Karachi, Pakistan

by Arif Hasan and Masooma Mohib


During the 1940s and 1950s, due to migration from India following partition, extensive unorganized land invasion led to the establishment of extensive squatter settlements (katchi abadis) on the then Karachi periphery and on open urban lands. Traditional urban institutions based on clan, cast and religion quickly collapsed. The settlements densified over time as political instability prevented coherent urban planning. The 1950s saw sharp urban increases as infant mortality rates fell and rural-to-urban migration exploded when agricultural production was modernized. The military government shifted the squatter communities to two townships outside of Karachi. Squatter settlements within the city were bulldozed and the affected people moved to the storm drain lands that connected Karachi and the new townships. The 1960s and 1970s had increased rural–urban migration through urban pull factors. Under army rule, city institutions fell apart and the Karachi Master Plan could not be implemented due to social and political instability. From 1988 onwards, ethnic politics, conflict and violence drove industry to other parts of the country, greatly increasing unemployment in Karachi. In the absence of adequate housing programmes, homelessness and informal settlement has increased, as have densities in existing katchi abadis.

The government of Pakistan recognizes only two terms related to unserviced or underserviced settlements:

Katchi abadis: these are informal settlements created through squatting or informal subdivisions of state or private land.

Slums: these settlements consist of villages absorbed in the urban sprawl or the informal subdivisions created on community and agricultural land. Here, security of tenure is a rule; but there is no programme to improve conditions other than through political patronage.

The katchi abadis are of two types:

Settlements established through unorganized invasion of state lands at the time of partition; most of them were removed and relocated during the 1960s or have been regularized.

Informal subdivisions of state land (ISD), further divided into:

  • notified katchi abadis: settlements earmarked for regularization through a 99-year lease and local government infrastructure development; and
  • non-notified katchi abadis: settlements not to be regularized because they are on valuable land required for development, or on unsafe lands.

The slums can also be divided into two types:

Inner-city, traditional pre-independence working-class areas now densified and with inadequate infrastructure.

Goths or old villages now part of the urban sprawl; those within or near the city centre have become formal – others have developed informally into inadequately serviced high-density working-class areas.

Notified katchi abadis have secure tenure based on 99-year leases; the un-notified ones have no security of tenure and are scheduled for removal. Goths have secure tenure, while ISD on agricultural lands only have secure tenure if declared katchi abadis.

Although little specific survey information is available on slum dynamics, it is clear that slums are on the rise, notably to the west and north of Karachi, as extensions of existing ISDs. Estimates indicate an increase of close to 50 per cent between 1988 and 2000 from 3.4 to 5 million people.

Estimates indicate that about half of Karachi lives in katchi abadis. Most individuals are employed in the informal sector. An existing analysis of 20 ISD households is too limited an example to draw city-wide conclusions about socio-political characteristics of the ‘typical’ slum dweller.

The first major slum upgrading and poverty alleviation programme was proposed for the 1988 to 1993 period. The programme largely failed to meet its targets and regularizes only 1 per cent of the katchi abadis per year due to faulty land records, corruption and non-inclusion of grassroots organizations.

The Social Action Programme of 1993 supported NGOs for infra-structural improvements, but failed largely due to lack of capacity.

Although notable successes have been achieved in terms of regularization and infra-structural work (comparatively high electricity and water connections to many of Karachi’s slum areas), too little has been done to effectively address poverty and poor shelter conditions. The impact of more recent programmes is still unclear due to a lack of effective impact monitoring other than yearly reviews based on the feedback of the very agencies that implement the programmes.

This summary has been extracted from:

UN-Habitat (2003) Global Report on Human Settlements 2003, The Challenge of Slums, Earthscan, London; Part IV: 'Summary of City Case Studies', pp195-228.
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2003 Development Planning Unit | Anna Soave | Khanh Tran-Thanh