Population growth, fast urbanisation, and rural-to-urban movement all pose threats to cities around the world. Cities are therefore constantly under strain to handle the enormous urban population.
Low-income individuals have been forced into subpar informal settlements on the periphery or on public lands as a result of the insufficient and overpriced housing options in cities. The expansion of informal settlements is a stark sign of spatialized social exclusion that creates a poverty trap on multiple dimensions.
As a result of these settlements, social productivity and economic growth gradually deteriorate. Cities have attempted to address this issue by offering relocation incentives or forcibly evicting residents and moving them to urban fringe areas.
However, this strategy led to more significant issues such an increased urban footprint, citizens’ susceptibility to violent extremism, and segregation from social networks and urban delivery systems.
Hence, it is important to modernise informal settlements so that all of the residents have access to profitable options. In addition to producing productive citizens, it will promote affluence and economic growth.
Improvements to Pakistan’s Informal Settlements
Informal and squatter settlements, almost a quarter of the world’s urban population lives. Unprecedented housing shortages are also causing a rapid rise in informal settlements in Pakistan.
More than 50% of the population now lives in slums due to urban difficulties that affect a third of the country’s population (UN-Habitat, 2018).
For instance, in Karachi, 64% of the population lives in informal settlements, of which the government has regularised 562 and left 424 unregularized, lacking tenure security (UN-Habitat, 2022).
Moreover, estimates for the country’s slum population range from 23 to 32 million people (Khawar, 2015). Throughout the nation, 36% of slums are unregistered or illegal, placing them at risk of being forcibly evicted (UNICEF, 2020).
Although the Pakistani government has in the past ordered forcible evictions, those actions never involved relocation or resettlement plans, resident input, or financial incentives for the affected parties. For instance, when CDA demolished Katchi Abadi in I-11 Islamabad, there was a significant uproar (DAWN, 2016).
Furthermore, there are no active policies or initiatives to address the problems with informal settlements. For instance, without a relocation strategy, developments like Islamabad’s 10th Avenue Initiative will evict 14,000 people from their slum homes (Abbasi, 2022).
By granting ownership rights to those who have lived in the slum regions of Karachi for the past 40 years, the Sindh government is attempting to normalise them (DAWN, 2022).
Despite these efforts, there is no assurance that these measures will raise their standard of living or reduce poverty.
Hence, Pakistan needs effective, inclusive, sustainable, and affordable measures for upgrading informal settlements. To boost social productivity and economic progress, this is crucial.
The Iqbal Institute of Policy Studies and Graana.com propose strategies to improve Pakistan’s squatter communities.
What can Pakistan do to improve its slums?
Moving is less efficient than upgrading in place
To attain slum-free towns, city administrations frequently destroy informal settlements or evict slum residents. With few services and limited choices for employment, these tactics either relocate these settlements or create new ones on the outskirts of cities.
Furthermore, social networks are dysfunctional, and these residents must pay exorbitant prices for transportation and networked infrastructure. Because in situ upgrading projects are more successful than relocating informal settlements, cities must be made into slum-friendly towns.
In order to establish sustainable and equitable cities, an existing informal settlement is gradually upgraded through involvement by the municipality and other governmental authorities. Such settlements are viewed as opportunities rather than challenges using this approach.
It enhances access to social services by enhancing housing structures, regulates informal settlements by formalising them, and offers tenure security. This reduces the housing scarcity and boosts the productivity of the city.
For instance, Kisumu, the third-largest city in Kenya with a population of 500,000, successfully altered and addressed its issues with informal settlements through on-the-ground improvement (UN-Habitat, 2006).
Adopting the Baan Mankong Program in Thailand
The Baan Mankong Program in Thailand is a scaleable, locally adapted effort. More than 90,000 households in 1546 local areas nationwide have seen improvements in their quality of life (Norford & Virsilas, 2016).
Upgrading of informal settlements is typically disregarded and supported by the government. This disregards community input, leading to modest advancements in a few specific areas.
However, the Baan Mankong Program is entirely community-driven and entails research, mapping, and development of strategic plans in accordance with all the informal settlements with the aid of NGOs, professionals, and the public and commercial sectors.
Loans are given to the locals so they can choose where and how to build their community after agreements about land tenure have been reached with the community.
The community is in control of choosing the site, building their own houses, and settling disputes with the people involved. This gives individuals the ability to choose the best way to satisfy their own needs.
For instance, households were able to negotiate land agreements that permitted them to stay put, and more than 78% of them were able to do so in the form of cooperative land ownership with the title or a long-term lease.
Ecological Improvement in Informal Settlements
Climate vulnerability is made worse by intense human activity. Since they frequently lack access to basic infrastructure and services and are more likely to live in high-risk areas like steep slopes and floodplains, low-income urban dwellers are especially vulnerable to the effects of climate change.
More than 70% of greenhouse gas emissions are produced in cities (Dasgupta, Lall, & Wheeler, 2022). They must therefore take the lead in reducing climate change in order to prevent an increase in global temperatures while simultaneously enhancing the quality of life, health, and safety for their citizens.
Investments in robust, low-carbon infrastructure will serve this objective by lowering carbon emissions and preventing the eviction of slum residents who live in low-lying areas.
Such projects could enhance the quality of the air and water as well as provide additional amenities for informal settlers including extra food, adequate energy, and efficient service delivery.
For instance, a slum in O Portio, Spain, was completely restored with appropriate access and recreation places in accordance with the green economy’s goals. Land and homes nearby were automatically revalued as a result of this move (Gago-Cortés & Corti, 2015).
For developing nations like Pakistan, informal settlements provide a serious concern. In addition to clogging up cities, they also buy profitable land that may be used well for a variety of construction projects.
So, rather than evicting or demolishing these squatter colonies, the government must modernise them. The aforementioned strategies are all-inclusive and can aid in resolving a number of issues pertaining to informal settlements.
Cities’ productivity will increase as a result of these upgrading policies and practises, which will ultimately promote economic growth and prosperity.
The author of this piece is Haneen Gul. Research Analyst Haneen Gul works for the Iqbal Institute of Policy Studies (IIPS).