Business Recorder Islamabad
Published Date: Jul 17, 2014
Pakistan is set to continue on the path towards urbanization in line with global trends, with the country ‘s urban population on the rise. The recently released report titled World Urbanization Prospects 2014 by the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs projects that the share of urban population in Pakistan has grown from 31 percent in 1990 to 38 percent in 2014 and will further rise to over 50 percent by 2050. Pakistan is to witness a projected annual increase of 1.1 percent in the share of urban population in the intervening period.
The fact, that these projections are based on national statistics again highlights the need for a population census which has long been in the offing. Indeed, without a population census, it is even difficult to establish the number of cities in the country. Regardless of the numbers, however, the process of urbanization may not have unfolded in a very encouraging manner in Pakistan.
Dr. Vaqar Ahmed, Deputy Executive Director at the Sustainable Development Policy Institute, points out that as slums continue to grow across urban centres (since rural migrants lack the resources to afford housing) they become hotbeds for perpetuating crime. The question then is whether, in the medium to longer terms, these slums have been able to graduate into the mainstream urban structure in Pakistan ‘s major cities. The dearth of data, again, makes that impossible to be assessed. Further, as the urban sprawl expands, areas in the periphery (often called peri-urban areas) are left in an overhang, whereby the municipal authorities refuse to take their responsibility.
While demerits of urbanization cannot be fixed overnight, Ahmed suggests that further activities in Pakistan ‘s cities should be governed by pro-commerce building and zoning laws, thereby creating economic opportunities for the rising urban population.
The private sector and academia should also take lead in urban development. Sialkot is a key example of public-private partnership in that regard, where the business community committed one rupee towards various development projects against every rupee committed by the government. Of course, one cannot also discount the city airport, sponsored entirely by the local private sector. Similarly, every city with a population of over a million has a major university. The academia can come up with research based models for urban design and development that can be used by the government in policy design.
The process of urbanization reflects multiple economic and social transformations, resulting from access to markets, geographic mobility, economic development, growth and prosperity. The urban lifestyle offers better opportunities in terms of education and literacy, health, access to social services, citizen empowerment, and political participation, aside from being part of the popular culture.
However, if left unplanned, urbanization can lead to numerous social problems, engendering crime, inequality, poverty and environmental degradation, along with unsustainable production and consumption patterns. Hence, modern discourse on urbanization incorporates issues such as sustainability, equity and inclusion, and transport and mobility, notes Rafay Alam, eminent environment lawyer and activist. In that, the unscrupulous impacts have been becoming more visible as urbanization continues in Pakistan.