The Dilemma of Kachi Abadis in Pakistan

According to the World Bank’s development indicators, in Pakistan, 40.1% of its population was reported to reside in slum areas as of 2018. 

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The word ‘Kachi Abadi’, also known as ‘slums’, can be associated with three types of settlements; slums, informal settlements, and squatter settlements.  The only difference between these terms exists based on the lack of specific properties;

  • A ‘squatter settlement’ lacks a proper land tenure. 
  • An ‘informal settlement’ lacks ‘formal’ control of land use and planning.
  • The most widely used term, ‘slum’, lacks basic resources of life.

The Abadis are a common sight in the urban cities of Pakistan, brimming with poverty and lack of basic resources. The world’s largest slum – Orangi Town, is located in Karachi, with around 2,400,000 residents alone. 

The word ‘slum’ first emerged in the 19th century in London to designate a lowly part of town or a room of low repute. Over the years, the definition has evolved systematically. According to the United Nations (UN) definition, a slum is a ‘contiguous settlement’ lacking basic services and adequate housing infrastructure. They are often not legally recognised by the official authorities as an equal part of the city. The UN further describes a slum dweller as an inhabitant lacking five necessities – strong walls, ample living space, clean drinking water, sanitation, and a secure title.

The UN’s Millennium Development Goals (MDG) incorporates the target of ‘significantly improving the life of a hundred million inhabitants of slums by 2020 in its seventh goal to ‘Ensure Environmental Sustainability’. Even if the lives of 200 million slum dwellers’ improved, at the same time, around another wave of 100 million slum dwellers have entered the slums regime, according to the data released by the UN.


Contributing Factors to the Emergence of Urban Slums:

Slums do not emerge on their own but are an outcome of varying economic, social, and often political forces. Following are listed some leading causes that foster slums and informal settlements in Pakistan.


High Rate of Urbanisation

In Pakistan, cities are expanding rapidly, with 37.1% of its total population residing in cities. The increasing rural to urban migration in search of economic opportunities contributes to the emergence of slums as high urban density pushes the population to the poorer sections of the cities.


Urbanisation of Poverty

The result of rapid rural-urban migration causes a phenomenon called ‘urbanisation of poverty whereby poverty shifts from the rural areas to the urban centres in search of employment opportunities.


Lack of Affordable Housing

When housing is not planned efficiently to cater to the affordability of the lower-middle and lower classes, slums areas tend to multiply as the impoverished residents move to low-cost, congested, and deteriorated regions of the city.


Informal Economy

In Pakistan, around 68.1% of the labour force is employed in the informal sector. The stem of this informal labour force arises from cities’ slums or informal settlements. They are an integral part of the city’s economy as they are active sources of cheap labour and daily wagers.


Lack of secure tenure/titles

When the informal settlements do not retain secure tenure, there is no incentive or opportunities to enhance the living conditions. Without secure tenure, livelihood opportunities and public services are often inaccessible. Due to lack of formal oversight, slums fall victim to rapid urban decay and degradation of living standards.


Social Inequality

The phenomena of social exclusion, economic inequality, lack of essential services, lack of education and health facilities, and marginalisation of minorities readily contribute to slums’ affluence. One definition of slums by Cities Alliance Action Plan states that slums are ‘neglected’ portions of societies where housing conditions and living standards are highly impoverished.


Poor Land Use Planning

Slums are a literal manifestation of poor land-use planning in urban areas. They are characterised by a lack of zonal oversight and enforcement of land use regulations. In Pakistan, corruption in land use is highly prevalent, marked with illegal construction and land mafias that resist any effort to redevelop or eradicate slums.


Urban Renewal

Urban renewal is mostly an unfounded concept in Pakistan’s urban planning. Urban renewals are state-authorized redevelopment programs that renovate areas suffering from urban decay, economic downturn, or lack of security. Contrarily, urban renewal programs targeted at introducing new housing societies or hosting events often are the cause of eviction of slums, whereby large proportions of slum dwellers have no choice but to relocate to more deteriorated areas that are farther away from economic centres. 


Population Growth

Pakistan’s population growth rate in 2020 was estimated to be 1.98%. When the population rate is so high, it outpaces the rate at which affordable housing is being constructed. This significantly hampers the dynamics of livelihood opportunities, and people are forced to find a home in poverty-stricken areas.


Job Opportunities

Comparative to rural areas, cities offer a versatile plethora of job opportunities, a higher spirit of entrepreneurship, and a booming services sector. There is also a greater demand for cheap labour and daily wagers. These dynamics attract the rural inhabitants who pursue these opportunities to elevate their earnings and utilise the more significant social mobility to walk up the ladder of social classes.


Slums and the Poverty Trap

Slums are marked by intergenerational poverty as the entire households are subjected to financial and socio-economic burdens. The exposure to recurrent diseases, lack of access to public facilities, low-paid jobs, and perpetual poverty traps the inhabitants in a cycle of poverty that is hard to escape. The areas lack educational and proper vocational opportunities that entrap the future of the youngsters. The only job opportunities available for them are part of the informal economy, consisting of daily wages, cheap labour, and low incomes. With the lack of essential services, their cost of living tends to increase, coupled with difficulty in access to water, dependency on gas cylinders, and lack of electricity. Hence, as the conditions of slums continue to aggravate, it entangles more and more inhabitants into its poverty trap.


Given these constricting factors, it is high time that urban planning in Pakistan shifts its attention specifically towards the emancipation of the slum areas and devises efficient land-use policies to counter urban decay and informal settlements.



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