‘A bad census will lead to poor urban planning’

‘A bad census will lead to poor urban planning’


Academic Dr S. Akbar Zaidi reflects on Karachi and its demographic and infrastructural problems

‘A bad census will lead to poor urban planning’

KARACHI: Professor Dr S. Akbar Zaidi has been the Executive Director of the Institute of Business Administration (IBA) Karachi since January 2020. His tenure runs till January 2024.

A renowned political economist, his areas of interest in research include political economy, development, the social sciences and history. Dr Zaidi completed his PhD in History from the University of Cambridge in 2009. He also holds qualifications in economics, social planning in developing countries and political science. He has written over 80 academic articles in international journals as well as in books. He has been associated with many esteemed institutions including the World Bank, United Nations Development Programme, State Bank of Pakistan, University of Oxford, Columbia University, Johns Hopkins University and UNICEF.

Here Dr Zaidi discusses Karachi and its myriad problems with Bol News.

In a few simple words, what are Karachi’s main attractions for non-resident citizens, overseas Pakistanis and international tourists?

Within the country, immigrants who arrive in Karachi see it as a place of diversity and economic opportunity. The ethnic constitution of the metropolis is not found in other urban areas. Overseas Pakistanis also have a sizable presence here and foreigners come and go. However, Karachi is an underutilised, underdeveloped region. We have a beach like no other but it lacks the facilities needed for local and international tourism.


You have had the opportunity to live and settle abroad. Why choose Karachi over any other place?

I was born and raised in this city, so when you belong to a place, you have a preference to live in it. I don’t know any other place which I could call home. Moreover, Karachi has the advantage where a lot of work needs to be done, and I see this as a place to continue my contributions. I have familiarity and comfort here and this makes me happy. Karachi is also the hub of education.

Which should be prioritised for the metropolis — a higher GDP or smaller, more manageable population?

I believe the population of this city is fine. There are many other cities like Delhi and Beijing which have a large population yet they are manageable. So population is not the problem. As for a higher economic output, we need to do more work to achieve that target. Education plays a key role here.

We have seen over time that Karachi’s urban issues persist and we simply cannot wish them away. Resources are not sufficient neither are they managed properly. The city’s administration does not cope with the influx of people coming in every day. There are not enough public goods and this city does not even have pavements so residents could walk peacefully.

What aspects of the 2017 census do you agree and disagree with?


To be fair to my country’s people, I do not agree with the 2017 census at all. The cosmopolitan city has a population between 22 million and 26 million but some areas were formally excluded from the 6th Population and Housing Census 2017. The systematic calculating and acquiring of information of Karachi’s people and households is a key instrument to the provincial capital’s planning. A bad census such as that of 2017 will obviously lead to poor urban planning.

What comes first — beautification of the city or the living conditions of the working class?

The living conditions should be improved first, there is no question about it. A city must be liveable first. We need more parks, a beach that accommodates all but more importantly we need to fix our public transport problem, our public spaces as well as those spaces that hold our cultural and academic gatherings.

Do you think politics in academia has barred you from moving ahead to bring positive change in the city?

I do not have affiliations with any group, so no. I am an academic who deeply cares about the urban situation of Karachi. I do not have unrealistic expectations or desires for Karachi. I simply want a cleaner, liveable city for all.

What are your predictions for Karachi in 2030, 2040 and 2050?


The metropolis will continue to grow as an economic hub. Sadly, this economic centre of Pakistan will not get the type of government it deserves. It is true to say that all systems in place now will continue like this in the coming decades. Nothing substantial will change here.

Given the climate crisis situation in Pakistan, do you think Karachi might submerge completely in this century?

I am not sure where the climate crisis will take us but yes we are losing our mangroves, we are losing our shore. The more visible problems we have seen in this concrete jungle is that heat is more easily trapped in the city structures and we do not have the number of trees we need to survive. Temperatures are extreme throughout the year and then there is the air quality problem.

Recently, the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics held a workshop on ‘digital census’ at the IBA. Does the government need the IBA’s help with regards to sensitisation in the 7th Population and Housing Census 2022?

So far the government has not contacted us for any such help or collaboration. If they do, we will be happy to provide our assistance.

What is the media lacking in its role to incentivise meaningful social change in Karachi?


I think the media in Karachi and all over Pakistan is quite strong. It routinely exposes injustice, corruption and incompetent governance. So I think our news delivery is doing just fine in the metropolis too.

Is there a problem of a lack of productivity, discipline or punctuality in Karachi’s working class?

Nope, no problem at all. Apart from the usual hassles we find in the hustle and bustle of this big city, there is no issue of poor individual productivity or lack of discipline. The people of Karachi are always on foot to work harder.

What makes you disappointed when you see today’s youth; what hurts you about your own generation?

Well, the youth does need to do more to revive the book-reading culture. Young people today do not read as much. I have noted that their values have changed, which is in some ways good. However, the youth unfortunately does not show respect for learned people and are too quick to jump to conclusions about everything. They do not listen as much as they should to educated people and have a know-it-all attitude. I will mention here that this does not take away from the fact that our youth is still dynamic and practical in a lot of ways. But there is still room for improvement.

As for my own generation, they can also show some goodwill by learning from young people today. Senior citizens do not recognise new opportunities. We still have this societal problem where young girls are discouraged from exercising their right to gain quality education and to work. Women are hardworking in every sphere of Karachi’s life. What public policy analysts need to do is to have a one-point agenda to secure the economic, cultural and social rights of all women so that they no longer have to worry about the obstacles coming from stubborn and backward folks in the older generation.

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