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February 13, 2017

‘With residents having hearts of gold, Karachi is El Dorado’


February 13, 2017

Panellists at a KLF session say Karachi shouldn’t be a booming city but a sustainable one

Karachi is El Dorado, but unlike the mythical lost city built with gold, it is its residents who possess hearts of gold.

That is how Aquila Ismail, an author, activist and teacher, described Karachi at a session titled ‘Karachi: Is Pakistan’s Boom Town still Booming?’ on Sunday, the third and last day of the Karachi Literature Festival 2017.

Like her sister, Orangi Pilot Project director Perween Rahman who was gunned down in 2013, she too sees in Orangi, dubbed the world’s largest slum, people wading their way through challenges towards a better life and that, she believes, is in its true sense the growth of the city.

“When I visit marketplaces there and the surrounding goths which are urban areas now, I
see them hustling and bustling with life.”

She added that there were 0.8 million people living in Orangi when she and her colleagues had embarked upon the Orangi Pilot Project and now its population stood at 2.2 million.

“That is around 10 percent of Karachi’s total population. It shows that the city still offers so much to its residents.”

Haris Gazdar, a senior social science researcher, observed that Karachi was not a boom town and should not be one in any case. He added that boom towns were created because of some resource and after it exhausted, they turned into ghost towns.

He noted that Karachi had passed beyond the contingencies after which a city moved towards sustainability. The first one, he pointed out, was climatic change – the decline of Thatta as the centre of Sindh and Balochistan’s trade because of environmental changes and Karachi taking over that position. 

Then Karachi saw political shifts, first when during the British rule its port gained significance and then after the Partition. As for the third factor, its demography, Gazdar said Karachi’s population surge was still more that in other parts of the country, but a comparison of the city’s own statistics in recent years showed that its population growth rate had dropped.

“This means that in the coming years, Karachi will head towards further sustainability and improve both economically and socially,” he maintained.

Architect, activist and writer Arif Hasan raised questions about the growth being witnessed in Karachi.

He noted that thousands of plots and apartments in the city were empty. However, he added, thousands of more apartments were being built. “You call this a boom?!” he remarked.

He also pointed out that years ago there were 22,000 minibuses plying the roads of Karachi. “But now there are only 9,000 left. Is this what you call growth?!”

Hasan further observed that Karachi’s GDP per capita had significantly declined.

“These figures don’t project growth at all.”

The renowned architect and planner went on to recall a colleague’s remarks years ago that Karachi was surrounded by volcanoes, referring to the slum settlements in the city.

These volcanoes, his friend had said, would erupt soon if they were not provided with water, a sanitation system, education, healthcare, etc.

Hasan recently reminded his friend about the claim he had made years ago. “He [his friend] replied that [perhaps the volcanoes didn’t erupt because of us,” he said and went on to speak about the difference made by the non-governmental organisations working in slums to address the grievances of their residents.

To moderator Aliya Iqbal-Naqvi’s query, former diplomat Najmuddin Shaikh said he did not see the development of Gwadar port and the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor affecting Karachi’s significance as the country’s main port city. “The Gwadar port will cater to other routes. Karachi will remain the country’s principal port city,” he added.

Shaikh further noted that though street crimes were still common in Karachi, the fear that had struck its business community had subsidised to some extent and that would economically benefit the city in the coming days.

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