Karachi: The Transport Crisis


If the 2011 pre-census house count for Karachi is to be believed, then Karachi is the fastest growing mega city in the world both in percentage and figure terms. Its population has increased by more than 100 percent from 11 million (the 1998 census figure) to 22 million when the house count was conducted. As such, Karachi contains 10 percent of the population of Pakistan and 22 percent of its urban population.

In addition to population, there are other reasons for Karachi’s importance. It is Pakistan’s only port city. It contains 32 percent of the country’s industrial base, generates 15 percent of GDP, 25 percent of federal revenues and 62 percent of income tax. It contains powerful federal institutions in the form of the Karachi Port Trust (KPT), the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), Railways, Customs and military cantonments. All these federal institutions own land, carry out developments on it (including residential and commercial real estate) and employ a large number of persons. In addition to the provincial government (who also owns land), they all have a say in Karachi’s development. The city government controls only 31 percent of Karachi’s land. The coordination between the different land owning agencies is almost non-existent. 

Karachi is also the capital of Sindh province. It contains 62 percent of Sindh urban population and 30 percent of its total population. This figure is important since the second largest city of Pakistan, Lahore, contains only 7 percent of the population of the Punjab province whose capital it is. Karachi’s large scale industrial sector employs 71.6 percent of the total industrial labour force in Sindh; the city produces 74.8 percent of the province’s total industrial output and contains 78 percent of its formal private sector jobs.

Because of migration from India after 1947 and continuous migration from other parts of Pakistan, Karachi is a multi-ethnic city. It is the capital of Sindh but according to the 1998 census only 14 percent of the population spoke languages local to Sindh as their mother tongue while 48.25 percent spoke Urdu. The Urdu speakers are the post-1947 migrants to Karachi. As such, a predominantly Sindhi speaking province has an overwhelming majority of non-Sindhi speaking ethnic groups in its capital city.

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