M Fazal Elahi
SEVEN decades have passed since the creation of Pakistan, yet, like many other areas, housing continues to be a gray area and calls for urgent government attention. Provision of Shelter, one of the fundamental and vital human needs, as elsewhere in the developed world, is the primary responsibility of the State. Other vital areas of social significance are health and education which too are primary responsibilities of the State but are in an equally abysmal state in our part of the world.
As appropriately enunciated in the International Journal of Science: Basic and Applied Research (IJSBAR) (2015) Volume 24, housing is one of the fundamental human rights and an essential component of the right to an acceptable standard of living. Adequate and affordable housing is not only necessary for security and comfort, but is also critical in fostering social cohesion and development of a nation. The housing sector plays a major role in economic growth and stabilization through the creation of job in construction and materials and demand for financial services. The housing and construction industry has the potential of absorbing a large number of skilled and unskilled workforce, significantly mitigating unemployment and, thereby, reducing poverty in the country. Housing construction activity and productivity has been rising in Pakistan in recent years from very low level; still housing sector is in its infancy when compared with other developing and developed countries. IJSBAR Report 2015 further states that Pakistan is faced with the challenge of urbanization and inadequate housing due to exodus of population from rural to urban areas since the 1960s. Of the total population of almost 186 million, in the year being reported, the urban population in Pakistan constitutes about 36.2%, and is increasing at a rate of 2.6% per year. This process of rapid urbanization, the report states, has resulted in overcrowding of cities and deterioration of environment. According to the report, housing backlog in the country in 2015 stood at around 9 million units and the then housing conditions were characterized by overcrowding, inadequate sewerage, pollution and poor building construction, which offers no security of tenure or protection from weather extremities.
Elaborating further, the report enunciates that in 2008, the yearly estimated housing demand was 570,000 units while the actual supply was only 300,000, leaving a shortfall of 270,000 units per year. This situation, for sure, must have further deteriorated in the successive years and the gap between supply and demand for housing must have substantially increased by now. During the recent years, successive governments did display awareness of the issues pertaining to housing problems in Pakistan. Much, however, is required to be done to grapple with the housing problems in the country effectively.
The dismal housing scenario prevalent in the country makes it imperative to draw the attention of the incumbent government towards the appalling state of affairs that is seriously confronting the ever deteriorating housing sector of the country. The massive backlog vis-à-vis the need for housing is speedily multiplying the problems of the people who are at loss to understand as to how and when will this problem be resolved? The Housing Ministry of the Government and its attached departments such as the Pakistan Housing Authority (PHA) and the Federal Government Employees Housing Foundation (FGEHF), entrusted with the responsibility of meeting the housing needs of the country, have come up with some projects in the past but these projects were primarily developed for the government servants; private citizens did get some space in these projects, through open auction, but their number has always been very negligible. Undeniably, housing is a highly capital intensive industry. Massive financial resources are needed to undertake ventures in this sector in large scale.
The government cannot and should not, therefore, endeavour to manage this vital social sector component, relating to basic human need, all by itself. To be able to effectively address the vital and ever-growing issue of housing in the country, the government must encourage the private sector to play a positive role. It is a known fact that the private sector has made and continues to make significant contribution toward alleviating the perpetually increasing housing problems of the country. Some of the land and housing development projects launched and completed and some ongoing projects of the private sector developers are unquestionably of high standard and are worthy of sincere appreciation. In order to egg on such private land and housing developers to invest further and build new projects to meet the housing needs of the people at full tilt government should give proper incentives to them. In doing so, however, an important fact that must not be disregarded by the government is that the private sector developers are appropriately and adequately regulated and are not given an opportunity to plunder the meagre and hard-earned resources of the people of this country with impunity.
— The writer is freelance columnist based in Islamabad.