By Syed Samad Shah
New Zealand, with a population of almost 4 million people, has more than 3,000 urban planners. Gilgit-Baltistan, with almost half of the population, has a handful of urban planners. The result is development of messy towns and cities. Since independence, in 1947, GB has faced a shortage of urban planning professionals for the planned and sustainable development of its cities and towns. The reasons for the dearth of urban planners, in general, and the urban planning profession, in particular, are twofold.
Firstly, the students of GB are unable to find any university offering an Urban Planning degree. For instance, the only known and recognized university in Pakistan offering the said degree is the University of Engineering and Technology (UET), Lahore. Surprisingly, as per the quota system in the directorate of education, there is only one seat allocated for the students of GB per year. Career counseling regarding the importance of the profession of urban planning for the region is greatly lacking.
Secondly, the domain of urban planners (town planners) has greatly been dominated by other professionals, namely civil engineers and architects.
Resultantly, the concept of land-use planning is greatly ignored in GB. Implementation of zoning and building bye-laws is yet another issue faced by the region. There are only two recognized development authorities in the region namely Gilgit Development Authority (GDA) followed by Skardu Development Authority (SDA). Unfortunately, only one town planner is working in SDA, while requestion for the same in GDA is yet to be made.
GB is highly vulnerable to natural hazards, including floods, Glacial Lake Outburst Floods (GLOFs), avalanches, and landslides. The global phenomenon of climate change has further worsened the situation and has resulted in many climate change-triggered disasters in the recent past. GB has also been categorized as a medium to a high seismic zone as per the seismic zoning map of Pakistan.
Raising awareness about the importance of urban planning profession in GB is need of the hour before it gets too late. The master plan for Gilgit city is in progress. There is a need to incorporate town planning bye-laws in the ‘master plan’ to make it practical, sustainable and effective.
Also, for the timely execution of the master plan, it is mandatory to take the services of urban planning professionals otherwise it will not be more than a piece of paper. The implementation of zoning and building bye-laws are mandatory to ensure the planned yet sustainable development of the region to make it livable. Otherwise, a miserable and haphazard development is awaited.
The contributor works as an Assistant Director (Planning) in Federal Government Employees Housing Authority, Ministry of Housing and Works, Islamabad, with a post graduate education in MS Urban and Regional Planning at National University of Sciences and Technology (NUST), Islamabad.