Presumably, larger the population of a city, greater the issues it will have. Based on this assumption, since Karachi is home to 21 million people, the number of issues is high. The city has sustained extreme violence for many years. Besides this fact, there are several other factors which need to be addressed on time, otherwise they will radically shake the structure of the urban society. Arif Hasan – an architect, author and activist – presented his concerns about the emerging threats in a seminar organized by The Pakistan Institute of International Affairs. He raised various issues in his precise presentation and the issue of informal settlement (Katchi Abadis) was one of his main concerns. Moreover, I conducted various interviews after Arif’s comprehensive speech in order to collect some more ground facts.
The overall division of Karachi’s territory is such that 36 percent of it is utilized for residential purposes, 74 per cent has been formally developed and 22 per cent informally. It is important to note here that 62 per cent of Karachi’s total population lives in the 22 per cent informally-settled area. Informal settlements are mainly situated close to the city’s economic zones where the lower-middle class constitutes the majority. Moreover, informal settlements are rapidly increasing because informal developers are under the patronage of political parties. Consequently, it has severely impacted society’s structure and the densification of population.
It is noteworthy that 200 to 400 square yards houses are two percent of the total constructed buildings, but they occupy 31 percent of the residential land. On the other hand, houses built on 120 or lesser square yards make up 88 per cent. These figures show that smaller units are increasing and as a result, nowadays it is quite common that 6 to 10 persons live in one room. This might be a positive element from the perspective of social bond theory because individuals are attached and create strong social bonds, which can be important for dealing with any kind of hazards. However, this densification of population has several onerous consequences on individuals, households and society, which have to be taken into account.
Arguably, Karachi has the highest crime ratio among all cities of Pakistan. Mugging and snatching have drastically increased. Arif explains, as studies suggest, this uneven and informal densification paves the way for the formation of gangs. Poverty and lack of education and resources in these areas are among the main causes for crime. A mother of six children named Farzana told me that she cannot monitor her children during playtime since Katchi Abadis are becoming more and more conservative. There was a time when mothers used to sit at the doorsteps to keep a watch on their children and also, for socializing with neighbors. However, due to rising presence of unknown people in the neighborhood and increasing conservatism, it is impossible to do so now, she added.
One can observe the rise of tall buildings in Katchi Abadis having 10 to 15 floors. These buildings do not have lifts because they have been illegally developed by informal developers, also to maximize profit and keep the costs as low as possible. Thus, they lack appropriate planning and facilities. As Arif quotes, this lack of facilities has an adverse impact on children and older aged people. Furthermore, he has witnessed that there are many older aged people who are kept in house for many months because of their inability to use stairs. 67-year old Maqbool, resident of Korangi’s Katchi Abadi, told me in an interview that he is confined to his house and has not gone out for the past eight months. The last time he has gone out was in fact for Eid prayers.
Sindh Building Control Authority (SBCA) is a regulatory and supervisory body whose function is to regulate, approve and demolish dangerous buildings. The main problem is, as Arif briefs, that no SBCA rules and regulations are followed in the construction of these unplanned and informally developed buildings. In addition, the foundations of these buildings are normally weak and thus can collapse in the case of an earthquake. Apart from this, political influence and rampant corruption are considerably two factors behind SBCA’s incompetency. “We always fear that these buildings collapse anytime”, told a resident of a 12 story complex.
There are several other issues in these informal settlements such as lack of toilets, gas and electricity. Furthermore, rents in these localities are surging. The young generation usually stays away from home, becoming especially vulnerable to drug addiction and often resorting to crime.
“Even if we get over ethnic violence and even if we get over terrorism, this city is going to continue to have strife and conflict”, Arif argues. It seems true that other prevalent issues of this city will continue to affect the social fabric of the urban society. Informal settlement is a stern issue which must be addressed. A possible solution is more effort on planned or formal housing. Authority needs to allocate land to informal settlers and it should check unauthorized and informal developers. Existing informal settlements need to be checked and eventually included in in planned housing strategies. Otherwise, this city will always be deprived of peace and stability.
katchi abadi having tall building, what was the author trying to say
Yes. There are tall buildings in Katchi Abadi.