Pakistan’s urban growth : Bane or boon?

Urbanization is a process whereby populations move from rural to urban area. World’s urban population increased fourfold during 1950-2003 while rural population increased less than double.

From Indus valley through Mughal era and to British rule, the Indian subcontinent experienced several stages of its urbanization process.  Pakistan is urbanizing at 3% annual rate, the  fastest in South Asia.

Pakistan’s current population is about one-third urban, expected to rise to nearly 50% by 2025.

Urbanization  has two immediate, and troubling, political implications. One is heightened unrest. The second real-time political consequence of Pakistan’s urbanization is the rise of new hard-line right-wing players who find ample support among urban Pakistanis.

Urbanization is not a new story in Pakistan. Migratory flows occurred in 1947, 1965 and 1971 populating the mega cities.

In 1990s the anti-Soviet insurgency in Afghanistan spawned a new exodus into urban Pakistan.

Today, urbanization continues to be fuelled by war, insecurity, and economic necessity.

Industrialization, social factors (attraction of cities, standard of living, quality healthcare, educational facilities, infrastructure, communication, medical facilities, transportation, well-paying jobs and need for status), modernization and economic opportunity cause urbanization.

Urban areas are characterized by labour market pooling, trade of goods and services, knowledge spill over, high level of income and economic relations.

This type of development is helpful for employment creation, poverty reduction and planned local business development in the urban regions.

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Industrial growth is a major cause of urbanization. Cities attract  different social groups . In urban areas, people also embrace changes in the modes of living namely residential habits, attitudes, dressing, food and beliefs.

 

Swelling city populations are taxing the state’s ability to provide basic services such as housing, electricity, clean water and healthcare.

The urban heat island appeared due to industrial and urban development. As concrete, asphalt, bricks etc absorb and reflect energy differently than vegetation and soil. Cloudiness and fog occur with greater frequency. When it rains, water is less likely to be absorbed into the ground and instead flows directly into river channels.

Energy consumption for electricity, transportation, cooking, and heating is much higher in urban areas than in rural villages.

Urbanization impacts the environment through the strain of all resources, including food, water, energy and the land itself. Rapid development can result in very high levels of erosion and sedimentation in river channels.

The water quality has degraded with time due to urbanization resulting in respiratory infections and other infectious and parasitic diseases. There is also complete eradication of habitats as an outcome of urbanization and native species are pushed out of cities.

Crime is the worst impact of urbanization, global warming, pollution, lack of sanitation, slums and its consequences of overcrowding, wastes are a major problem in large cities, traffic congestion, unemployment grows.

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Today, Pakistani cities suffer from housing deficits of about 3 million units (while nearly 50% of Pakistani urbanites live in slums); unsafe water kills 30,000 Karachiites per year; and city power cuts sometimes last 20 hours a day.

Positives of urbanizations include the advancement of information technology, transportation systems, innovations in media, communication, modern building techniques. Urbanization cannot be stopped because no country can afford to have a break in the growth of economic development.

Urbanization could boost the country’s sagging economy. Pakistani cities are a chief source of employment opportunities for small and medium enterprises which provide the vast majority of Pakistan’s non-agricultural jobs and high-growth industries jobs such as information technology.

Cities are also the hub for Pakistan’s prestigious educational institutions which impart education, trainings, skills, and research and development opportunities in marketable disciplines.

Generally speaking, infrastructure is essential for the sustainability of human settlement. In fact, the rural-urban imbalance in development provides an explanation for the unprecedented growth of urban centers and slums.

However, rural development like multi-sectoral activities, including the improvement of agriculture, the promotion of rural industries, the creation of the requisite infrastructure and social overheads, as well as the establishment of appropriate decentralized structures in order to allow mass participation.

There is therefore, no consensus as to what constitutes the right way to rural development. Approaches vary from promoting accelerated development of rural people to encouraging self-help schemes.

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The uncontrolled horizontal spread and inefficient use of vertical space in urban areas creating slums and underdeveloped areas create immense problems.

Decentralization of basic livelihood facilities and services by provision of infrastructure and facilities in the rural areas will be effective tool for reducing the burden of migration towards cities as well as on available resources as the creating a peaceful environment internationally and nationally to reduce refugee’s migration.

Parallel to these effective land management for urban development and implementation of proper development plan will reduce the pollution, sanitation problems and helps in provision of basic facilities to all residents.

(Hafeez Ullah Khan -abridged from The Nation)

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