“… When you don’t have clean water, when you don’t have a sewer system, when you don’t have electricity, and on top of that you live under one of the most repressive regimes right now… Well, put all that together, and it’s a ticking bomb. It’s not of a question of threat; it is question of looking around at the present environment and making a rational prognosis.”
– Mohamed ElBaradei
By Bilal Edhi
Pakistan is ranked 141 out of 182 in the United Nation’s Poverty Index and suffers from numerous challenges which are in the form of disparity in incomes and access to basic necessities for human survival. This amounts to a large amount of people living in slum settlements. The rapid growth of these slum areas is alarming and strict measures need to be taken to curtail the growth of these dwellings before the situation gets completely out of hand. A considerable amount of the population in Pakistan live in deprived conditions which includes lack of access to basic infrastructure facilities. Coming to Karachi, the situation of the urban dwellings does not look promising at all.
Migration from the different rural areas of Pakistan has led to the development of slum areas in Karachi. People from villages and rural areas migrate to Karachi, a presumed cosmopolitan urban city, with the hope of better quality of life and the perks of urban lifestyles. Little do they know that their dreams are temporary. Especially, those people who migrate with little or no money in their pockets hoping that opportunities in the urban area and the metropolitan city of Karachi will provide them with ways to enhance their current lifestyles. However, they are unfortunately met with disappointments. The high process of accommodation in relatively decent residential areas is way too high for these people to afford thus, they are left with no choice but to live in squatter settlements. Statistics show that there are approximately 539 official Katchi Abadis (local term for slum areas) in Karachi 702 of which are unofficial. This amounts to about 60% of the city’s population which is massive indicating that majority of the population is residing in these slums (Government of Sindh, 1998).
These individuals are forced to live in slum dwellings due to the shortage of housing opportunities that leave them with no choice but to live in such unregulated and underserved localities of the city.
The most important plan that policy makers should keep in mind is that they need to relocate the current residents of these slum areas. It is preferred if they are situated in the outskirts of the city. This can help in developing under populated areas. The policy makers must keep in mind that they need to not only provide these individuals with housing but also with ways of earning money so that they are motivated to live in the new areas. This will also help to increase economic activity in the surroundings. Alternative housing arrangements need to be made for them beforehand so that they can be moved.
Since these slum areas are extremely crowded, another way to deal with the problem is by formulating a policy that aims to relocate a few of these people. This would help in reducing the population density of the existing slum areas. Since most of these areas are illegal, government can easily take action against those who fail to oblige by the new clauses of the policy. Once these areas are vacated this can provide the government with land to do other productive businesses and it will also curtail the dire living conditions of these individuals.
Since the people of these squatter settlements have a poor hygiene levels, workshops and trainings can be conducted in these areas to create awareness regarding cleanliness and improved living conditions.
Another effective measure to reduce the development of slum areas is by controlling and limiting migration. This can be done by developing rural areas like in the case of India where they have put call centers in villages to provide earning opportunities to people since this is the major motivation for migration into urban areas like Karachi. This helps in preventing rural-urban migration.
It is noteworthy that a lot of these policies need to go hand in hand with other policies to solve the problem of slum settlements. The complex issue cannot just be put down to a single causal factor.
There is perhaps no doubt surrounding the fact that the situation of the slum areas within Pakistan and Karachi in particular is appalling and alarming. In fact, it would definitely increase in the years to come because of mismanagement and red tape-ism that persists in the system. It is essential to understand that if we want a successful urban development policy, it must have a firm plan that caters to the development of the city keeping its dynamics in mind. It needs to inculcate a sense of community ownership; the idea is that slum areas are a recognized fact in our society, and the needs of the growing population for housing have undoubtedly led to this population. A policy that centers around awareness about overpopulation, along with proper management of such areas needs to be formed and implemented.