When there is a population shift from rural to urban areas, or a gradual upsurge in the ratio of people living in urban areas in comparison with the urban centres, it is called urbanization. Various researches have indicated that urban population is greater than the rural one and that most of the urbanization has been observed in developing countries. There are various factors that explain why the rate of urbanization in South Asia is higher than the developed countries, and shape of slums, informal settlements and the paucity of basic amenities and opportunities are categorized among the top.
Urbanization in itself is not a menace but a great bliss, and if we run our eyes over the global development trends, we will see that the most developed cities in the world are the most urbanized; New York, London, Tokyo, Hong Kong etc., are the most striking manifestations of urbanization-associated development. This write-up entails the urbanization in Pakistan, its historical perspectives, challenges, role of authorities and last but not least how this blessing-turned-curse can be tackled.
Urbanization in Pakistan
When Pakistan emerged on the world map in 1947, it was accommodating approximately 31 million people with 94% in rural and 6% in urban areas. Within four years of the independence, country’s population grew to 34 million and the urban percentage soared to more than 17%. The trend of urbanization continued to grow and in the 1981 census urban population of the country reached 29% and in 1998 census, it surged to 33%. If this trend continues, it is estimated that in 2030 country’s urban centres will be hosting more than 50% percent of its population. Today, Pakistan is the world’s sixth most populous country with more than 180 million people with a chunk of more than 36% inhabiting urban areas. These historical facts are hallucinatory for those in the corridors of power.
Urbanization has emerged as one of the most cumbersome challenges faced by the country. Only far-reaching and calculated measures are the means to tackle it. And for this purpose, the government can either control the rising population or exploit its massive surge for achieving the goal of national development.
Challenges of Urbanization
The challenges and problems posed by urbanization include:
(a) Informal settlements; (b) poverty; (c) housing; (d) physical infrastructure; (e) social services; (f) informal economy; (g) water and sanitation; (h) small towns; (i) solid waste management; (j) public toilets; (k) awareness; and (l) government spending
When the people migrate from rural to urban areas, these problems aggravate, and the role of federal, provincial and local governments and their institutions in resolving those becomes imperative. Housing, water and sanitation, creation of small towns (leapfrog development) on the outskirts of the cities, solid waste management and appropriate social services are the areas where attention of authorities is more direly needed. The influx of people also affects the transport system, and more traffic problems start emerging.
It’s also worth-discussing as to what are the causes that spur urbanization; a few of them are as follows:
1. Lack of public participation
2. No coordination among concerned authorities and departments
3. Unawareness of latest technologies
4. No political will (political interference causes problems)
5. Plans without proper implementation framework
6. Master plans prepared without incorporating ground realities
7. Minimal number of planners (In New Zealand, there are more than 3000 urban planners for 4.5 million population while in Lahore only 100 planners are considered sufficient for a population of more than ten million).
Government’s Role in Managing Urbanization
Urbanization calls for immediate and sustainable solutions from the government. The failure of government is due to multiple policies, dormant action plans and incoherent development programmes. The government should re-evaluate its policies and planning programmes to manage the massive urbanization so that guaranteed and futuristic development could be expected. In this regard, the government should focus following areas:
1. Coherent policies
2. Planning process; its inputs, outputs, and further details
3. Energy policies and plans
4. Future plans
5. Governance i.e. local governance system
6. Provisional urban units
7. Katchi Abadi authorities
Best Possible Options
As stated earlier urbanization in itself is not an impediment to economic growth rather it carries some positive offshoots. Here are some best possible options to manage urbanization in Pakistan:
- The urban areas have varying dimensions, areas, density, GDP rate, population and other characteristics as well. Employing a single plan squarely for rural and urban areas may lead to further problems. The urban areas must be managed according to their needs as well as the severity of issues and problems. The government should incorporate micro-level plans for urban areas. The establishment of planning and control authorities will be beneficial to achieve the desired results. In the early 2000s, the provincial government of NWFP (now Khyber Pakhtunkhwa) hired foreign planners and technical experts to prepare structure and action plans for Peshawar. They build a solid foundation by providing a plan, but what about preparation of more such plans? Even the implementation of already available ones is in the doldrums. Government and the authorities must prepare pragmatic plans to control urbanization problems at the grassroots level.
- City development strategy with an aim to safeguard the sources of economic growth, achieve primary goals and ensure that towns and cities become more resilient and adaptive to the changing global economic environment must be devised. This process must involve various stakeholders such as NGOs, local government officials, business community, media, academia, Community-based organizations etc.
- The participation of local governments is indispensable to tackling urbanization challenges. The plans and policies prepared must integrate the suggestions, reservations and advice of the public representatives to ensure people- and environment-friendly implementation. Moreover, public input should not remain restricted to documents only rather; it must be incorporated in framework policy and action plans. The TMAs are also a great tool to be engaged in the solutions. Succinctly, the involvement of public and local bodies like TMAs is mandatory for successful preparation and implementation of plans.
- Professional and veteran urban planners must be included in the policymaking infrastructure to expand the level of control for efficient outcomes. The recruited planners must be technologically-trained and abreast of the latest tools like geographic information system (GIS) so that they become useful assets to the urban planning mechanism of the country.