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Managing Slums Requires A New Governance Model

I am a resident of F7 markaz in Islamabad which is situated adjacent to the famous Christian slum, known as, the France colony. Due to a close proximity, my daily commute involves crossing the area. Despite being located just across the street, the sheer contrast between the streets of F7 and the katchi abadi is crystal-clear. The colony is marred with dismal conditions due to a lack of amenities, such as, electricity, gas, potable water and proper waste disposal- because of which the area is incessantly drenched with litter and foul odor. Despite the presence of a primary school, a minuscule number of children attend it since it lacks well-educated staff, basic infrastructure and up-to-date curriculum. The colony was hit hard by the deadly virus due to the absence of a healthcare facility to cater to the provision of vaccine and improper adherence to covid-19 regulations and social-distancing. Moreover, mushrooming rumors pertaining to drug trafficking and theft have risen alarms for my entire neighborhood. Therefore, it is a pressing issue that has been ignored and put on the shelf until recently.

Pakistan has been facing various structural problems since its inception- slums being one of them. Recently, the outbreak of Covid-19 has exacerbated the problems faced by people living in slums by bringing their issues under the limelight. Slums are becoming a global issue which has made sustainable living more taxing. As of now, UN SDG 11 aims at upgrading slums. Nonetheless, the dilemma is that despite being ‘neglected’ and poverty-stricken, slums are exponentially increasing. While successive governments in Pakistan have focused on development projects, insufficient attention has been paid to urban resilience and community engagement. This major gap, both in policy and practice, needs to be bridged to promote sustainable urbanization in Pakistan and solve the menace of slums. However, solving these issues demand an in-depth research regarding the root causes and consequences of the phenomenon to draw possible solutions.

Statistics reveal that about one-third of Asian population lives in slums. According to World Bank, Pakistan occupies a huge part of this fraction with more than 40% urbanites residing in slums. Comprising of the highest rate of rural-urban migration in South Asia i.e., 3% and accommodating 2.8 million undocumented Afghan refugees (second-largest refugee population in the world), it has been forecasted that by 2030 more than half of Pakistan’s population will be living in metropolitan areas. Slums are becoming a pressing concern as Pakistan is experiencing a ‘population bomb’- being the fifth most populous country worldwide and consisting of a majority of youth population (63%) which equates to a growing number of households. Dominantly, the big cities in Pakistan, like Karachi, Lahore, Faisalabad and most recently Islamabad, face exponential growth in slums and ‘katchi abadis’ (shanty towns) which lack basic municipal facilities.

In simple terms, UN-Habitat describes slums as ‘informal settlements’ in which multitude of people live under compact and inadequate facilities. They are the manifestation of the prevailing urbanization trend which is the consequence of demographic shifts- natural and migratory. The population explosion in Pakistan has led to an ‘urban sprawl’ by which villagers are moving to cities and the irrigated land is being converted to highly concentrated informal settlements. Increasing rural-urban migration has resulted in an increased growth of slums. Economic factors in cities- greater job prospects, investment opportunities, new businesses, and government subsidies offer better prospects. For instance, domestic servants in Pakistan earn decent monthly salaries as compared to farmers and fellow countrymen.

On account of an ‘urban bias’, says Lipton, the larger cities have a better provision of public amenities like healthcare centers, dams, parks, schools, retail and transit etc. Moreover, threat of climate change such as declining rainfall, earthquakes, harsh seasons, unusual thunderstorms and snow have caused rural decay, torrential floods, deforestation, depletion of clean water resources, pollution, landslides, lack of agricultural productivity and recreational opportunities, pushing people towards cities.

Evidence shows that there was a permanent migration of Pakistani farmers to urban areas due to heavy floods of 2010 and 2011. Additionally, depletion of fertile lands has increased food insecurity; as an alternative, urban agriculture has tried to eradicate food deficiency, transportation costs and environmental damage by providing nutritional food quickly and cheaply. It also acts as a source of profitable employment opportunity urging people to pursue agriculture-related businesses in cities instead of countryside. Mostly these people are forced to settle in slums instead of the city-center.

Despite miserable conditions, “ghettos” or segregated groups within Pakistan are increasing due to personal choices based on socio-cultural, economic and material reasons. Unfortunately, they are constantly targeted e.g., the Hazara Ghetto by Islamic extremists in Baluchistan. However, living, travelling and public service costs constrain their choices. Usually due to deprivation, slums occupy neglected lands, embankments (Machar colony built on stilts above water), steep slopes (Hazara) and dumps, inside cities and suburbs. Planning Commission warned that such continuing unplanned growth would ultimately intensify unsustainable and retarded economic growth.

