As Eid approaches, we once again see our major cities begin to empty out as people return to their home villages and towns. The trend is visible in all our major cities. Lahore, which once housed a population that, almost exclusively, had its roots in the city, turns into a place, which resembles — compared to its usual bustling self — a ghost town. The disappearance of people may not be quite so visible in the bustling metropolis of Karachi but the exodus still takes place.
What is illustrated by this is the massive, rural-urban movement we have seen most notably over the past three decades or so. People have poured into cities in search of work, of opportunity, of a better future for their children. Their decision is a logical one but it has had a devastating impact on the infrastructure of our cities and their ability to cater to the influx. New shanty towns have crept up; most lack adequate sewage and other basic facilities. Streets have been overwhelmed by new demands placed by growing traffic and the desperate lack of housing means more and more people stay out on the streets even through the bitter chill of winter. Yet the numbers coming in continue steadily to increase.
Urgent measures are needed. Our cities cannot bear the strain. What we need to do is expand employment in smaller towns and villages, improve facilities there and even out the framework for development. Not much has been done elsewhere, but in Punjab, for instance, most would agree that Lahore, home of the Sharifs, has fared better than other cities and towns. This balance needs to be amended and adjustments made, especially as far as the south of the province is concerned, since it lags behind the central and northern districts on most socio-economic indicators. The rapid growth in population is choking cities, while it is also a tragedy that people have to move so many miles away from their homes and sometimes families, simply to survive.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 5th, 2011.