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A challenge for cities of the future
By: Dr Fahad Saeed

The main forces compelling people to move are push and pull factors, which arise due to the political, environmental and economic conditions of the country

Residents of the twin cities of Rawalpindi and Islamabad have been experiencing daylong traffic jams since last summer due to the unfinished Rawalpindi-Islamabad Metro Bus Project. “It took me half an hour to reach my destination on the Murree Road, which otherwise would have taken five minutes,” a colleague, who is a diehard supporter of this project, told me a few weeks back. Making records of deadline after deadline, the inauguration ceremony of the Rawalpindi-Islamabad Metro Bus Project has been cancelled once again. After the heavy rain spell in the last week of April, a news report flashed up on my computer screen under the headline: ‘Heavy rain exposes poor sewerage system of Rawalpindi’. Later, I saw people roaming around on the muddy roads, seeking help to unblock the sewerage system. These are just glimpses of a number of collective problems many of us face in routine life and have to spend a huge portion of our constructive energies to fix. Incompetence, ill-planning and the negligence of our political and bureaucratic elite in prioritising their development plans are to be blamed since they have failed to provide basic civic facilities even to the urban masses during the last 67 years.

The 20th century’s development paradigms show that no country has ever grown from lower income to middle/higher income economies sans industrialisation and urbanisation; both these indicators in fact determine a level of progress. Vibrant urban centres are considered to be the proxy for a country’s development, with the percentage of urbanisation directly correlating with an increase in the wellbeing of its people. An exception here is sub-Saharan Africa where the rising pace of the urban growth rate does not synchronise with the economic wealth in the region. The case of Pakistan is more or less similar to sub-Saharan Africa. With the highest pace of urbanisation growth rate among South Asian countries, Pakistan shows no consistent rise on development indicators. This unchecked rate of urban growth is putting a lot of pressure on already vulnerable civic facilities offered to individuals and communities.

In Pakistan, an interesting factor that failed to attract due attention is internal migration from rural to urban areas. One-fifth of the urban growth rate is attributed to this internal migration. The main forces compelling people to move are push and pull factors, which arise due to the political, environmental and economic conditions of the country, and drive migrants to move from an imbalanced place to a balanced place. Push factors are generally related to the place of origin (rural areas), examples of which include poverty, illiteracy, limited economic opportunities, local conflicts, natural disasters and climate hazards. Contrarily, pull factors are related to the place of migrant destination (urban areas), which attract people to certain locations. Access to better economic opportunities, basic services (education, health), living conditions (environment, sanitation, human security) and political stability are examples of pull factors.

Besides many other socioeconomic factors, climate change is also likely to enhance rural to urban migration in Pakistan. Any variations in temperature and rainfall affect agricultural productivity, hence affecting rural communities and livelihoods. As a result, the most attractive option for the non-resilient marginalised community is migration to urban centres, thanks to out-of-proportion spending of the development budget, which adds to the pull factor for these migrants. In this regard, the multi-billion Metro Bus project, in classical proletariat notions, is the biggest source of livelihood for hundreds of labourers. There is nonetheless no plan to absorb the labour after this mega project is finished. Certainly, they will have to look for other options to feed their families and in the absence of any other major economic activity, they will be jobless.

Insanity, of course, is a prerequisite in the execution of development plans. The dilemma of this multi-billion project is that the construction of a mammoth facility is underway while the basic requisites for an urban society are being compromised. For example, on the Metro Bus website, population explosion has been narrated as: “The population has doubled in size during the last few years.” However, there are only a couple of public sector hospitals to cater to the city’s burgeoning numbers in Islamabad, not to talk about other civic facilities like water, sanitation, education, waste management, environment, etc. One could indeed go on and on about specific problems. To keep urbanisation growth under check, the government needs to take some stringent measures.

A very relevant study is being carried out under the Pathways to Resilience in Semi-Arid Economies (PRISE) project, which conducts research on inclusive, climate resilient development in African and Asian semi-arid lands in six core countries. The study finds that Karachi alone is overburdened with a population of over 15 million whereas the combined population of 10 smaller cities in Sindh (after Karachi and Hyderabad) equals 1.7 million (which makes it around 12 percent of Karachi’s population). The main reason behind this stark contrast lies in the income gap between the rural and urban economy, which attracts a large number of immigrants towards the cities. The integration of the economy for minimising the regional income gap is a key development challenge. Therefore, some intermediate cities should be developed where facilities and services are interchangeable. These would then serve as pivots between the large cities and rural areas. Secondly, in the presence of a much-trumpeted 18th Constitutional Amendment, the move towards greater decentralisation is expected to accelerate rural to urban migration. This is because in the absence of fairly elected city and district governments; it is very likely that development funds will again be routed to big cities, especially the provincial capitals. Urban management, which includes public transport, master planning, housing, water, sewerage, recreational opportunities, etc, should therefore fall under the jurisdiction of elected city or district governments, which should then spend the allocated funds appropriately.

Another major challenge faced by urban management, especially for a country like Pakistan, is the absorption of most of the rural to urban migrants in the informal economy. These factors further burden the urban residents as they have to pay more taxes for the services shared now by relatively a large number of people. Therefore, a proper system has to be introduced for tracking migrants by making registration mandatory for the people migrating to urban areas.


Finally, it is very well established that in order to attain high income status, an increase in urbanisation is inevitable. However, climate change is likely to enhance this rural to urban migration disproportionately. Therefore, proper risk management systems should be introduced, where crop insurance is provided against extreme events such as floods and heat waves. Moreover, better basic amenities of life, such as education and healthcare, should be provided at the village level.

The author is a research fellow and head of the Climate Change Unit at the Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI), Islamabad

Source: http://www.dailytimes.com.pk/opinion/26-May-2015/a-challenge-for-cities-of-the-future

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The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the viewpoint or stance of SDPI.