Founding Editor: Shafqat Munir   

Study reveals roots of urban land issues in Karachi that limit development 

30 Maart 2013 04:36:24

Study reveals roots of urban land issues in Karachi that limit development

Local and international politics can limit the potential for urban
centres to deliver benefits to their poorest citizens, even where
there are pro-poor policies and market liberalization. So concludes a
study, published today by the International Institute for Environment
and Development.

The research focused on Karachi, Pakistan whose politics are unique,
but its findings are relevant to cities around the world. It showed
that the root causes of inefficient or inequitable development include
colonial legacies, modern day politics and financial speculation, all
of which can fuel conflict over land, and render markets dysfunctional
and pro-poor policies irrelevant.

“The development orthodoxy is to seek solutions to urban development
challenges in either better government policies or through improved
land titling,” says architect Arif Hasan, who led the study. “But as
this study shows the problems often lie in land contestation, which
undermines both markets and the capacity of government agencies to
address land issues. The problem is not the lack of laws and
regulations for city development, but the conflict over land that
makes it difficult for officials to follow them and the procedures
they lay down.”

The study aimed to identify why Karachi – which is Pakistan’s
financial capital – has not achieved its potential. It found that part
of the problem is the large number of land-owning agencies whose
influence overlaps but whose governance is weak, unclear or
ineffective. This has enabled politically motivated land grabs.

“Land is hotly contested because of speculation and real estate
development, which bring not only enormous profits but also help
Karachi's different ethnic parties consolidate their hold in different
areas of the city,” says Hasan.

Three important factors compound Karachi’s complex land governance
system, in which 13 different land management authorities operate. The
first concerns Karachi’s strategic location in the regional conflict
related to the Afghan war. The second is its immense economic power in
the context of Pakistan in general and in the Sindh province (of which
it is the capital) in particular. Third, Karachi’s migrant population
far outnumbers its native Sindhi and Balochi speakers. An
understanding of these features is necessary to comprehend Karachi’s
persistent land management and governance problems.

“In many cities there are struggles over land,” says Gordon McGranahan
of IIED. “These struggles can make irrelevant any improvement
strategies that imagine that land can be managed by a conventional
combination of private owners operating in the market and public
agencies operating within a bureaucracy.”

The study shows that the method of governance in Karachi makes it
difficult to implement laws. Bureaucrats and government ministers have
discretionary powers over land which they use for patronage purposes.
Powerful groups invest their money in the lucrative formal and
informal real estate business. And the armed forces and other federal
land owning agencies also interfere in land-related matters within the

These sorts of messy politics make social and environmental
improvements difficult. Meanwhile international development agencies
and nongovernmental organisations try to rise above them yet this just
makes them irrelevant or subject to manipulation.

“The current status of development in Karachi and many other urban
centres is rooted in struggles that cannot be addressed without coming
to terms with how local politics play out in each particular place,”
says Hasan. “A similar mix of land speculation, real estate
development, dubious developers, compromised politicians, and
ineffective bureaucracies, exist to a lesser or greater extent in most
Asian cities and also in cities of industrialised nations. The Karachi
study identifies the actors and factors in this process and uses a
methodology through which other cities can be viewed.”

Gordon McGranahan of IIED adds: “Unless and until cities can overcome
such barriers to equitable management of land and finances, poor
communities will not have their housing needs met. This will create
not create hardship in the present, but will leave a legacy of social
and environmental problems for future generations to address”.