Due to underdevelopment, slum-dwellers are at a high risk of social, physical, economic and environmental hardships. Effects of climate change, haphazard and unregulated population expansion, housing crises, and a lack of basic civic facilities have intensified due to the unprecedented growth of slums. Lahore is considered as the third-largest polluted city in the world. Building by-laws are also not implemented in slums which makes them more vulnerable to natural disasters. For instance, heavy rainfall due to climate change and clogged drains due to inefficient authorities, led to demolition of many slums in Karachi in 2020. Water-scarcity is the most serious predicament facing slums. Data from 2018 revealed that around 828 million slum-dwellers don’t have access to clean water for daily use due to inefficient and inequitable water management in cities. As a result of poor living conditions, women and children are at a high risk of food insecurity, and diseases- cholera, diarrhea, AIDs, malaria, eye infections and cancer.

Due to inadequate public spaces available for plazas, community centers, playgrounds, and libraries etc., slums are devoid of ‘social capital’ which is essential to drive economies to achieve common goals. Mostly, residents are uninformed about technology which decreases employment opportunities in cities. Thus, to make ends meet they become involved in petty crimes, prostitution, human trafficking, juvenile delinquency and drug smuggling etc. which has greatly ruined the cultural and social setup of our nation. Refugees and immigrants have faced social exclusion, authority harassment and labor exploitation. This was corroborated by UNHCR with example of Afghan Basti in Islamabad, in 2015. Here, CDA launched a slum demolition drive on court orders, as they were perceived as breeding grounds for terrorism and crime.

Bad governance and evasion of urban regulations by the authorities due to corruption, incompetency and insufficient distribution of resources has manifested in their inability to accommodate overcrowding urban poor who have no other alternative but to turn to poor housing in slums. The world-bank funded project in Sindh (the only reliance building project aimed to safeguard water durability by overseeing flood embankments, dams and capacity of irrigation department) failed due to lack of investment and sound technical advice. State’ fears of encouraging slum expansion results in exclusion of slums from city census and policies; it is a paradox as the government of Pakistan has remained unable to force slum residents to pay taxes, develop infrastructure and evict.

Unsuitable government policies are another structural problem. To tackle unbridled urbanization of 1980s, ‘sites-and-service’ approach was introduced in ‘Khuda-ki-basti’ in Hyderabad. Slums were demolished and residents were transferred to areas where they were required to pay exorbitant rates of construction and facilities. However, slums continued to exist as the destitute faced financial restraints and market competition to purchase land. Similarly, PTI initiated ‘Naya Pakistan Housing Project’ to address housing deficiency in cities and simultaneously to reduce the growth of slums. However, Naya Pakistan Housing Scheme is formulated for the middle-class instead of the poor, as evident from payment plans and the poor cannot afford it; moreover, it promotes horizontal instead of vertical growth of cities which is a problem. Although, the subsequent slum-upgrading approaches focus to improve base infrastructure and services, they have failed in affecting finances, socio-economics, and tenure security. It is important to study De Soto’s work on property rights and land titling to provide legitimate land ownership to slum-dwellers.

Moreover, the most vulnerable section of the population (slum residents) need to be identified for survival in times of crises. The Orangi Pilot Project faced challenges; it lacked skills, resilience, educational employment opportunities. Therefore, we should follow the SDG 11 which advocates for “making cities and human settlements inclusive, safer, resilient and sustainable”. It aims to seek holistic urban development via affordable housing, sustainable transport, reduction of losses due to disasters, clean air, solid waste management and eventually curtailing slum expansion.

Research study of Collier and Venables suggests that prosperous urbanization demands government professionals and bureaucrats to deliberately draft out policies in the ministry of finance and planning. In this regard, the provision and regulation of public goods, land, health, education, migration and fertility must be the topmost priority of the state. Implementation of law and order via judiciary, police and transparency of organizations and SOPs must be ensued to counter the adverse upshots of unregulated urbanization. ‘Critical masses’ must be enthusiastic and knowledgeable to have an impact of opinion-making in policies. Last but not the least, interests of the state must supersede those of the politicians.

To summarize, rapid urbanization has become difficult to manage due to poor spatial planning and outmoded zoning laws in Pakistan. There is a lack of farsightedness in policies with regards to disproportionate allotment of residential, commercial and industrial spaces. Human and financial resource constraints, limited institutional capacities and coordination, and non-existing emergency operation centers within slums have further deteriorated the city’s fragile urban sustainability.

This has led to increased chances of disease outbreaks and difficulty in preventing dissemination of covid-19. A realistic micro-plan of vaccinators, disposal of community-based volunteers, lady health workers, and linking socio-economic wellbeing programs with universal health coverage is crucial for generating demand for health and EPI services, and achieving higher coverage rates in Pakistani slums.

Therefore, population bomb, climate change and haphazard urban growth require new models of governance to manage and mitigate environment disasters, the refugee crisis, covid-19 management, rising unemployment and resource mismanagement such as transport and water. Pakistani government must revisit public policy measures and include the intended beneficiaries to resolve the plight of slums by engaging them economically, socially and politically.

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