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November 11, 2018

A place called home


November 11, 2018

It is unfortunate that since Prime Minister Imran Khan announced the Naya Pakistan Housing Programme, his ‘flagship project’ aimed at constructing five million houses for lower income segments over the next five years, everybody has been questioning its viability and debunking it.

A better approach that everyone, including the PTI government, should have taken was to invite experts in related fields who could suggest innovative ideas for building modern, low-cost, environment-friendly houses, creating superb localities around big and small cities – as is done in other countries. We are becoming a nation of disparaging ideas, rather than one that works collectively for the benefit of people who are deprived of the basic amenities of life.

Projects like the Naya Pakistan Housing Programme should be discussed above party lines as in their success lies a reduction in the existing economic disparities and better facilities for the have-nots/people in lower-income groups.

The Naya Pakistan Housing Authority, announced on October 10, 2018, still awaits a legal framework. Even its official website hasn’t been launched. Nevertheless, the scheme is receiving an overwhelming response, according to a Nadra director. The salaried class is showing a keen interest and over 5,000 applications have been received. Nadra will soon launch an online application portal so that people in remote areas can also submit their forms.

It is time that that the PTI government consults people who have successfully executed projects of low-cost houses like Khuda ki Basti. The government is relying on bureaucrats with no knowledge in this regard. Instead, it should consult experts like Kamil Khan Mumtaz, the winner of the Aga Khan Award for Architecture, Nayyar Ali Dada and Arif Hasan – just to mention a few – who have the ability to execute low-cost housing projects.

Arif Hasan has not only written extensively about low-cost housing projects, but has also executed such projects. He was also a member of the Orangi Pilot Project between 1981 and 2000 under the legendary social scientist, Akhtar Hameed Khan. Constructing decent, affordable housing for the underprivileged is the responsibility of the state and should have been its top priority. But it has been criminally ignored by successive governments. There is no doubt that it can also boost our economy substantially. New habitats in the vicinities of already crowded cities, linked through a mass public transport system, with modern amenities and job opportunities can change the entire landscape of Pakistan. Unfortunately, there is unfounded pessimism and negativity all around, which has especially been propagated by media anchors portraying the Naya Pakistan Housing Programme as impractical, unrealistic, financially unviable, and a non-starter.

Let’s examine some success stories in low-cost housing. The Shelter Project’ started by the Akhtar Hameed Khan Memorial Trust (AHKMT) in 2012 proved to be quite helpful for the flood-affected population. While we love to criticise, we often fail to mention the extraordinary contributions of Akhtar Hameed Khan and, after his death, those who work for the AHKMT.

This is just one example. There are many more organisations of this nature, such as Anjuman Mimaran (a non-profit society dedicated to raising the standards of architectural design and building construction in Pakistan). The PTI is relying on ‘babus’ who often pose hindrances. Success lies in forming partnerships with people who are working towards empowering the have-nots. The bureaucracy didn’t present any solutions in the past and won’t offer any solutions in the future. Arif Hasan recently highlighted in an article published in ’Dawn’: “The seriousness of the housing issue in Pakistan can be judged from the fact that conservative estimates put the housing backlog at nine million units which is increasing at 300,000 units annually because of unmet demand. 62 percent of this demand is for lower income groups”.

In none of the meetings held for the Naya Pakistan Housing Programme have technologies from China that have already been selected by International Center for Materials Technology Promotion (ICM)/China Building Materials Academy (CBMA) been discussed. These technologies are especially selected for low-cost housing in developing countries. Low-cost housing technology is now keenly needed in most of these countries, especially in Africa, Latin America, Asia and various post-disaster regions.

There are many worthwhile studies that can help us design a workable model for the Naya Pakistan Housing Programme. A remarkable research paper, titled ‘A Comprehensive Review on Low Cost Building Systems’, dispels the misconception that low-cost housing is suitable for only subnormal work and is built by using cheap building materials that are of low quality. The fact is that low-cost housing is done through the proper management of resources.

The cost of reduction is achieved by selecting more efficient material or through an improved design that increases access to buildings for low-income groups. The other worthwhile studies are: ‘Developing an Assessment Framework for Affordable and Sustainable Housing’ by Stephen Pullen, Michael Arman, George Zillante, Jian Zuo, Nicholas Chileshe and Lou Wilson (Institute for Sustainable Systems and Technologies University of South Australia); and ‘Sustainable Housing and Building Materials for Low-income Households’ by J Bredenoord, an international urban planner/housing researcher at the Housing Research Group in the Netherlands.

Back in 2000, a seminar was held at the Lahore School of Economics to discuss the concept developed by Anjuman Mimaran for urban development, which has immediate relevance for the Naya Pakistan Housing Programme. It was based on high-density, low-rise, low-tech development that could integrate housing employment and social infrastructure, with a balanced mix of income and occupational groups. This concept is extremely relevant for the Naya Pakistan Housing Programme that is aimed at providing affordable housing for low-income groups. It provides insights on how we can release pressure on existing urban centres and fuse economic activity into rural areas, leading to sustainable ‘green’ urban communities”.

For the success of the Naya Pakistan Housing Programme, the prime minister should consult researchers, experts and doers, not those who are making houses for the elite and doling out charity money from government funds that could have been better utilised to provide housing, health centres and good public schools.

The writer is an advocate of the Supreme Court and adjunct faculty at LUMS.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @drikramulhaq