Why Karachi needs pro-resettlement, not anti-encroachment housing policies


Millions lack access to crucial services in Karachi, and Covid-19 has exposed how pervasive the city’s problems are
Usmaan Farooqui March 10, 2021
The Karachi Municipal Corporation is currently conducting an anti-encroachment drive aimed at reclaiming illegally occupied land. The operation is likely (and predictably) going to cause many of the city’s urban poor to become homeless overnight.

It goes without saying that evictions commonly – if not exclusively – target the urban poor. There has always been a simplistic assumption baked into Karachi’s master plans that if low-income settlements are somehow eradicated (or hidden), the city will miraculously prosper. What ends up happening time and again is that ambitious development projects do little more than repackage changes in the city’s s built form as progress, and that too at the expense of depriving many a secure space in Karachi.

The problem is not just that anti-encroachment drives are implemented in a spectacularly myopic fashion. (There is rarely ever a plan beforehand regarding where to settle evictees, who are often handed minuscule checks as recompense for losing their homes). It’s that officials see evictions as a magic pill for Karachi’s urban problems.

Instead, anti-encroachment drives need to be understood as but the first step in a broader resettlement approach that prioritizes sustainable living over urban beautification.

Used across postcolonial settings, resettlement programs involve demolishing housing settlements. But, rather than being left to fend for themselves, affected populations are subsequently moved to already earmarked land with existing housing, municipal, civic, education, and health services. In theory, evictees are moved to an entirely different zone where they may benefit from new social relations and economic opportunities. 

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