Issues of Sustainable Cities and Communities in Pakistan (SDG Goal 11)

Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 11 states, ‘Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable”. The Targets of SDG Goal Target 11.1: By 2030, ensure access for all to adequate, safe and affordable housing and basic services and upgrade slums. . Target 11.2: By 2030, provide access to safe, affordable, accessible and sustainable transport systems for all, improving road safety, notably by expanding public transport, with special attention to the needs of those in vulnerable situations, women, children, persons with disabilities and older persons Target 11.3: By 2030, enhance inclusive and sustainable urbanization and capacity for participatory, integrated and sustainable human settlement planning and management in all countries. Target 11.4: Strengthen efforts to protect and safeguard the world’s cultural and natural heritage. Target 11.5: By 2030, significantly reduce the number of deaths and the number of people affected and substantially decrease the direct economic losses relative to global gross domestic product caused by disasters, including water-related disasters, with a focus on protecting the poor and people in vulnerable situations. Target 11.6: By 2030, reduce the adverse per capita environmental impact of cities, including by paying special attention to air quality and municipal and other waste management. Target 11.7: By 2030, provide universal access to safe, inclusive and accessible, green and public spaces, in particular for women and children, older persons and persons with disabilities.  

The UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs for Sustainable Development points out that, “leaving no one behind would need intensified focus on one billion slum dwellers around the world”. “As cities grow the problem of solid waste mounts”. 

There are 500 cities and towns and more than 5000 villages in Pakistan. Many of these villages have been wiped out from the map due to recent flooding 2022 in the country affecting more than 10 million people. “Massive floods in 2010 also destroyed or damaged an estimated 1.7 million houses, forcing millions of Pakistanis to move to temporary shelters”. Karachi and Lahore are considered one of the more populated cities in the world with population of 15 million and 13.5 million respectively. Other cities with more than a million population in Pakistan are – Faisalabad (3.2 million), Rawalpindi (2 million), Gujranwala (2 million), Peshawar (1.97 million), Multan 1.87 million), Hyderabad (1.7 million), Islamabad (1 million), and Quetta (1 million). 

“Pakistan is facing a critical housing shortage. A large population in cities (almost half) lives in shanti tows or slums. A major problem is the quality of existing housing. Half of all urban households are overcrowded or live in informal settlements with inadequate access to basic infrastructure and services. Formal housing is out of reach for most of the population and mainly owned by men”. According to Encyclopedia Breitnica,” There are three general classes of housing in Pakistan: pukka houses, built of substantial material such as stone, brick, cement, concrete, or timber; katchi (or kuchha [“ramshackle”]) houses, constructed of less-durable material (e.g., mud, bamboo, reeds, or thatch); and semi-pukka houses, which are a mix between the two. Housing stocks comprise an equal number of semi-pukka and katchi houses (about two-fifths each), and remaining houses (roughly one-fifth of the total) are the better-variety pukka houses. Urban areas are dominated by ramshackle neighborhoods’ known locally as katchi abadis, which can be found in all cities. In such unplanned and unregulated areas, safe drinking water and proper sanitation are rare (as they are in rural areas), and the buildings themselves are often flimsy and unsafe” (Source: https://www.britannica.com/place/Pakistan/Housing).  

A PIDE study states that, “estimates suggest that 4.37 million households, equaling 12.3% of the total households, live in congested conditions, with over two-thirds of these in rural areas (3.04 million), Almost 10% of houses in cities have crowded living conditions. nearly one-third of the population is without housing. living on footpaths, side of roads, under bridges or in any open area” (Source: https://pide.org.pk/research/the-assumed-shortage-of-housing-in-pakistan/). 

In Pakistan because all water channels as well as ground water is polluted and Pakistan ranks at the bottom of the list of countries with most polluted rivers and water channels. Only the rich can afford the portable water sold by multinationals and large firms through water bottles and water dispensers. Rest of the population of the cities that has access to tap water have to boil the water for drinking purposes, because tap water has become unsafe for human consumption, therefore causes multiple diseases among adults and children. Many a village do not access to water and women have to walk as far as 14 kilometers in order to fetch water for their domestic needs. Sewer facilities are also a luxury in the country where large population have become a burden on the old congested sewer system of the cities, which often are overflowing into the streets, becoming a major source of Dengue, malaria and other such diseases for the population. In almost all villages of the country Sewage and toilet facilities for the population (except for the most effluent) are nonexistent and the population of these rural areas use open areas and fields for their daily toilets. 

