Rethinking Urbanization in Pakistan
The Population Bomb and Food Security
Muhammad Atif Sheikh
Beware! Our cities are fast eating up our agricultural lands and the threat of being food insecure looms large in the urban population of our country. This was what Mr Rana Riaz Mehmood, Assistant Horticulture Officer, Lahore, stunned me with. This forewarning made me think as to how senseless we have been by putting this otherwise burning issue on the backburner. Our media, as well as the policymakers, seem completely oblivious to a potentially terrible crisis that is knocking at our doors. Perhaps the seeds of this danger were sown at the time of partition when a vast majority of migrants preferred to settle in big cities. Take, for example, the instance of Karachi where the population rose by 176% between 1941 and 1951. In the same period, the population of Faisalabad swelled by 156% while that of Hyderabad by 80%. Settling of more migrants in the following years also spurred an unbridled growth in the urban population of the country. Moreover, the gaping difference in the provision of basic civic amenities between urban and rural areas also made people move to cities. Resultantly, we are on the way to becoming an urban-majority nation and a glimpse into it can be had in the analysis of the results of fifth and sixth housing and population censuses. As per the 1998 census, 32.5% of the country’s population was settled in urban areas but this ratio increased to 36.4% in 2017. During this period, the country’s population grew by 57% but that increase in urban population was a whopping 75.6%. “World Urbanization Prospects: The 2018 Revision,” published by the Population Division of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs of the United Nations, further corroborates this fact as it reports that Pakistan, which was the 12th largest country, in 1998, in terms of population living in urban areas, is not the 10th largest.
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