EXPERTS had for years been warning of a housing emergency — especially in Pakistan’s urban centres — and a new report, prepared for the Asian Coalition of Housing Rights, appears to back up their dire diagnosis. As the palatial residences of the rich continue to expand, the poor are being squeezed out onto the streets. The report notes that in Karachi and other urban centres there are a considerable number of people who now sleep in the open. Much of this is, of course, due to greater urban migration, as people from rural areas head for the cities in search of jobs. It appears there is a shortage of 8.5m housing units in Pakistan, with urban demand said to stand at 350,000 units per year. The housing shortage, especially for the poor and working classes, is met by katchi abadis or informal settlements. In many cases, the land mafia profits from grabbing others’ real estate and creating katchi abadis, in which they sell or lease out houses to lower-income groups. In fact, much of the existing housing lacks even the basic necessities. For example, numerous ‘colonies’ dot Karachi, in which the poor are stuffed into small hovels that lack proper sanitation. Successive governments have neglected the housing issue, especially affordable housing for the poor, and it is due to this official apathy that the crisis has ballooned.
As experts have noted, there is a serious need for urban land reform in this country. They say that land use should be based on social and environmental considerations, and that non-utilisation of land should be penalised, while suggesting that a person who has taken one house loan should not be allowed to take another. Indeed, instead of caring only for the interests of the rich, the state must confer with civil society to come up with a sustainable housing policy targeted at the poor and working classes. That would be a noble aim for those seeking to build a naya Pakistan.
Published in Dawn, August 20th, 2018