“Pakistan’s road network of 263,000 km consists of about 12,500 km of national highways, 93,000 km of provincial highways, with the remainder classified as either district or urban roads. The national highway network, which is less than 5% of the total road network, caters to about 80% of commercial traffic”. World data shows that “Listing of the primary kinds of transport compares the infrastructure of Pakistan with the average of all countries in Asia. The traffic routes have noticeable defects in many places and are often not in a particularly good condition. In terms of the length of its rail network, Pakistan ranks 105th in the world with 0.05 meters per inhabitant.  Source: https://www.worlddata.info/asia/pakistan/transport.php). 

On Public Transport system, Ms. Tooba Junaid writes “The basic reason for our transport problems is that the government is not adequately expanding the mass transit system. transport woes include improper infrastructure and corruption in the traffic department. Frequent Traffic jams lead to dangerous accidents, robberies, patient deaths in ambulances, fuel wastage, and stress etc.” (source: Tribune Transport issues in Pakistan. Letter 14 October 2022) There are not enough roads in the country. Most of public transport for the masses is inadequate, ill-equipped and insufficient. The busses and wagons are usually substandard, do not abide with traffic laws and are rash. Beiro of Statistics Data shows that in 2020-2021, there were 10,429 road accidents in the country involving 15,351 vehicles with 5,816 persons killed and 12, 886 people injured. This is an average scenario on our roads for almost every year since 2012-2013 from when the data was first compiled (source : https://www.pbs.gov.pk/sites/default/files/tables/social_statistics/Data_on_Traffic_Accidents.pdf).  

There are very little facilities of transport for women, who have to depend upon their male family members for commuting from one place to another or face hassle and harassment on public transport. The elite of the cities use expensive cars that hog the road to themselves, while the middle classes use motorbikes for transportation where entire families are seen using on bike that also do not abide by traffic rules and often are subject of accidents, overrun by busses, dumper trucks or rashly driven cars by underage drivers. 

Another issue facing unplanned and overpopulated cities and urban centers of the country is muncipal and hospital waste. All water channels around the cities and towns are polluted beyond repair because of throwing of unadulterated waste and sewer water into these rivers and water channels producing disease and health hazards for the population. Even hospital waste of many a hospital in the cities of Pakistan is thrown untreated on the streets or is sold to be reused causing disease and death in the country. Cities and towns are littered with waste from households and businesses, especially eateries that puts emnse pressure on the waste disposal system of this developing nation. Karachi produces solid waste of 16,500  tons a day and Lahore produces 7,700 tons of waste a day. 

Quoting from a Hadith, that states that new cities and towns should be created, so that congestion of mega cities do not arise. SDG 11 also clearly indicates that human settlements and living conditions till 20330 for all should be ‘inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable’ with enough housing for all, especially younger couples, and women, with a sewer and water system that is safe and not a health hazard for the population, with a transport system and infrastructure that allows people to safely and quickly go to their work places and back to their homes without hassle or injury. That allows children to reach school and back in a safe manner, that allows ambulances and rescue vehicles to respond to emergencies imediately and do not get stuck in traffic jams. That human life in not threatened on the roads. Can we as a nation of 230 million reach these goals for most if not all of its population by 2030? A big challenge for the federal as well as provincial governments and municipalities, but achievable through community participation, public-private partnerships and through abiding by rule of law. A nation that provides luxury cars and lavish houses for its ministers, judges, top administrators and officials and ignores the needs of its population due to corruption or partridges and shear callousness of policy makers and enforcers cannot be considered as a viable nation among the world community of nations. It is a matter for out political and administrative masters to ponder upon.

Dr Qais Aslam, a former chairman of the Department of Economics at the Govt College University of Lahore, is now Professor of Economics at the University of Central Punjab in Lahore. With 36 years of teaching and research experience, he is author of two books and numerous research articles on Pakistan’s economy and a regular participant in TV talk shows on socio-political and economic issues. He can be reached at dr.qais@ucp.edu.pk and on Twitter @drqais4.

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