Anti-Poor Karachi: Katchi Abadis

When thinking about inequality, almost immediately the developing world comes to mind. Inequality of material things and opportunities is extremely common in a country like Pakistan. Today the focus will be on the unequal treatment of the poor due to the presence of anti-poor bias in Karachi. More specifically, I’ll be focusing on the housing sector and the living conditions of people living in Katchi Abadis and other low-income areas.

The International Institute for Environment and Development confirms that around 70% of the Karachi inhabitants are poor and are in need of affordable housing. (Fisher. 2014). Unfortunately, the government of Sindh has failed to provide affordable land or housing to the poor. In cases where the poor have acquired housing themselves, there are several cases of demolition.

Arif Hasan defines Katchi Abadis as the informal settlements on government land which have been developed by informal developers. (Hasan. 2008). Karachi houses 63% of the urban population of Sindh (Hasan. 2008) and the majority of its population is poor. The urban poor in a way is even more disadvantaged than their counterparts in surrounding rural areas. After moving here for employment opportunities for themselves, and educational opportunities for their children, the rural-to-urban migrants have to face the problem of finding affordable housing.

Data confirms that the urban population of Karachi has been expanding massively and so has the demand for accommodation, “driven by migration and population growth” which has led to ad hoc solutions by the informal sector to house them. (Fisher. 2014) Katchi Abadis are filled with informal settlers who themselves have built their houses from scratch illegally or have rented out to occupants in need of cheap accommodations. These houses or apartments do not meet the city code for legal and safe housing. In Housing Security and Related Issues: The Case of Karachi, Arif Hasan comments, “Sewage systems within these settlements have no disposal points; water systems do not have an adequate source of water; roads do not link up with major city arteries; schools in the private sector have difficulty in improving their conditions and being recognized by the government’s education department and public sector education, especially in the katchi abadis, is grossly inadequate and of very bad quality. Meanwhile, health clinics in low-income settlements have no links with hospitals and laboratories in the formal sector. This is because these low-income settlements are not integrated into a larger city plan but are treated as separate entities.” (Hasan. 2008. p. 8)

Another major problem that people living in these areas face is transportation issues. Due to lack of infrastructure and road development, and huge differences between these settlements and workplaces, residents of these settlements have to bare huge transportation costs to earn their livings. Furthermore, due to the rising inflation, acquiring land in a katchi abadi that is near the city’s employment zones has also become difficult as it has become unaffordable for a majority of the urban poor. “As such, the poor are living increasingly far away from their places of work and from health, education, and recreation and entertainment facilities. This has serious repercussions on family life, working women, stress, and is a major cause of growing marginalization.” (Hasan. 2008. p. 7)

One of the reasons why this is the case in the katchi abadis and other low-income areas is that investment in these areas is extremely low. There is rarely an investment, and even if an investment is made and project completed, they are rarely ever maintained. Furthermore, the projects that are made in low-income areas are of low quality. “If they are road projects, they are washed out in the first rains. If they are sewage projects, they stop functioning within a year. The contractors who build them, unlike in the rich areas, are un-experienced and their workmen have poor skills.” (Hasan. 2012).

In The Anti-Poor Bias in Planning and Policy, Arif Hasan confirms that the reason why investment is not often made in low-income areas is because of the culture and tradition of ignoring the needs of the poor. Furthermore, the poor are often time left unaccounted for in the grand development visions and theories, which form the basis of the city development and administration plans. (Hasan. 2012).

Due to being ignored by the government in the development and planning and then the investors, residents of the katchi abadis have to form their inadequate homes and are faced with constant housing insecurity. People living in the katchi abadis constantly face the threat of being evacuated or their homes being demolished. The urban poor have no security over housing, and historically when faced with demolition, they are rarely compensated or given alternatives.

Most of the time these demolitions are carried out to give the land to urban developers who oftentimes have links with powerful politicians/bureaucrats. (Hasan. 2008. p. 6). The development if happens happens solely for the rich. However, the development is not only pro-rich, but it is specifically anti-poor, which hugely disadvantages the poor, such as in cases of the evacuation of the katchi abadis for potential development projects.

Furthermore, the loss of a home is not the only loss people from the katchi abadis face due to evacuation and demolition, they also lose the large sum of investments they make into acquiring often “legal” water, gas, electricity, telephone and television connections, and other basic household needs. Often times they have to invest in making their own water and sewerage lines. They also have to establish their own schools and community buildings.

Non-government organizations (NGOs) can play a large role in providing help to such communities. “Adopting” portions of the city which are part of the katchi abadis, can help develop improve the living standards of the people living there. This help can be in many forms, such as free weekly medical clinics for the community, plantation drives that involve the residents (which will create ownership within the community), cleaning drives, and so on. Furthermore, NGOs can fund basic development costs such as installations of gas and/or water lines. NGOs can also support and advocate for the housing security of the people who have been forced to live in informal settlements due to socioeconomic and political reasons.

The people from these communities form organizations to negotiate with the government for cases of relocation or the prevention of evictions. At times they even go to court, however, they rarely get a success. People in the katchi abadis and other low-income areas are faced with constant housing insecurity and are marginalized due to the anti-poor bias that exists in our society. We have entered this decade with more people worried about basic survival in the City of Lights, than people rejoicing progress and development of the 21st century. Is Pakistan truly developing if more people are afraid of losing their homes, their jobs, or even their lives? Or is development only for the rich?

References:

Fisher, S. (2014, November 25). The Houses That Karachi’s Poor Want. International Institute for Environment and Development. Retrieved from https://www.iied.org/houses-karachis-poor-want

Hasan, A. (2008). Housing Security and Related Issues: The Case of Karachi. Retrieved from http://arifhasan.org/human-settlements/land-housing/housing-security-and-related-issues-the-case-of-karachi-3

Hasan, A. (2012). The Anti-Poor Bias in Planning and Policy. Retrieved from http://arifhasan.org/articles/the-anti-poor-bias-in-planning-and-policy

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