PM's Special Package For Karachi Will Only Work If It Is Aligned With Provincial Priorities

PM's Special Package For Karachi Will Only Work If It Is Aligned With Provincial Priorities
The Prime Minister has announced a Special Package for Karachi in the fields of Public Transport and Water and Sewerage in Public private partnership mode.

This has been happening before whenever the Federal Government is at odds with the provincial government. The federal government acts as the “white man trying to shed its burden” by bringing development to natives because their own representative government is 'incompetent' and 'corrupt'.

Such an ill-conceived parody of sharing white man's burden is ineffective and inefficient because it is disconnected with the plans of the provincial government.

Any development package or plan from federal government has to be coordinated and in sync with the provincial government. Such plans cannot work in silo, without trusting the provincial government.

Investment in urban and municipal infrastructure is one of the key enablers for business confidence and investment in Karachi. Fully cognizant of these needs, Government of Sindh has already embarked upon comprehensive investment in urban connectivity and municipal services. Sindh administration is working on system of Karachi Circular Railway and BRT, 260 MGD water supply of K-IV, Sewerage Project of S-III, Combined Effluent Treatment Plant for treatment and reducing emission to the ocean. Similar municipal investments are also done in other major cities of Sindh.

Karachi during the last few decades has become the 11th largest city of the world. It is widely regarded as a microcosm of Pakistan with representation of all ethnic, political and religious groups. This extraordinary growth momentum has been accompanied with severe pressures on public service delivery systems.

Karachi is the mega city; therefore, it needs special treatment. Traffic congestion has affected Karachites in environmental and financial terms. The congestion has already taken a toll on the city’s attraction despite agglomeration and port advantages.

Global experience shows that segregated areas in urban settings can be opened up to a variety of uses through careful physical planning and consultative interventions to allow for improved social inclusion, civic participation, recreation, safety and a sense of belonging. Public spaces such as streets can be drivers of urban prosperity.

Well-designed and implemented public spaces also offer benefits to environmental sustainability, transport efficiency, public health improvements and act as a pathway for women, handicapped and people of all ages to claim their rights to the city. This is why universal access to public space and green spaces is now an integral part of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

In this regard, a detailed study on Karachi City Diagnostic by the World Bank was conducted over a period of one year to provide a multi-sector assessment of the infrastructure, service delivery and institutional gaps in Karachi.

The study established that in order to bridge its urban infrastructure gaps, Karachi requires large investments along with substantial institutional development and policy reforms.

Karachi is now among the least livable cities in the world, due to years of neglect and the factors outlined in the diagnostic study. It ranks in the bottom five cities (out of 140) in the Global Liveability Index and performs poorly in the dimensions of liveability, health, environment, safety and education when compared to other cities.

Access to public recreational spaces for citizens is under threat. Green and open spaces, as a share of the city’s land area, are declining and high density luxury apartments are perceived as displacing public spaces for the middle and lower classes. Spatial analysis show that job opportunities are mostly located in the central parts of the city, where high-income and better-skilled populations reside. Lower-income and poorly-skilled populations reside in peripheral areas with highly inadequate housing and public transport, contributing to their exclusion from access to better economic and civic opportunities.

Overall, revenues are grossly insufficient to cover basic services and infrastructure needs. Despite the need for longer term reforms, GoS and the local governments are keen to start with easy to implement interventions that would have visible and high impact results to build confidence between government and citizens, while setting the stage and platform for a longer term and sustained action. A project focused on neighborhood improvement investments and enhancing citizen services could provide the catalyst needed to build consensus and political buy-in for deeper reforms.

Urban reforms would need to focus on three key areas: building a competitive business environment, improving governance performance of provincial public providers of municipal services such as Karachi Water and Sewarge Board (KWSB) and Sindh Solid Waste Board (SSWB); improving the city governance and accountability, urban livability and access to municipal services, and supporting better social inclusion.

World Bank is supporting Government of Sindh for Karachi Neighbourhood Improvement Project (KNIP) under Karachi Transformation Strategy (KTS) with an estimated cost of US$ 100 million (WB share 86%, GoS counterpart 14%). The objective of the project is to improve livability, safety and inclusion of targeted areas through public space enhancements and improved access to citizen services.

The Government of Sindh and Karachi Water & Sewerage Board are currently engaged with the World Bank over effort to improve the functioning of the KW&SB and are in process of agreeing an investment plan to improve the water and sewerage service in Karachi.

KW&SB has been struggling to keep pace with the rapid growth in city’s population and ever increasing water demand. The dilapidated water and sanitation infrastructure is no longer able to meet the future water demand and ensure the quality of water. Hence the need for institutional reform in KW&SB along with the supporting long term strategic infrastructure investment program to upgrade and improve water and sewerage services to the citizens of Karachi.

Sindh government is uniquely progressive in many ways compared to other provincial governments. This uniqueness is true for socioeconomic sectors as well as for resource generation. For poverty reduction, government proceeded with community development because it believed that lasting solution of poverty should be democratic and based on community empowerment. Sindh government has embarked upon Public Private Partnerships for Karachi and Thar Coal Field connectivity, Hyderabad-Mirpus Khas Motorway, and Jhirk-Mullakatiar Bridge are case in point. This approach is obvious result of government’s resolve to maximize development despite resource constraints.

The federal governments need to rethink their approach to Karachi and remember that it operates within the provincial context. The results of development efforts are best achieved when national and local priorities are aligned and duplication of effort is avoided.

The author is a Development Specialist based in Karachi