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Once a city of lights

Karachi needs an inclusive development approach focusing on the development deficit

Once a city of lights
The ever-expanding Karachi.

Pakistan’s proverbial city of lights has been ranked among the dark cities on the liveability index of 2016. Karachi stood 134th out of 140 cities of the world ranked on the index.

Unceremoniously appearing on the table of the ten least hospitable cities of the world, it scored poorly on every indicator. Its overall score of 40.9 (out of 100) placed it in the fraternity of inhospitable cities like Damascus, Tripoli, Kiev, Dhaka, Harare and Lagos. The city got 20 per cent score on the stability indicator.

Although law and order has significantly improved in the wake of the ongoing operation, peace still hinges upon the presence of heavy security apparatus. Its score on public services e.g. healthcare (45.8), culture and environment (38.7) and infrastructure (31.8) depict a dismal living ambience of the city.

According to the report, only 55 per cent of water requirements are met daily. Rationing is widespread, and leakages and large scale theft is common. Karachiites also face limited access to sewerage and solid waste management. Up to 475 million gallons of raw sewage are discharged into the sea each day, including hazardous materials and untreated industrial effluent.

Once a dream destination for millions of Pakistanis, the city is no more a salubrious abode for living. This may be true for a larger part of the city; nonetheless, certain precincts inhabited by a prosperous minority are like a different planet. Some of the posh areas match the luxuries of the developed world.

In fact, life in Karachi has multiple layers denoting socio-economic heterogeneity as well as disparity. The same is true for any other metropolitan city like Karachi, yet the gap between the haves and have-nots is astronomical here. A protracted instability dominating socio-political landscape of the city is rooted in extreme inequalities. Millions of people hardly eke out a living, breathe under abject privation and are denied very basic services like drinking water. The other extreme is of an obscene extravaganza in everyday life. Disparities of such proportions are irreconcilable and often stoke violence.

The second largest city Lahore is almost half the size of Karachi. Population of Lahore is less than ten per cent of the population of Punjab compared to Karachi with more than one third of the provincial population. More than one-fifth population of Karachi migrated from some other areas, mainly from other provinces.

An unimpeded influx of population has made the city nearly unmanageable. The city has emerged as a magnet for underdeveloped areas of the whole country. When the country came into being, Karachi was the most developed city with its buoyant market, bustling seaport and a busy airport. For all the good reasons, Karachi emerged as the engine of economy offering employment, shelter and livelihood to millions of workers from all corners of the country.

It perniciously touched the tipping point and ultimately plunged into an irreversible blowback. Absence of planning has kept the city borders flexible to expand and absorb virtually unlimited number of migrants. An estimate puts the city population at 180 to 200 million literally bursting at the seams.

The sprawling city became a springboard for informal sector controlled by market mafias. As a corollary, according to the aforementioned report, more than half the residents live in informal settlements, or katchi abadis, which grow at double the rate of the city at large. Public open spaces and cultural heritage sites are under threat from modern, high density luxury developments.

A complete collapse of municipal services has made life a nightmare for Karachiites. The report reads “municipal functions are highly fragmented across roughly 20 agencies with independent development plans. Public investment in infrastructure is often reactive and uncoordinated, with a persistent focus on extension over preventive maintenance or rehabilitation. These agencies also control nearly 90 per cent of land in Karachi, but are reluctant to make it available for development.”

Boasting the city as mini-Pakistan that justified influx from all parts of the country was a seriously flawed development paradigm. Imbalanced and disproportionate development made Karachi an island of prosperity surrounded by deprivation. For several decades, no investment was made to develop alternative options of employment that could have relieved Karachi from an unsustainable inflow of population rendering the public service system paraplegic.

The second largest city Lahore is almost half the size of Karachi. Population of Lahore is less than ten per cent of the population of Punjab compared to Karachi with more than one third of the provincial population. According to a stale census data of 1998, more than one-fifth population of Karachi migrated from some other areas, mainly from other provinces.

Industrial development of Punjab is a relatively new phenomenon that has created employment opportunities within the province. However, little investment was made to develop rural Sindh, Balochistan and KP to retain local population and absorb some of the job-seekers locally. The whole coastal belt of Sindh spread over 350 kms is bereft of any significant investment. Similarly, economic potential of the towns of Larkano, Khairpur, Sukkur, Nawabshah and Mirpurkhas was never tapped. Lack of infrastructure, poor law and order and low public sector investment stymied the economic activity in these centres.

According to the official data, 1198 of total 1825 industrial units of Sindh are located alone in Karachi. The city offers daily employment of 199,077 of the total 290,376 in the province. It was further compounded by stagnant agriculture sector growth. It compelled flocks of jobseekers to move towards Karachi.

Development gap between Karachi and the rest of Sindh is another reason of out-migration from rural areas. Development disparity is corroborated by a recently released “Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey of Sindh” report. The document reveals that 41.8 per cent of the population of Karachi falls in the richest wealth quintile compared to only 2.7 per cent in Larkano. Whereas only 0.2 per cent of the population of Karachi falls in the poorest quintile compared to 53 per cent in Mirpurkhas.

This gap of human development is also reflected in other reports. Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) 2013 ranks Karachi as the best district in the country. In Karachi, 73.4 per cent children of 3 to 5 years age have access to pre-school education, compared to 27.9 per cent in Umerkot and 29.9 per cent of Mirpurkhas. In Sindh, Karachi has the lowest number of out-of-school children — 6.8 per cent compared to 46 per cent in Badin and 41.4 per cent in Tando Allahyar. Pakistan District Education Ranking 2013 of Alif Ailaan project also ranked Karachi at the top under all major indicators in Sindh province.

According to a news item published in Express Tribune (Feb 4, 2014), there were 9,866 private schools in the province, of which 6,215 were in Karachi. According to the official website of the Higher Education Commission, 24 of 25 private universities and degree awarding institutions of Sindh are located in Karachi.

Health is also considered as a major indicator of social wellbeing. According to Sindh Health Sector Strategy 2012-20, Karachi has 134 private hospitals out of total 358 in the province. The city has 1,917 general practitioner clinics out of 4,122 in the province. Karachi has 176 obstetrics and gynecology specialists out of 243 in the whole province. Similarly, the city has 171 pediatricians out of total 239 in Sindh. 1,123 nurses out of 1,407 nurses are in Karachi. Ten top institutions of medical and dental education are also located in Karachi. Infant mortality rate in Karachi is reported as lowest at 52 out of 1000 live births compared to an appalling 109 in Larkano division. This explains the yawning gap of health services.

With such a yawning gap of health, education and employment, Karachi will continue to be the destination for more migrants from other areas. It is expedient to develop at least two dozen medium size cities in the country to offer some respite to Karachi. Unless people receive decent employment and social services in their villages and towns, their movement to developed cities, mainly Karachi, will continue unabated.

Self-proclaimed political guardians rubbed salt in the wounds of the city by colouring Karachi’s development challenges with an ethnic brush. Karachi needs an inclusive development approach focusing on the development deficit rather than identity-based preferential treatment to selected prefectures, leaving the rest to unrest.

Naseer Memon

naseer memon
Naseer Memon is a human rights activist and civil society professional. He may be reached at nmemon2004@yahoo.com.

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