Human beings like other organisms, have continuously contaminated their environment with the byproducts of their actions. With the world population about 8.5 billion people and increasing by 220,000 each day, the concentration of population in cities and resulting deterioration of environment is sounding alarms. The urbanisation process has affected all parts of country, villages, towns and cities. The intensity of impact is most dangerous in the larger cities. Karachi, Lahore, Faisalabad, Gujranwala, Multan, Rawalpindi, Hyderabad, Sargodha and Peshawar are suffering from environmental degradation and quantifiable absences in basic local services. The municipal organizations are badly failing to manage these difficulties. 

One could certainly go on and on about specific problems but there are some issues worth our attention as far as urbanization is concerned. 

First, there is no planning for urbanisation most of the cities have developed randomly with no proper planning for the kind of infrastructure growth that would make a centre of population feel like an urban centre. 

Second, most large and intermediate cities seem to be undergoing vertical or horizontal growth, eating into the rural areas or agricultural land that lies in their hinterland. According to one estimate, over 60,000 acres of agricultural land have been eaten up by urban sprawl. 

Third, there is nothing that can serve as a melting pot as far as the increasing class divide is concerned. Normally, it is a public transport system which tends to bring people together. Karachi used to have a well-functioning tram system for public transport but it was scrapped years ago and was not replaced with anything else. Lahore has just started a metro bus project that will connect some parts of the city. However, there is an utter lack of planning for a public transport system that would also be fairly safe for all. Such a system would help in melting down the huge class divide that exists in every Pakistani city. 

There is an acute shortage of houses in the cities and the demand for the land is growing and the supply is limited. Since the land is essential for urban growth, devising equitable and efficient land development policies is one of the major challenges facing planners and policy makers, who do not seem to be aware of the seriousness of the problem. The number of slum and katchi abadi dwellers is on the increase. 

Historic buildings disappear without regret and even the protected monuments are suffering from vandalism. The roads are full of illegal speed breakers, all different in sizes and shapes. The old trees are being cut without a second thought. There is no body to oversee the overall growth of cities and to coordinate the work of city development agencies. 

It is ideal if the human beings are dispersed evenly around the countryside. But people have been coming to cities for better economic and educational opportunities and better quality of life. It is about time that policy makers should think hard and plant to check the current demographic trend. This can be done, though it has yet not started to begin in Pakistan. 

ASIFA MAJEED,  

Lahore, May 15.