Navigating Pakistan’s Slum Challenge

By Unisa Batool 

Slums, informal settlements characterized by overcrowding, poor sanitation, and lacking basic services, present a significant challenge for Pakistan’s expanding population. Millions reside in these areas in cities like Karachi, Lahore, and Islamabad, enduring harsh living conditions. Addressing these issues requires comprehensive strategies and drawing lessons from successful practices in other nations.

Pakistan is experiencing rapid urbanization, with informal settlements expanding. According to the recent stats (2020) by World bank, 55.97% of the urban population of Pakistan lives in slums. This is normally referred to Katchi abadis and these areas are faced with following problems; Slums are known for their high density where families find small spaces to build shelters. This contributes to health problems and, in the event of pandemics, renders social distance almost impossible. The population has limited access to clean water, sanitation, and healthcare. There is a high level of pollution in these areas, still millions of slum dwellers depend on communal water sources and have no proper toilets, causing common health issues including water-borne diseases.16 million slum dwellers of Karachi donot have access to running water, Asian Lite reported.

Education for children being a luxury rather than their basic right is a common scenario in slum areas. The combination of limited schools and poverty make sure that the two remain as twins in the society. These children are then denied any chances to go ahead with their lives than being trapped in the loop until they die out due to lack of education. Thsese dwellers knitted in the shakles of unemplyement and hence poverty find refuge in money making from illegel means- theft, snatching, target killing, kidnapping and other such practices and drug addiction has been increased to an alarming level.While living in slums, women and children are particularly at risk because they suffer from additional burdens including limited access to maternity services for both mother and child as well as protection against abuse.

It is not a simple challenge to manage slums and solve its intricacies. Management of slums is a tricky affair which can be well addressed with strong political will. Also, limited financial resources and budgetary allocations for urban development have hampered the implementation of large-scale slum upgrading projects. Many slum dwellers do not have title to the land they occupy, making it difficult to implement reconstruction projects without relocating residents. Effective slum improvement requires the active participation of affected communities. However, there is often a disconnect between policymakers and slum dwellers, resulting in a top-down approach that fails to meet people’s needs.

Addressing the diverse challenges of Pakistan’s slums requires a multi-pronged approach:

  • Improving existing slum infrastructure can bring immediate benefits, rather than relocating slum dwellers. This includes improving roads, water, sanitation and electricity networks.
  • Implementation of affordable housing schemes such as the Naya Pakistan Housing Scheme can provide formal housing options for slum dwellers. These schemes should be designed to meet the economic capabilities of low-income groups. The problems of bad housing, absence of essential services, unemployment and social economic marginalization are deeply entrenched which calls for a comprehensive approach to urban planning and welfare measures.Encouraging private sector participation in slum redevelopment can mobilize more resources and expertise. PPPs can promote affordable housing construction and infrastructure development.Legalizing the land occupied by slum dwellers can provide them with security and encourage them to invest in improved housing. This requires clear land registration guidelines and transparent processes. The challenges posed by Pakistan’s slums are enormous, but not insurmountable. Slum upgrading and redevelopment must be made an integral part of urban planning to ensure a better future for the millions of slum dwellers across the country.
  • Smaller projects such as slum upgrading, house subsidies and infrastructural development with the aim of improving the living conditions in informal settlements have normally been given precedence in policies.However, there are many barriers that hinder the realization of these policies into real outcomes. Bureaucratic inefficiency, limited financial resources, institutional inertia and political calculations often thwart the effectiveness of such measures. Often, well meant policies do not produce desired results on the ground leaving slum communities caught up in vicious cycles of poverty and marginalization.

Policy makers and government should work together and devise plans, the policy implementation should be free from any indulgent and interference of mafias and pressure groups.

Pakistan can best reduce the extent and conditions associated with slums by borrowing lessons from other countries that have had success in dealing with similar issues. For example, Brazil’s Favela-Bairro program integrated favelas into the mainstream city by providing infrastructures, legalizing land tenure, and upgrading houses. Similarly, Thailand’s Baan Mankong provided communities with financial assistance to upgrade their homes and develop infrastructure. Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM) in India dealt with improvement of urban infrastructure and governance aimed at improving quality of life. Not only the policies and programs but complete course of action should be adopted and practiced.

By leveraging collective resources and expertise and involving communities in the planning and implementation process, Pakistan can pave the way for sustainable urban development and improve the lives of its most vulnerable citizens. The time to act is now, as Pakistan’s vision of a slum-free country depends on our commitment and concerted efforts.

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