Rapid Urbanization In Pakistan & Challenges Ahead

Ever since the evolution of life on earth, mankind is in search of more advanced and better management of resources and opportunities. For this people tend to move towards cities. When a large number of people move to cities for a living it is called urbanization. The encyclopedic definition refers Urbanization as a process through which cities grow, and higher and higher percentages of the population come to live in the city.

The world is witnessing urbanization at a very fast pace. The United Nations expects almost 70pc of people globally to be living in urban areas by 2050, up from 56pc today.

Similar is the case for Pakistan. The country is having one of the fastest urbanization. A rapid shift towards urbanization in Pakistan can be ascertained from the fact that in 1998 some 43 million people used to live in urban areas in the country whereas according to the figures of the 2017 Population Census this figure has risen to around 76 million accounting for 36.44 percent of the entire country’s population.

A brief historical perspective of urbanization

The history of urbanization is, perhaps, as old as the history of mankind. The book ‘Cities and Urban Life’ relocates Jericho as the oldest discovered city of the world located at the north of the dead sea – present-day Israel.

Built around some 10,000 years ago, the city contained the signs of urbanization with its high walls, trenches, houses made with sun-dried bricks. Mesopotamia, Egypt, Indus Valley, China, and Central America were among the major urban empires of that era. Formal urban development got intensified in 3500 B.C. When cities grew in number, they create more challenges ahead for the residents.

Challenges related to urbanization in Pakistan

Lack of industrialization

Pakistan continues to urbanize while its share of industry has remained stagnant at around 20 percent for the last three decades. Also, the decline in the share of the country’s agriculture sector is being compensated by the rise of the low value-addition service sector.

Additionally, more rapid urbanization in Pakistan isn’t endued with the highly advanced skilled labor force. Lack of industrialization also limits the country’s urban development and growth patterns.

Clearly, urbanization is no more than a rise in the urban count in Pakistan. In contrast to this, the developed cities across the world have a more skilled urban population and advanced industrial setups so that urbanization becomes a useful addition to national income.

Conversion of farmlands into the construction blocks

Urbanization in Pakistan is converting farmlands into construction blocks. This disturbs soil and sediment which leads to erosion. Human use of land in the urban environment has increased both the magnitude and frequency of floods.

Pakistan has always been an agricultural economy and agriculture comprises around 80% of the export base of the country and 24% of our Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

With urbanization, the agrarian sector of the economy will also suffer. Effects on the agriculture sector in Pakistan would be synergized with the severe impact of the already strained water crisis. Unfortunately, no laws in Pakistan regulate and control the unplanned conversion of grazing and fertile lands into construction sites.

Worsening air pollution

With urbanization there comes worsening air pollution because of increased transportation and locomotives. According to the Pakistan Air Quality Initiative (PAQI), air pollution caused 59,241 deaths in Pakistan each year.

Lahore alone suffers from high levels of air pollution, with the city regularly ranking at the top of IQAir AirVisual’s live pollution rankings of major global cities. Let alone the situation of air pollution in other major urban centers of the country.

Increased crime rate

Urbanization gives rise to higher unemployment, homelessness, poverty, deprivation, and hence the increased crime rates. These conditions are tumultuous in a country like Pakistan where urbanization doesn’t seem to be the by-product of industrialization.

The Institute of Development and Economic Alternatives (IDEAS) Lahore Crime Survey shows that one in eight citizens of Lahore is faced with the crimes like theft, robbery, burglary, extortion, assault, kidnapping.

However, Karachi has seen a considerable decrease in its crime rate over the years as the city fell to the 115th spot in the latest World Crime Index rankings thanks to the ongoing military operations and strong presence of para-military forces in the economic capital. The port city’s current crime index has been calculated to 53.70, placing it on the 115th spot in the list that features over 300 cities.

Urban heat islands

When houses, shops, and industrial buildings are constructed close together, it can create a UHI. Building materials are usually very good at insulating, or holding in heat. This insulation makes the areas around buildings warmer.

Insulated heat in between the skyscrapers, increased use of privately owned vehicles, industrialization, increased population density in urban centers, and above all deforestation and reduced canopy are some of the factors that contribute to the formation of urban heat islands. This UHI is dangerous for men and animals equally.

Urban Sprawling

The new and emerging trends in urbanization are defined with the increased urban occupation of rural lands and suburbs with the urban sprawls. More and more people from the city centers move to the suburbs for the sake of peaceful and safe living from an environmental standpoint.

Still, the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics doesn’t count the peri-urban areas as urban thereby under-representing the total share of urbanized lands in the country. Many researchers argue that nearly half the population could be classified as urban if the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics’s definition of a city or urban area were to be interpreted more liberally.


Urbanization in Pakistan largely remains an issue instead of an opportunity in Pakistan because of the multifarious shortcomings at the developmental and administrative fronts.

As soon as the country’s high-ups realize the importance of utilizing the urban growth potential in full by expanding the industrialization of the economy and technical skill development of its people, the widespread problem of urbanization can be turned into a cashed opportunity.

Moreover, the inclusion of affordable housing, increased economic activity by increased FDI, and strengthening the local industry, health, and public service-related equity can greatly help sustain the fast-spreading urbanization.

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