Pakistan is getting congested, suffocating and less livable. A country once known for its agriculture has now been taken over by severe sub-urbanization. This along with other consequences is also contributing to the extreme food crises. The country is at a threshold of major demographic transition, with the highest sub-urbanization rate in the whole of South Asia. This has come at a price. Not only is it a major threat to the agricultural industry, but it is also resulting in a constrained job market, low-income urban employment and deficiency of basic services. Not mentioning the blow it is making to the natural resources. If this problem is not addressed immediately, it can prove catastrophic for a country, with a feeble economy. This essay explores the implication of sub-urbanization with regards to food crises and poses workable suggestions to counter the problem.
Pakistan has an annual sub-urbanization rate of 3%, the fastest in South Asia. Almost 50% of Pakistan’s population is living in urban centres, and the numbers are ever-increasing. As cities can not cope with such population influx, private housing societies have filled the gap. They buy agricultural land, green belts, near cities; build residential, commercial plots and sell them. By doing so, they ease pressure on the main urban centres. However, it has severe consequences as well. They not only aid in the horizontal expansion of the cities but also destroy a large number of agricultural lands and forests. Not mentioning the land grabbing and mafias involved in it.
As a result of this horizontal expansion, the disparity in the ratio of food producers to food consumers is increasing. Moreover, the natural resources of cities get depreciated and necessities such as electricity, water and gas become deficient. The subliminal implication of this rapid sub-urbanization also includes a constraint job market and increased demand for low-income employment. This is also a major threat to the agricultural sector, which has dominated Pakistan since its conception. Not only is the land diminishing but the workforce is also making a shift towards the construction industry. Which is lethal to a sector that purely relies on human labour.
Similarly, another impact of horizontal expansion of cities includes the rise of the hoarding mafia. This is because the urban population is a net buyer of food. Therefore, they are subjected to volatile changes in the prices of food items. Mafias create artificial shortages and create temporary food crises. As a result, the urban population which is completely dependent on them, have to cut down their other expenditures to meet food requirements.
Take the example of Islamabad, Pakistan’s capital. A well-planned city, built in the 1960s. It has been subjected to severe sub-urbanization as increased informal settlements have occupied the green belts of the city. Turning the “Green city” to a “Grey one”. This not only has resulted in a major loss to agricultural lands but has also posed major problems in traffic and provision of necessities like water and electricity. Moreover, because of its loss of green belts; it has turned into a complete food consumer city. Food items are transported here from different parts of the country. Resultantly, the prices of basic food items have skyrocketed. The loss of green belts has also impacted greatly in disturbing the weather of the city. It once received snowfall on the mountains. Now, the summers have gotten prolonged and intensified. Moreover, the city’s nullahs and small rivers have been narrowed down by the onslaught of private housing societies. The issue recently made rounds in the media when a housing scheme, built on the verge of a small river, drowned because of an ill-planned construction; resulting in many precious lives. Hence, the city of Islamabad is a perfect example in this regard. A well-planned city, made on modern grounds, has been subjected to food, life crises by the rapid sub-urbanization, and is on the verge of exhaustion of basic resources.
It is generally perceived that people of urban areas have access to more and variety of food. However, this is not the case. Studies have shown that urban dwellers are more prone o food crises because of the vase socio-economic differences. Moreover, because the urban cities are purely consumer societies, therefore they spend a major chunk of their earnings on food. This makes the lower classes more susceptible to food crises. Studies have also shown that people of urban areas are subjected to more nutritious deficiencies. This is because of their increased reliance on processed and packaged foods.
An attempt has been made to highlight the relationship between sub-urbanization and food crises. Agriculture is the mainstay of Pakistan’s economy because of its high share in employment, livelihood creation and immense contribution to the gross economy. However, this trend is changing. The shift from rural to the urban economy is significant. Sub-urbanization in this regard has resulted in accommodating increasing numbers of urban dwellers but at the cost of green belts. The loss of green lands has caused many problems, particularly the food crisis. Pakistan’s agriculture has witnessed significant changes. The number of cultivatable lands has fallen below replacement level. There s a dire need to take significant measures to improve agricultural development, urban planning technological innovation and resource management. The government needs to step in as it cannot leave it all to the private sector. Strict laws should be made and reinforced to prevent housing societies from using green lands. Each society should be made bound to get a NOC, before commencing the plotting of land. Moreover, serious steps should be taken to elevate the status of the urban poor. Urban-rural linkages should be improved. Rural areas should also be supplied with basic facilities like education and health so that migration can be curbed. Only the decrease in rural-urban migration, and strict law enforcement on private housing societies, contribute to sub-urbanization can decrease this menace.
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