Can Naya Pakistan Housing Scheme solve the issue of informal settlements?

(Mehmaiz, Lahore)

Pakistan is one of those countries where the issue of informal settlements has been going on for a very long time. There are many areas in the country where people have constructed their houses without following legal procedures. Poverty is the biggest reason behind this growing cause for concern.

These people cannot afford to buy a land and therefore they occupy any particular space in the outskirts of the cities. Such communities build illegal housing units near the riverbanks, highways, and even along the railway lines. In Karachi alone, 62 percent of the total inhabitants reside in slum areas, according to a 2015 report. A United Nations document says that at least one-quarter of the global population does not have legal roofs. On the other hand, the problem of rising population has made the situation uglier.

The rent of the houses is increasing rapidly. It has become very hard for the poor to afford a house even only with a single room. In the big cities of Pakistan, it has become a norm to demand a heavy rent for a small house. Aside from this, the owner of a rental property asks you to pay a huge amount of cash in advance as a security deposit. The people who do not have enough resources to pay the rent start living in informal settlements where they do not get access to the basic facilities like gas, electricity, and water. While traveling, you must have seen groups of people cooking meals over the wood fire and hanging their clothes a few meters away from the railway lines. The children can also be seen playing in the same area, which is full of dirt. They usually live in small communities and do not have any administration that can solve their problems.

The 2017 census shows that the rural areas of Pakistan require 350,000 houses every year while we only provide 150,000 units. Those who cannot get the homes find shelters in the informal settlements. A study shows that if the country fails to address the problem of rising population and the growing demands of new houses, the shortfall of housing units will increase to 20 million in the next 7 years.

The slum areas are mostly environmentally sensitive. Floods pose a great risk to the individuals living near the rivers. In 2011, floods in the swampy district of Badin led to the displacement of many people who were living in the unplanned settlements. Furthermore, other weather conditions like rain, thunderstorms, and cyclones also make life difficult for the people residing in such areas. During the summer, they endure hot rays of the sun while winter brings different kinds of illnesses for them. Many times the walls of the buildings collapse during the monsoon season because the houses in slum areas are not designed to tolerate such weather.

On one hand, slum areas are providing safe places to those who do not have homes while on the other hand, the standard of living is very poor in these areas.

There are numerous inadequacies in the informal settlements and the government has to make a proper mechanism to identify and resolve them. Instead of forcing the inhabitants of slum areas to leave the place, the authority should provide them shelters as they are the citizens of this country. A document also needs to be maintained to record the information of the informal settlements in Pakistan.

We can say that it is a good announcement by the chief justice of Pakistan that he is himself ready to visit with the prime minister the informal settlements in Lahore and other cities. Moreover, the announcement of Naya Pakistan Housing Programme, which promises to construct five million homes is also a good step in this regard. But obviously, we will have to see how this idea is implemented and whether this scheme will provide the houses to those who are really in need of the homes or only those will benefit who already own houses.
Author: Mehmaiz Ali

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