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Urban Development In Pakistan has been on the rise over the past few years, driven by a combination of factors including historical migrations, economic opportunities, and population growth. According to the United Nations Population Division, nearly 50% of Pakistan’s population is projected to be living in cities by 2025, making it one of the most urbanized nations in South Asia. This transformation has significant implications for the country’s economic landscape and public health.

Urban development is often associated with high economic activity, and Pakistan is no exception. More than 55% of the country’s GDP is generated in its cities, and per capita income in urban areas tends to be higher than in rural regions. However, the relationship between economic activity and urbanization is complex, particularly in developing nations. Unmanaged and unplanned urbanization can have detrimental effects on growth, leading to the emergence of urban slums, inadequate infrastructure, and environmental degradation.

This article delves into the causes of urbanization in Pakistan, the problems it has generated, and potential solutions to address these challenges, with reference to key statistics and reports.

Causes of Urbanization in Pakistan

Historical Migration and Great Partition

One of the key drivers of urbanization in Pakistan is the historical migration of people, particularly during the Great Partition of India and Pakistan in 1947. This period of turmoil resulted in mass migrations of millions of people across newly established borders, leading to the loss and destruction of property and a disruption of financial stability. As a result, many displaced individuals sought refuge in urban areas, contributing to overcrowding and the emergence of informal settlements like “katchi abadis.” The repercussions of this period still influence the country today, as many people continue to face challenges related to food security and housing.

Muhajir Migration

The migration of Muslim Muhajirs from India to Pakistan after the Great Partition significantly influenced Pakistan’s urban landscape. Karachi, in particular, witnessed a substantial influx of Muhajirs, which transformed it into Pakistan’s largest metropolis. This migration brought diverse cultures and traditions to the city, contributing to its unique identity.

Immigration and Forced Displacement

In addition to internal migration, Pakistan has seen significant immigration from neighboring countries. The independence of Bangladesh in 1971 resulted in the relocation of stranded Biharis to Pakistan. Smaller numbers of Bengali and Burmese immigrants have also arrived in Pakistan. The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in the 1980s forced millions of Afghan refugees into the country, leading to one of the largest refugee populations globally. These migration waves have introduced new socio-economic complexities to Pakistan’s urban landscape.

Economic Events and Political Developments

Economic events, such as the Green Revolution, have prompted rural-to-urban migration as traditional agricultural practices gave way to modern, mechanized farming. Political changes, including instability, violence, and natural disasters, have also driven people from rural areas to cities in search of better economic opportunities.

Current State of Urbanization

Over the past few years, Pakistan had the highest urbanization rate in South Asia. According to the United Nations Population Division, nearly 50% of Pakistan’s population will be living in cities by 2025. The majority of the population is concentrated in cities like Karachi, Lahore, and Rawalpindi, contributing to the country’s urban growth.

Problems Related to Urban Development In Pakistan

Poor Housing Quality and Affordability

According to the 2017 census, Pakistan has a housing stock of 32.2 million, with 39% in urban areas. However, house ownership in urban areas is unequal, with only the top income strata able to afford decent and affordable houses. This has led to a significant portion of the urban population living in rented houses or apartments, particularly in major cities like Karachi, Lahore, Rawalpindi, and Faisalabad. A report from the State Bank of Pakistan indicates that the urban population in these cities faces a shortfall of approximately 10 million houses in comparison to actual demand. If this trend continues, by 2035, only five major cities will account for 79% of the total housing shortage.

Water and Sanitation

Pakistan faces severe water stress, being the third most water-stressed country in the world, according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF). More than 80% of the population faces water scarcity, with water availability per capita declining significantly over the years. The growing population and urbanization have worsened this water shortage.

The inadequate supply of clean water in most major cities, which lasts for only a few hours per day, has further exacerbated the problem. A significant portion of the water supply is considered unsafe for consumption. The increased urbanization has also put immense stress on the sanitation system, with solid waste management becoming a significant challenge, resulting in shared latrines and poor sanitation practices, costing the country 3.9% of its GDP.

Transportation

The rapid urbanization in Pakistan has given rise to increased demand for mass transit systems to facilitate movement within cities. However, despite efforts to upgrade road infrastructure, the development of mass transit systems has not kept pace. In cities like Karachi, corrupt practices and permits issued to private transport companies have led to congestion and economic burdens.

Health

The unplanned urbanization and inadequate healthcare facilities in poor urban areas have contributed to health problems, particularly malnutrition and child mortality. Pollution and poor sanitation are major factors in these issues. Despite being a significant problem, Pakistan spends far less on health per capita than recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO). As urbanization continues, health problems pose a growing threat to the urban population.

Education

While urban areas typically have higher student enrollment and better learning outcomes, access to education remains a challenge. Approximately 10% of children in major cities like Lahore, Karachi, and Peshawar remain out of school. The preference for private schools over government schools reflects the low quality of the latter, particularly in urban centers. The absence of educational facilities in smaller cities pushes people toward larger urban areas, where the strain on service delivery increases with the growing urban population.

Solutions and the Way Forward For Urban Development In Pakistan

Addressing the challenges associated with urbanization in Pakistan requires a comprehensive approach. Some potential solutions include:

  • Comprehensive Urban Planning: To address housing shortages, urban planning should focus on inclusive and sustainable housing development.
  • Improved Water Management: Adequate water management strategies and investment in infrastructure are needed to address water scarcity and contamination.
  • Investment in Public Transportation: Developing mass transit systems and reducing reliance on private transport can alleviate congestion and improve urban mobility.
  • Enhanced Healthcare Facilities: Expanding access to healthcare services in urban areas is crucial for public health.
  • Quality Education: Improving the quality of government schools to reduce the preference for private education institutions.

The challenges posed by urbanization in Pakistan are significant, but with effective policies, investment in infrastructure, and public awareness campaigns, the country can harness the benefits of urbanization while mitigating its adverse effects on public health and well-being. As the nation continues to urbanize, it must prioritize balanced and sustainable development to ensure a prosperous future for its cities and their residents.

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