Pakistan needs to come up with a plan for clean urban development

Pakistan is among the most urbanised countries of South Asia with an urban population of 75 million.



By Waqar Mustafa

Published: Tue 20 Aug 2019, 9:45 PM

Last updated: Tue 20 Aug 2019, 11:46 PM

For the last few years, urban Pakistan has been struggling to cope with its unmanaged swell. But in the absence of an adequate planning, it has not been able to live out even a yearly July-to-September monsoon season. Each time it rains heavily, low-lying areas and main thoroughfares are flooded, incidents of roof collapse and electrocution cause fatalities, and electricity and water supply are interrupted for hours and hours together in major cities, more so in the country's most populous city of Karachi. A 2015 heat wave in this port city, which houses over eight per cent of the nation's 207 million population, left more than 1,200 people from congested settlements dead and 40,000 suffering from heatstroke and heat exhaustion. Besides such events posing a grave challenge to the sustainability of cities, urban poverty is on the rise.  
Pakistan is among the most urbanised countries of South Asia with an urban population of 75 million, 54 per cent of which lives in 10 largest cities of Pakistan - Karachi, Lahore, Faisalabad, Rawalpindi, Gujranwala, Peshawar, Multan, Hyderabad, Islamabad and Quetta. Internal migration, influx of refugees, disasters, economic disparities in rural areas and a decline in agriculture have caused urban areas to bulge.
The State of Pakistani Cities 2018 report has found that "larger cities have seen enormous urban sprawl due to increase in population and change in land use in downtown as well as in the periphery of the cities and are becoming extended part of the cities".  The report says that Pakistan generates 95 per cent of its total federal tax revenue from its 10 major cities but six out of these have double-digit poverty figures. Only 65.2 per cent of households in these cities have access to piped water connections. "The cities lack sewage treatment facilities and solid waste management which leads to severe environmental pollution and contamination of surface and ground water bodies.
Shortage of power supply remains a persistent problem in harnessing the potential of the socio-economic development of the cities. Understanding and appreciation of the environment and heritage is low. Increasing urbanisation has created pressing demands for housing in cities. The absence of any formal provision for the lower-income urban population and the people migrating from rural areas to urban areas has resulted in the creation of large informal settlements, lacking access to adequate level of services."
Urbanising at a yearly rate of three per cent - the fastest in the region, the country's half of the people will live in cities by 2030, according to the UN estimates. This urbanisation pattern is largely unsustainable - socially, economically, and environmentally. The alarming increase in urban population will put an enormous strain on housing, education, employment, healthcare, water, sanitation, electricity, policing and environment.
Pakistani cities need sustainable development. A sustainable city provides for the basic needs of the people along with the infrastructure of civic amenities, health and medical care, housing, education, transportation, employment and good governance. Sustainable Development Goal 11 - sustainable, green and resilient cities - forms the defining constructs of an emerging urban planning paradigm that promotes mixed, integrated neighbourhoods with walking and bicycling supportive streets.
Cities need to go for a more holistic approach to problem solving that puts people at the centre of innovations. They need to be more responsive to the environment, transforming the way we build and manage our urban spaces, ensuring access to safe and affordable housing, and upgrading slum settlements, investing in public transport, creating green public spaces, and improving urban planning and management in a way that is participatory and inclusive. Taking care of the needs of all sections of society without any discrimination and addressing the economic, social, political and institutional inequalities which prevent the poor and disadvantaged groups from having access to and influence over policies and interventions, a sustainable urbanisation can drive Pakistan towards a healthy environment.
Waqar Mustafa is a multimedia journalist and commentator based in Lahore, Pakistan


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