by Ms. Mariam Mohsin
If you have ever been to Islamabad, chances are you must have visited the city’s celebrated Jinnah Super Market. It’s luscious green. Beautiful. Packed with local and international brand outlets. It’s brimming with life – so much so that you most probably did not get a chance to look down South. Here’s what. If you stand over the edge of Bhittai Road, and look South-West of the Jinnah Super Market, you can easily spot what seems like a mistake within the glorious beauty of Islamabad’s most exquisite location. France Colony, one of the city’s several slums glares right back at you. Shabby, unkempt, impoverished; it is everything Islamabad is not.
Systematic Exclusion and the Master Plan
Is paradoxical nature of the city a co-incidence? Clearly not. The housing problem in Islamabad is an issue that needs serious and immediate policy attention. The capital city of Pakistan was a planned city from the start. Divided into five major zones; the city was initially planned as a small community for government and civil service employees. Zone-1 is divided into sectors, identified by alphabets (e.g., E, F, G, H, I). Each sector is subdivided into 4 sub-sectors and has a Markaz – the sector marketplace. Land prices around this zone have skyrocketed over the past decade and a half. People moving to Islamabad rarely find it affordable to reside to live in this zone.
With a few exceptions, residents of the city center have high standards of living and usually hire house help services for cleaning, cooking, driving, gardening, and baby-sitting. The planned part of the city has no space for the segment of the society that offers these services. Apparently, the master plan of Islamabad assumed that the city’s labor class would be sourced from Rawalpindi. In the absence of any feasible public transport system between the twin cities, this assumption was bound to fail.
With an increased need for labor class within the city, the slums around Islamabad slowly began to grow. There are currently about 42 slums all around Islamabad, with a population of well over 100,000. The city administration has demolished several of these settlements, causing outcries at national and international levels. There has been no policy to include the poor labor class of Islamabad in the city’s master plan. These people are expected to show up for work and disappear into the dark without blemishing the city’s natural beauty.
Increased Demand for Low-cost Housing
Alternatively, plot prices in Islamabad have raised from Rs. 1,130/ Sq. Ft. to Rs. 3,756/Sq. Ft., over the period February 2011-2 November 2019, making it a 232% increase (zameen.com). A sharp increase in prices of smaller sized plots in the new sectors (e.g., Sectors D-12, G-13, I-12, Gulberg etc) shows high demand for low-cost housing. One of the major reasons contributing towards such demand for low-cost housing is the influx of people migrating to the twin-cities in the past decade.
According to the 2017 population census, Islamabad saw the highest population growth rate of 4.91%. The estimated population of the city was about 2 million, of which 397,731 had migrated here between 1998-2017 (76,614 from KP, 2,534 from FATA, 241,977 from Punjab, 26,143 from Sindh, 2,969 from Balochistan, 24,438 from Azad Kashmir, 1,684 from Northern Areas and 21,372 from overseas). Of the immigrant population, 21.8 percent had moved for employment purposes while 53.42% had moved with the heads of their families, thus explaining the increased need for housing.
The City’s Response to A Population Influx
This increased need for housing has not been met by the city administration as the Capital Development Authority (CDA) is yet to introduce a new residential program in the past 30 years and Islamabad administration has remained aloof to the growing population and its housing needs. The unmet need for housing is being catered for by the private sector, and the city is experiencing mushrooming of several low-cost private housing schemes in the suburbs and along the Rawalpindi boundary. While these new housing schemes respond to the city’s housing needs, the ad hoc burgeoning is unplanned. It complicates the urban infrastructure by creating added issues of traffic and mobility, which is not necessarily responded to by the road network.
At present, according to the 2017 census, there are 128,753 housing units in Islamabad of which 5.64% are semi-pakka (made of clay and cement) while 6.39% are completely katcha (built with clay). Of these housing units, 20.74% have no kitchen, 24.30% have no bathroom, and 27.61% have no toilet facility, thus reflecting the level of housing crisis in the city. Clearly there is need for policy that recognizes the city’s growing population and the need for affordable housing for all classes of the society. It is the responsibility of the state to build urban spaces that are inclusive of all segments.