The Tragedy of the Commons: Karachi

November 14, 2017
Published in Blogs

By Saman Siddiqui

“The Tragedy of the Commons,” is one of the most powerful illustrations of the environmental problem. In 1968 Garrett Hardin wrote an article which claimed to show that many environmental problems are caused by a system of open access to commonly owned resources. This is known as an economic theory of a situation within a shared resource system.

Meanwhile, in a discussion with an economist friend I asked can this theory be applied to Karachi, he replied since it is related to environment it cannot be applied to Karachi. To this I replied in a literary meaning Karachi is a tragedy of the commons, and I won the argument. To this tragedy the real solution is how to govern the commons.

Karachi was established in 1729 as a fortified port settlement and today it is a city of 16.051million population with 1.14m rural and 14.91m urban population. About triple that of 1998’s figures, according to the provisional results of the 2017 census. The urban population of Karachi division comprising six districts has increased by over 63 per cent since the census conducted previously.  Karachi has additional problems apart from the natural growth in population; there is migration from rural Sindh and the rest of the country creating extra burden on local recourses of the city in form of accommodation, locomotion and sanitation.

Karachi is divided into numerous jurisdictions controlled by a hodgepodge of local, provincial and federal agencies, including the military. Responsibility for infrastructure and provision of services is divided between several bodies. A combined vision and development plan is important. No plan can be implemented if a planning organization is not administratively, technically and financially strong. Such an organization also needs sufficient influence to enforce its writ on the basis of technical expertise and jurisdictional validity. It must act as a filter to examine all the proposals made for the development and improvement.

Planning agencies on a routine basis analyze urban development trends and recommend directives to manage new challenges, for instance the plans for Karachi covering 2007-2020; 1986-2000 and 1973-85 all recommended an uninterrupted planning process for the generation of a detailed database, sectorial studies, etc. for diagnosing the city’s problems and preparing solutions. But on ground reality can we see any progressive development being made. City’s environment condition is worse, no proper sanitation and drainage system. Local transport in city is at worst, public busses diminishing from roads. I just wonder who invented Chingchi rickshaw, seeing at the chaotic traffic situation. In the recent past the real state has been extraordinarily active in the city. Every big city possesses a land use strategy and a corresponding plan for implementation, but in the case of Karachi, this universal principle is grossly violated.

From the states’ reluctance to deal with Karachi’s development and management problems, there has been an active civil society which comprises of several NGO’s, community based organizations and organizations belonging to informal sector operating in the city. They have participated in the physical and social development of Karachi. In many neighborhoods, many of these grass root organizations have built schools, clinics and water and satiations system. More than half of Karachi’s population resides in katchi abadis and low income areas. In the absence of social housing for low-income groups, these settlements are growing at a faster rate than the growth rate of the city as a whole and not much attention is being paid to such localities. Too much added agony is the urban and rural division of Karachi, which also affect the distribution of resources and development funds.

What adds to the misery of the residents of Karachi is the absence of proper service standards and many confusing procedures. Whether it is the approval of a permit for buildings or acquisition of water connections, though having some links do resolve problems quickly. Adapting to new technology can aid the citizens and curb corruption. Apart from public service counters, municipal apps can be made and digital portals can be created. For such a large city to devise new systems, area performance must be studied on sector basis. These are a few suggestions; the main remedy for all problems lies in fixing the existing institutions which are responsible for the management of the city and including stakeholders.

Karachi being a multicultural city demands a cultural friendly and progressive government, from planning to implementation of decisions must be free from political influence and interference. For a metropolitan it’s a must that day to day functioning is brought under rule of the law. As election nears, there is a whirlpool of political activities. The political dynamics are also changing rapidly. We all have witnessed the activities in the last few days, but what a local Karachi resident aims for is peace and stability in the city and sustainable solution to existing problems.


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Story first published: 14th November 2017

 

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