KARACHI: An important session on the second day (Saturday) of the first international conference on economics and sustainable development organised online by the Institute of Business Administration (IBA) was on ‘Urban resilience and impact on utility services’.
Architect Dr Noman Ahmed said urban resilience had been an important topic in the past few years, especially with respect to urban contexts. The first reason for it is that urban contexts are rapidly changing entities. Secondly, the demands and expectations of certain services have changed. Thirdly, the services that already exist in urban areas respond and correspond to the emerging needs and aspirations of users. Finally, the services are associated with people and the land through which they are provided.
Dr Ahmed said keeping the subject in mind if we look at Pakistan in general and urban areas in particular we will find there’s an enormous gap between the challenges, especially recent ones, and the way in which our institutions respond to them. Karachi is perhaps one of the fastest growing cities of the world. One of the reasons for its growth is the number of people that are added to it every year. The city has an immense absorbing capacity for the people from different places who come here looking for a livelihood. As they enter the city they become the users of multifarious urban services both in formal and informal fields.
He said the pattern of utilities in the city of Karachi runs more or less in the same manner as it used to decades ago. “Look at the service of water supply and sanitation. It more or less operates the same way it used to operate 40 to 50 years back.”
Economist Dr Javed Younas said our government service’s delivery departments are not able to supply the services to the influx of population that’s happening in Karachi for the last many years. There’s a mismatch between demand and supply. On the demand side there’s a failure on many levels: there’s a resource constraint, there’s the governance issue, there’s a problem with the way services are delivered. When something shocking happens we’re exposed to all sorts of challenges.
Dr Younas raised the question: where’s the missing link? He said he’d been working closely with the energy sector. He’s impressed by the initiatives that the Karachi Electric (KE) has come up with to provide services given the problems that it faces. For example, there’s a massive problem of technical and distribution losses in electricity in the Sindh capital. The government tells the consumers that they will be subsidised on the consumption of electricity. Not saying subsidies are bad, he argued that the problem is when you advocate something as a right then people read it as an entitlement.
KE’s Sadia Dada said 10 years ago there were high technical losses but the numbers have now come down. It means for the consumer, 75 per cent of the city today does not experience loadshedding. Two years ago it was 70pc but now it’s 75pc.
She said they had identified that a particular segment of social class still didn’t pay their bills. They are areas that have mushroomed into densely populated areas over the past couple of years. “What we’ve done is that we’ve put rigorous programmes in place,” she added.
Khadija Bari moderated the session.
Published in Dawn, April 4th, 2021