Housing vulnerabilities, mass exodus during Covid lockdown | By Dr Sami Ullah


Housing vulnerabilities, mass exodus during Covid lockdown

PAKISTAN launched first housing policy in 2001 for ensuring reliable, affordable and inclusive housing for the inhabitants of urban areas.

In the recent past, current government of PTI has initiated Naya Pakistan Housing Programme (NPHP) that would provide housing facility to the homeless population, accelerate economic activity in the country and provide job opportunities to the youth.

But still the situation of urban areas is very critical because there is demand of 85,000 housing units, whereas the supply is only 32,000 in only Karachi and there is huge deficit of 53,000 houses.

On the other hand, there is very high cost of rent and estimation shows that on average, every rental family spends 25-30 percent of monthly income on rent, if living in single room, whereas, this number increased to 45-60 per cent for 3 room apartment.

Due to this high cost, people prefer to live in urban slums with vulnerable and pathetic conditions.

In Karachi, there are 8 million people (nearly 50%) living in urban slums due to high rent, costly housing and low wages and this slums population is highest as compared with any city of the world.

COVID-19 lockdown has damaged Pakistan’s economy in almost all the aspects of life including rise in unemployment, poverty, education by limited access to technology, health expenditure.

This loss was much bigger for the families of informal sector employees living in mega cities of Pakistan in terms of employment and housing vulnerabilities.

We have nearly 70 percent employment in informal sector, where employees are vulnerable in terms of job security, safety nets and benefits in the times of crisis.

So, this domain remains pathetic throughout the COVID lockdown and specific policy intervention is desired for making the cities sustainable.

In the recent past, we have conducted field survey of rental market consumers and experts in Karachi under the research project on “COVID Pains and Mass Exodus” in collaboration with University of Gujrat and University of Glasgow.

In this study, we have observed many interesting information regarding housing market of mega cities with the focus on COVID impact.

Some of the key findings of this study, policy intervention and research based analysis is as follows.

Firstly, during COVID crisis, there is no financial support provided by government for renters and investors of housing markets throughout the country.

The workers of informal sector and low wage groups faced severe crisis and unable to pay rents, even to access the basic needs was tough and majority has decided to move back to rural areas.

In this situation, economic hardship was the leading factor which further put psychological pressure on the working age group for managing the unmanageable.Secondly, renters informed that the housing conditions in urban areas are not inclusive.

The space, environment and the facilities are insufficient for the masses and there is dire need to reconsider the designs as per the requirements by considering demographic patterns in mind.

State can develop some policies for managing such sort of crisis in the near future to provide confidence and security for the low and middle income groups for minimizing their vulnerabilities.

Thirdly, the urban migrants experiencing psychosomatic symptoms, financial hardships, family concerns, reflections on discrimination and reflections of existing support and expectations of support systems.

People were unable to find job, especially the daily-wagers. Mostly people live in a very dilapidated or rudimentary housing units.

Many family members must live together in small places without proper hygiene and physical activities.

The employment opportunities for urban migrants had been reduced significantly as a lot of businesses and companies were shut down during this crisis.

This situation indicates that the migrants living in urban areas are very prone to vulnerabilities due to any shock.

There is need to rethink on this aspect because only Karachi is the inhabitant of nearly 20 million people and if we add major cities, this number will cross 50 million by 2050.

So, this is the appropriate time to consider this huge number of urban migrants and majority of them are at risk of employment, health, disasters and other unforeseen crisis.

On the basis of findings of above stated research study, it is suggested to develop some integrated assessment and action approaches that facilitate developing better mitigation and response strategies precisely to manage the safe habitation for migrants.

Secondly, public transport, mixed housing and vibrant public spaces are needed for migrants to reap opportunities in mega cities and to protect the rights for safe habitation during any emergency.

Thirdly, state should focus on some facilities for both renters and investors by converting this sector from informal to formal for sustainability.

There should be a mechanism for registering the internal urban migrant workers and Displacement Tracking Matrix (DTM) needs to be developed by considering best international practices.

Lastly, effective management of the safe habitation of urban migrants requires planned urbanization to mitigate at risk of not being able to access basic services.

Such sort of tinny initiatives of state can motivate the workers from remote areas to participate actively in the labour market of mega cities for boosting the wheels of economy. Safe inhabitation can be the major factor of safe, secure and inclusive environment.

This can positively contribute to the employment generation in urban areas by lowering the burden from agriculture sector for rural development.

Even Pakistan has bulk of youth and these initiatives are the backbone for economic and societal sustainability in the long run.

—The writer is Assistant Professor in Economics, University of Gujrat, Pakistan.

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