architecture of questionable quality in design and environmental terms has been created and which segregates four important Karachi institutions that were once spatially linked to each other.

Given what has been said above it is necessary that all Bank projects should be exhibited in a public space (such as the Expo Center) for comments and necessary modifications carried out on that basis. Also on the architecture and planning projects, an architect should be chosen on the basis of a design competition. But for the time being it is more important that the Bank should state its position on evictions in Karachi, failing which it will lose whatever little credibility it has left.

Published in the Daily Dawn on the 26th of March 2021

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