Pakistan’s Runaway Urbanization: What Can Be Done?

Type Book Section - Do’s and Don’ts of Urban Policies in Pakistan
Title Pakistan’s Runaway Urbanization: What Can Be Done?
Publication (Day/Month/Year) 2014
Page numbers 21-44
URL's Runaway Urbanization​rpt_0530.pdf#page=30
Its image may be that of a pastoral land of green fields, dusty villages,
and hardy farmers. Yet this image is out of sync with reality. It
is not that fields and farms have disappeared. Rather, they have been
strung into a rapidly expanding urban society and economy. Indeed, a
majority of Pakistan’s population has been pulled into urban modes of
living. Of course, parts of Baluchistan, southern Punjab, the dry lands of
Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and Sindh’s deserts remain largely rural. But they
are marginal to the society and economy of Pakistan.
At the same time, according to official statistics, only about 36 percent
of the population (up from 32.5 percent in 1998) lives in cities and
towns. What accounts for this discrepancy?
This is firstly a definitional problem. Reza Ali, a development
consultant, points out that between the 1971 and 1998 Pakistan censuses,
the census definition of an urban area was changed, limiting it
to just places administratively incorporated as municipalities of some
kind. This definitional change excluded unincorporated villages and
towns with populations of 5,000 that were previously categorized as
urban. About 31 million people living in such places were classified
as rural in 1998. If this population had been classified as urban, the
proportion of the urban population in Pakistan would have been 55
percent (Ali 2013, 57–62). This definition has produced anomalies.
Consider that between 1981 and 1998, Lahore district’s rural population
increased at a faster rate than the city’s. Jati Umra, Raiwind, and Bahria—all essentially suburbs of Lahore—are counted as rural settlements
in Lahore district.
The urbanization of Pakistan’s rural areas can be witnessed while
driving across the densely settled parts of the country. When travelling
on any road in central Punjab, Peshawar valley, the Malakand and Swabi
districts, or within the Karachi-Hyderabad-Thatta triangle, one rarely
fails to see houses, workshops, shops, mosques, schools, and that ubiquitous
sign of habitation: a pool of sewage. These shoots of human habitat
sprout all across the landscape amid fields and farms. Wilderness has disappeared
from these regions. These are the precursors of urban sprawl,
spreading into the countryside.

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