Dr. Ikramul Haq
It is unfortunate that since the announcement by Prime Minister Imran Khan of his ‘flagship project’—Naya Pakistan Housing Programme—aimed at constructing five million houses for the low income segments of society during the next five years, everybody is questioning its viability and debunking it. The better approach by all, including the Government of Pakistan Tahreek-i-Insaf (PTI), should have been inviting the experts in related field to suggest innovative ideas for building modern, low-cost, environment-friendly houses, creating superb localities around the big and small cities by as is done in various countries of the world. We are becoming a nation of disparaging ideas, rather than working collectively for the benefit of the masses that are deprived of basic amenities of life. Projects like Naya Pakistan Housing Programme should be discussed above part lines as in their success lies reducing existing economic disparities and ensuring better life facilities to the have-nots/people in lower-income groups.
Naya Pakistan Housing Authority, announced by Prime Minister on October 10, 2018, still awaits legal framework—even its official website is not launched. Nevertheless, the Scheme is receiving overwhelming response, according to a Director of National Database & Registration Authority (NADRA). The salaried class is showing keen interest and daily over 5000 applications are received. NADRA will soon launch online application portal so that people in far-flung areas can also submit forms.
It is high time that that the Government of PTI invites people who have successfully executed projects of low-cost houses like Khuda ki Basti for consultation. The Government is relying on bureaucrats having no knowledge in this area. It should rather consult experts like Kamil Khan Mumtaz and Arif Hasan—just to mention two great gurus in the field—having ability to execute low-cost housing projects. Arif Hasan has not only written extensively about low-cost housing projects but also executed many. He was also member of the world famous Orangi Pilot Project (1981-2000) under the legendary social scientist, Akhtar Hameed Khan.
The construction of decent, affordable housing for the less-privileged is the responsibility of the State and should have been the top priority—it has been criminally ignored by the successive governments. No doubt it can also boost our economy substantially. New habitats in the vicinities of already crowded cities linking them through repaid mass public transport system, having modern amenities and job opportunities can change the entire landscape of Pakistan. Unfortunately, there is unfounded pessimism and negativity all around—especially propagated by the media anchors portraying the Naya Pakistan Housing Programme as impractical, unrealistic, financially not viable and non-starter etc.
Let us examine some success stories in low-cost housing. The ‘2012 Shelter Project’ by Akhtar Hameed Khan Memorial Trust (AHKMT) proved to be very helpful for the flood affectees. We love criticism but don not mention extraordinary contributions of people like Akhtar Hameed Khan and after his death those working for AHKMT. This is just one example, there are many more like Anjuman Mimaran (a non-profit society dedicated to raising the standards of architectural design and building construction in Pakistan). The PTI as a party is relying on babus who are hinderers. The success lies elsewhere that is in making partnership with people, who are working to empower the have-nots. The bureaucracy did no present in the past any solution and will never do so in the future to what Arif Hasan recently highlighted in his op-ed: “The seriousness of the housing issue in Pakistan can be judged from the fact that conservative estimates put the housing backlog at 9 million units which is increasing at 300,000 units annually because of unmet demand. 62 percent of this demand is for lower income groups”.
In none of the meetings held for Naya Pakistan Housing Programme, the technologies from China are discussed that have already been selected by International Center for Materials Technology Promotion (ICM)/China Building Materials Academy (CBMA). These technologies are specially chosen for low-cost housing in the developing countries. Low-cost housing technology is now keenly needed in most of these countries, especially in African, Latin American, Asian regions and post-disaster areas.
There are many worthwhile studies that can help to design the workable model for Naya Pakistan Housing Programme. A remarkable research paper (A Comprehensive Review on Low Cost Building Systems) dispels the misconception that low-cost housing is suitable for only subnormal works and they are built by using cheap building materials of low quality. The fact is that low-cost housing is done by proper management of resources. Cost of reduction is achieved by selection of more efficient material or by an improved design that increases the access to buildings by low-income groups. The other worthwhile studies are: Developing an Assessment Framework for Affordable and Sustainable Housing by Stephen Pullen, Michael Arman, George Zillante, Jian Zuo, Nicholas Chileshe and Lou Wilson (Institute for Sustainable Systems and Technologies University of South Australia) and Sustainable Housing and Building Materials for Low-income Households by Bredenoord J, International Urban Planner/Housing Researcher, Housing Research Group, The Netherlands.
Way back in 2000 a seminar [Concepts, Strategies and Proposals for the development of Urban Communities] was held at Lahore School of Economics that discussed in detail the concept developed by Anjuman Mimaran for urban development that has immediate relevance for Naya Pakistan Housing Programme. It was based on high-density, low-rise, low-tech development that could integrate housing employment and social infrastructure, with a balanced mix of income and occupational groups. This concept is extremely relevant for Naya Pakistan Housing Programme that is aimed at providing affordable housing for low income levels. It gives insight how we can release pressure on existing urban centers and fuse economic activity into rural areas leading to sustainable “green” urban communities”.
The Prime Minister for success of his Naya Pakistan Housing Programme should consult researchers, experts and doers and not those who are making houses for elites and doling out charities out of government funds that could have been better utilized to provide housing, health centres, good public schools etc.