As the financial year comes to a close, there will be feverish efforts to propose new development projects for the next budget. Recommendations from influential persons, party henchmen and the like usually constitute this politically motivated shopping list, leaving many important projects still awaiting the decision-makers’ and bureaucracy’s attention; projects that would enable Karachi to function as an efficient and equitable metropolis.
A sizable chunk of Karachi’s population resides in new and old squatter settlements, the urban poor’s sole housing option when the state-led supply of land is almost non-existent. These locations need upgrading, a gradual process of planning and supervision. With rising urbanisation and high costs of planned and formal housing, this phenomenon is likely to intensify, even as such settlements witness new changes: the replacement of low-rise housing with informally developed high-rises in the city centre, and increasing costs of water, electricity and gas supplies.
Whereas some believe the poor enjoy free services, the reality is that they pay many times more than residents of planned neighbourhoods. But these transactions are done in an informal manner with little formal evidence. The Sindh Katchi Abadis Authority should prepare a cumulative rehabilitation programme for responding to the emerging requirements of such neglected settlements.
One reason for rampant densification of inner city, low-income settlements is poor public transport. Karachi has evolved in such a manner that high-income groups live close to the city centre or major work locations. Thus lower-income groups, left with limited options, live far away from their workplaces. A sizable part of their meagre income is spent on bus fares.
A low-paid employee living in Landhi spends half his salary on transport simply to maintain his job in the city centre, while a multinational head who resides in DHA and works in Clifton spends a fraction of his income on transport.
Such anomalies merit urgent review.