pakistan economic growth
World-wide, cities are considered engines of economic growth, particularly developing economies like that of Pakistan and the latest strategies help improve service delivery and basic infrastructure to create an environment conducive to investment. - Illustration by Khalida Haq.

The obsolete mode of development has become a hurdle in exploiting the cities' potential of economic growth in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

World-wide, cities are considered engines of economic growth, particularly developing economies like that of Pakistan and the latest strategies help improve service delivery and basic infrastructure to create an environment conducive to investment.

Going through one of the turbulent periods of its history because of persistent armed conflicts and natural calamities, KP had little time to focus on this issue.

These happenings have badly damaged the ability of cities to become engines of growth and improve the quality of lives of their dwellers.

Urban places attract population for variety of reasons, as apart from offering jobs they also provide citizens with basic services including safe water and adequate sanitation. People living in cities have better education and healthcare facilities compared to those inhabiting in rural or less developed areas.

In recent years, armed conflicts have uprooted thousands of families from their abodes and landed them in these urban centres in search of jobs and a comparative security.

A large number of internally displaced persons (IDPs) prefer to live in these cities instead of going back to their hometowns/villages even if normalcy returns there. Settlement of these IDPs, though for economic reasons, has added to the population of these cities, affecting their infrastructure and has spurred the 'unplanned' growth.

Peshawar being the capital and the backbone of the provincial economy, has borne the brunt of huge displacement, while the cash-strapped provincial government has not been able to improve its infrastructure.

Massive traffic jams on the broken roads littered with left-over garbage and crowded healthcare facilities, both in public and private sectors, are some of the permanent features of Peshawar's city life because the capacity of its infrastructure is over-saturated.

Some time back, a provincial cabinet committee consisting of ministers hailing from Peshawar recommended mega infrastructure projects to help the city to become an engine of growth.

On the basis of its proposal two years back, the government had announced constructing 12 underpasses, immediate construction of an expressway and completing the Ring Road around Peshawar besides undertaking a water supply scheme from Warsak Dam to the city. Similarly, construction of a model bus terminal had also been planned and discussed with the federal and the Chinese government, both for financing.

But none of these schemes have taken off as yet. Chief Minister Amir Haider Khan Hoti complains lack of resources as the major hindrance in executing such plans.

“We thought most of these schemes would be financed by the federal government under the Public Sector Development Programme (PSDP), which has been reduced because of fiscal distress. Now the provincial government will undertake these schemes on its own and certainly it will take time and lot of resources,” Mr Hoti told journalists last month. Many observers say the government doesn't have any clear mandate for local economic development.

A senior official at Local Government and Rural Development Department, an agency spearheading the service delivery in urban areas of the province, argues there is no provincial level entity to either formulate policies or implement strategies for maximising the local economic development potential of the urban areas.

Policies designed at provincial and sometimes at federal level for improving investment climate in a particular sector, are supposed to be implemented at local level.

But, the local agencies are not taken on board during planning stage that leads to lack of ownership of the policies and thus results in wastage of resources and energies. An integrated approach is required for planning and execution of infrastructure projects aiming at exploiting the comparative advantages a city possesses.

However, no such approach exists in the provincial public sector where multiple agencies are undertaking development activities in the cities. Each of them has its own jurisdiction, development priorities, byelaws, and regulations. There is no coordination between these agencies and development activities continue in a haphazard manner.

Uncoordinated investment decisions and fragmentation of funds into often ill-conceived investments result to thinly spreading out of scarce public resources. Planning process at local level including district and Tehsils are confined only up to projects, driven by the budget allocations.

Quite often, political motivation influences strategic planning, which as according to this officer, doesn't correlate their relationship with the city's potential for local economic development.

Regulatory framework governing provision of basic services and land use byelaws are also not up to the mark, which restrict the cities' economic growth.

Take for example, City District Government Peshawar, Peshawar Development Authority and Cantonment Board Peshawar have their own building byelaws with little or no coordination with each other. Even within Peshawar City, enforcement of these laws and regulations has been devolved to four Town Municipal Administrations that too do not have the required capacity.

The current work culture in public sector agencies do not offer room for the private sector to participate in commercially viable services e.g. solid waste management. The government continues to rely on its otherwise inefficient agencies which results in poor coverage and quality of infrastructure and services.