With rapid urbanization in Pakistan, Karachi has become the world's biggest city with a metro area population of 18 million people, according to Citymayors stats published recently.
Karachi (Urdu: کراچی, Sindhi: ڪراچي, Karāchi) is followed by Mumbai, Delhi, Buenos Aires, Seoul, Jakarta, Manila, Sao Paulo, Shanghai and Istanbul making up the top 10 list. Bangladesh capital Dhaka is at number 12, barely missing a top 10 slot. Of these, Mumbai, Dhaka and Delhi also have the dubious distinction of making Mercer's list of world's dirtiest cities. In another survey, Mercer has ranked Karachi as the fourth cheapest city for expatriates.
The list of the world’s largest cities, by land area, is headed by New York Metro, with a total area of 8,700 square kilometers. Tokyo/Yokohama is in second place with almost 7,000 square kilometers, followed by ten cities from the United States. Mumbai (Bombay), with a population density of almost 30,000 people per square kilometer, is the world’s most crowded city. Kolkata (Calcutta), Karachi and Lagos follow behind.
In 2008, the US based NPR radio did a series on Karachi titled "Karachi: The Urban Frontier". It highlighted the following facts about Karachi:
1. Karachi is built along a natural harbor facing the Arabian Sea, and this central location between the Middle East and India has made Karachi an important trading port for hundreds of years.
2. Karachi encompasses both its old seafront district and a sprawling web of commercial and residential development that covers almost 1,400 square miles. Its contemporary landscape spans skyscrapers, posh golf resorts, congested roadways and sprawling squatter colonies.
3. The Port of Karachi handles 60 percent of Pakistan's cargo, and the Karachi Stock Exchange is one of Asia's most active trading markets (The data for 1999-2009 shows that Karachi share market significantly outperformed Hong Kong, Mumbai and Shanghai markets). The city's main industries include shipping, trade, finance, banking, information technology, manufacturing, real estate, media and education.
4. Like any big city, it has its share of problems. Pollution, crime, corruption and political volatility are just some of the issues confronting the 12 million to 18 million "Karachiites" who call this overcrowded city home. Karachi is 60 times larger than it was when Pakistan was created in 1947. And with the population growing at an annual rate of 6 percent, one of the biggest challenges for city officials is managing the tensions and violence that often flare along ethnic and religious lines.
5. Karachi is growing so fast that estimates of its population range from 12 million to 18 million. The country's financial capital is also a city where about half the population lives in illegal houses.
Here are some figures for Karachi population I received from the editors of citymayors.com:
YEAR Urban Population
Since Karachi population has been growing at about 4-6% a year recently, the 18 million figure for Karachi in 2009 makes sense.
The mayors of the world’s twenty largest cities are each responsible for more people than most national prime ministers. For example, London, ranked 20th in the world, has more residents than nations like Paraguay, Denmark, New Zealand or Ireland, and if Karachi, globally the largest city, was a country it would rank above Greece, Portugal or Hungary. The combined population of the world’s eight megacities - cities with more than 10 million inhabitants - comfortably exceeds that of Germany.
Urbanization is not just a side effect of economic growth; it is an integral part of the process, according to the World Bank. With the robust economic growth averaging 7 percent and availability of millions of new jobs created between 2000 and 2008, there has been increased rural to urban migration in Pakistan to fill the jobs in growing manufacturing and service sectors. The level of urbanization in Pakistan is now the highest in South Asia, and its urban population is likely to equal its rural population by 2030, according to a report titled ‘Life in the City: Pakistan in Focus’, released by the United Nations Population Fund. Pakistan ranks 163 and India at 174 on a list of over 200 countries compiled by Nationmaster. The urban population now contributes about three quarters of Pakistan's gross domestic product and almost all of the government revenue. The industrial sector contributes over 27% of the GDP, higher than the 19% contributed by agriculture, with services accounting for the rest of the GDP.
A 2008 report by UN Population Fund says the share of the urban population in Pakistan almost doubled from 17.4 percent in 1951 to 32.5 percent in 1998. The estimated data for 2005 shows the level of urbanization as 35 per cent, and CIA Factbook puts it at 36% in 2008. An expected positive consequence of the increasing urbanization of society in Pakistan will be the creation of over 100 million strong middle class by 2030, making Pakistan's grass roots democracy more viable and responsive to the needs of the people. This large urban population will not only create a domestic market for goods and services, but it can create a skilled work force that can be the engine of economic growth and source of innovation.
According to the 1998 census, Sindh is the most urbanized province with 49 percent percent of the population living in urban centers. NWFP is the least urbanized province with only 17 percent of its population living in urban areas.
With Pakistan already the most urbanized country in South Asia, Karachi's population has been growing at a rate of over 4 percent a year for decades, according to the editors at Citymayors.com. Karachi now accounts for about 12 percent of the nation's population, and Mustafa Kamal as its mayor is accountable to a larger population than the presidents or prime ministers of many nations of the world. As the nation continues to experience increasing rural-to-urban migration, the jobs of the big city mayors in Pakistan, particularly Karachi and Lahore, are becoming significantly more important and challenging than generally recognized. How these mayors deal with these challenges will largely determine the fate of the nation, in terms of education, health care, housing, transportation, industrial and service sectors' growth, job growth and overall economic activities, as well as the future of democracy.
When visitors see a squatter city in India or Pakistan or Bangladesh, they observe overwhelming desperation: rickety shelters, little kids working or begging, absence of sanitation, filthy water and air. However, there are many benefits of rural to urban migration for migrants' lives, including reduction in abject poverty, empowerment of women, increased access to healthcare and education and other services. Historically, cities have been driving forces in economic and social development. As centers of industry and commerce, cities have long been centers of wealth and power. They also account for a disproportionate share of national income. The World Bank estimates that in the developing world, as much as 80 percent of future economic growth will occur in towns and cities. Nor are the benefits of urbanization solely economic. Urbanization is associated with higher incomes, improved health, higher literacy, and improved quality of life. Other benefits of urban life are less tangible but no less real: access to information, diversity, creativity, and innovation.
In a recent interview published by Wired Magazine, Stewart Brand, "the pioneering environmentalist, technology thinker", and founder of the Whole Earth Catalog focused on the positive aspects of urban slums. Brand also made a counterintuitive case that the booming slums and squatter cities around the major urban centers in the developing world are net positives for poor people and the environment. Brand's arguments make a lot of sense, as long as there are representative city governments responsive to the growing needs of the new and old city residents.
Riaz Haq - http://www.riazhaq.com