Published on Sustainable Cities

Transforming Karachi, Pakistan into a livable and competitive megacity

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It will take Karachi as much as $10 billion of capital investment over the next decade to close the infrastructure gaps in the city.
On the ground, it is not too difficult to see why this is so. More than 40% of residents rely on public transport, but with 45 residents competing for one bus seat, travel within the city is difficult. Water supply is highly irregular, and rationing is widespread. The availability of water ranges from four hours per day to two hours every other day. Many households rely on private vendors who sell water from tankers at high prices. The sewage network has not been well maintained since the 1960s, and all three existing treatment plants are dysfunctional. Industrial waste, which contains hazardous materials and heavy oils, is dumped directly into the sea untreated. Of the 12,000 tons of municipal solid waste generated each day, 60% never reaches a dumpsite; 80% of medical waste is not disposed of properly.
Garbage accumulated on a road median in Karachi. Photo: Annie Bidgood / World Bank
[Download report: Transforming Karachi into a Livable and Competitive Megacity]

From above, Karachi’s pattern of growth appears to be on the brink of an unsustainable path. Accommodating homes and jobs in a dense settlement of 22 to 24 million residents means how efficiently the city is physically organized and connected matters a lot. Based on an analysis of land use cover from high resolution satellite imagery, significant tracts of land are being prepared for development, in an uncoordinated fashion by various agencies or developers. Other developments have “leapfrogged” past vacant land to create satellite towns disconnected from job opportunities (Figure 1).
Fig 1 Total deaths 15 days after 30th confirmed case
Figure 1: City footprint (gray), land under construction (pink), and urban green areas (deep green) derived from satellite imagery, 2013. [Source: World Bank analysis based on satellite imagery and land use classification from European Space Agency, 2013]
Karachi struggles to provide adequate housing and basic services to its residents, and the vast majority of the poor lives in informal and unplanned settlements (katchi abadis). At the city core, an analysis of changing intensities of nighttime lights reveals that Karachi is dimming from within the city center, suggesting that economic vibrancy in the city appears to have stalled (Figure 2 , see also “Bright Lights, Big Cities”). The city’s specialization is declining in key sectors including manufacturing, and informal employment is on the rise. Employment data also suggests that Karachi has only been able to absorb new migrants and a growing labor force through relatively low-productivity jobs, as congestion erodes the city’s competitiveness.
Fig 2
Figure 2: Karachi’s pattern of slow nightlights growth, or even dimming at the core, accompanied by rapid growth in peripheral areas between 1999 and 2010. [Source: World Bank analysis based on DMSP-OLS radiance-calibrated night-time lights data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA). Data show annual average growth in night-time light intensity from 1999 to 2010.]
At the city level, Karachi is unable to manage and leverage its resources effectively. The local city government currently collects less than 10% of potential revenues from existing sources such as utility fees and property taxes, resulting in a lack of resources for investment programs. Poor coordination, unclear roles and overlapping functions amongst fragmented land-owning agencies have also led to a highly inefficient city form and functioning. This not only puts a strain on Karachi’s everyday management, but also puts the city in a very vulnerable position to handle disasters and shocks. The acute challenges facing Karachi, compounded by a complex political climate and a population that is split along ethnic lines, have over the last few decades resulted in the degradation of its dense urban and social environment, making it one of the least livable cities globally (Figure 3).
Figure 3
Figure 3: City livability rankings vs urban density. [Sources: World Bank analysis based on ranking surveys by Mercer (2012); population density data from United Nations Statistical Division (2014)]
But simply investing in “pipes in the ground” alone will not solve Karachi’s chronic problems.

It is clear this ambitious investment agenda would be difficult to achieve without difficult reforms and large amounts of private sector financing. Improving urban governance, institutional capacity, and coordination will be vital in shaping a productive and livable city. Service providers and other public institutions must explore ways to achieve cost recovery and to finance future investments. Local institutions must also establish systems of meaningful citizen engagement and participatory planning that consider the views of the most marginalized citizens. Karachi must find ways to leverage the many assets it already has. The city must use its land resource, built heritage, public assets, and urban spaces more productively and equitably to enhance livelihoods, access to jobs, and provide a more livable environment for its citizens, including the marginalized groups, women and the poor. Only then can Karachi transform into a livable and competitive megacity.

The World Bank report “Transforming Karachi into a Livable and Competitive Megacity” is a comprehensive attempt to collect, curate, and present detailed data on the economy, livability, and key urban infrastructure of Karachi as well as to provide an overview of the challenges and opportunities faced by the Karachi Metropolitan Region. The report also presents pathways to bridge the infrastructure gap and improve the metropolitan region and recommend key strategies toward the transformation of the Karachi Metropolitan Region into a livable, inclusive, and competitive city.



Jon Kher Kaw

Senior Urban Development Specialist

Annie Gapihan

Senior Urban Specialist

Peter Ellis

Lead Urban Economist

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