Leveraging Urbanization in South Asia, Key Findings for Pakistan

Leveraging Urbanization in South Asia

Although they have made progress, South Asian countries have struggled to make the most of the opportunity urbanization provides them to transform their economies to join the ranks of richer nations in both prosperity and livability, says a World Bank report entitled Leveraging Urbanization in South Asia: Managing Spatial Transformation for Prosperity and Livability.

Difficulty in dealing with the pressures that urban populations put on infrastructure, basic services, land, housing and the environment lie at the heart of the relative lack of livability of the region’s cities. That fosters what the report calls “messy and hidden” urbanization that constrains the concentration of economic activity that could bring about faster improvements in prosperity.

Here are key findings for Pakistan in the World Bank Report:

  1. Urbanization has been relatively slow in Pakistan, with the share of the population living in officially classified urban settlements growing at 0.80 percent a year from 2000-2010.
  2. According to the Agglomeration Index, an alternative measure of urban concentration, the share of Pakistan’s population living in areas with urban characteristics in 2010 was 55.8 percent.  This compares to an urban share of the population based on official definitions of urban areas of just less than 36 percent, suggesting the existence of considerable hidden urbanization.
  3. Pakistan saw a net decline in multicity agglomerations from 12 to 10 during the period 1999-2010 as the formation of new agglomerations was outpaced by merging of existing ones. Multicity agglomerations are defined as a continuously lit belt of urbanization containing two or more cities, each of which had a population of at least 100,000 living within its administrative boundaries in 2010. The Lahore agglomeration expanded to absorb those of Chiniot, Gujranwala, Gujrat, Lalamusa, and Sialkot. This explains the large increase in the average number of cities per agglomeration in Pakistan from four in 1999 to 6.5 in 2010, making Pakistani agglomerations the largest in the region on this criterion.
  4. The most striking regional example of two or more agglomerations merging is that of the Lahore and Delhi agglomerations, which now form one enormous continuously lit belt with an estimated population of 73.4 million, or just less than Turkey.
  5. Islamabad ranked highest among Pakistan districts on the report’s “Prosperity Index,” a new metric of subnational performance that measures success in achieving low levels of extreme poverty, high productivity and strong dynamism.  Islamabad earned a “very strong” rating, while Karachi was ranked “strong.”  The rankings mean these two areas outperformed the country average and represent cases of positive relative performance. Quetta was ranked as “average” and Bannu as “weak.”
  6. About 1 in 8 urban dwellers in Pakistan — or 13.1 percent — live below the national poverty line.
  7. In 1990, the average GDP per capita in five South Asian countries — including Pakistan — was slightly higher than China’s, while their average urban share (per United Nations’ World Urbanization Prospects data) lagged by six percentage points. Since then, China has accelerated beyond these five economies on both urbanization and economic growth. By 2011, its GDP per capita reached $10,041 (in 2011 constant international prices) — 2.2 times the average of the five — while the gap in urban shares widened to 25 percentage points.
  8. The 2015 livability index of the Economist Intelligence Unit ranked Karachi 135 out of 140 cities. The average ranking for all developing country cities outside of South Asia was 103.
  9. Analysis of World Health Organization outdoor air pollution in cities data reveals that, from a global sample of 381 developing-country cities, 19 of the 20 with the highest annual mean concentrations of PM2.5 are in South Asia. Karachi has the most polluted air amongst Pakistani cities in the sample, with an annual mean concentration of 117 ug/m3, which is twice the recorded annual mean concentration for Beijing, China.
  10. Pakistan has not had a national population and housing census since 1998.  A lack of data hampers rigorous descriptive analysis of urbanization and related economic trends for the country.

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