A roof over Pakistan 


Whether we like to believe it, there still remains a shortfall of over 10 million houses for Pakistanis. Yes, it means that over 10 million of out fellow countrymen are forced to live without a roof over their heads. Let that sink in.

There’s more: With a continual population explosion, every year we are significantly adding to this backlog. Thus, the Naya Pakistan Housing Scheme is a welcoming move by the government.

Successive governments have been unforgivably negligent about the housing needs in the country despite the fact that this issue impacts the majority of our population. It is therefore commendable that Prime Minister Imran Khan, following through on one of his main election promises, has taken the initiative so early in his government’s tenure to construct as many as five million housing units across the country.

The yawning gap between the need for housing and its availability is increasing by the hour. Conservative estimates place the backlog at 10 million units; unmet demand pushes up the figure by 200,000 units every year. Shelter is an essential human need. Wherein, our state has increasingly abdicated its duty to its citizens — the middle-income strata to some extent, but mainly to the huge low-income segment that does not have the resources to access housing options. Moreover, the project will provide the promised jobs as well. At least 40 other industries connecting with housing will also be set in motion as soon as construction is started for the project in urban as well as rural areas. This will create jobs that the nation direly needs.

Yes, other mega projects by the previous government have also created jobs, but the projects’ impact on the economy was mostly adverse. The aim here is not to make Pakistan a mass transit, but rather self-sufficient. If followed through, this project is surely a step in the right direction.

Its lofty goals aside, the PTI government needs to learn from the mistakes committed in the past tenures and not repeat them. We cannot afford another incident like the Punjab government’s controversial Ashiana housing projects, launched in 2010. The low-cost housing scheme was also greeted with the same enthusiasm, but not even a single house has been constructed till date.

Nevertheless, it is not an easy road. As well-intentioned as Khan’s initiative is, housing development is a complex undertaking that requires a well-thought-out, holistic strategy. It is also a provincial subject, and while three of the provinces are either directly or indirectly ruled by the PTI, the centre must also engage the Sindh government in order to address the wretched shortage of urban housing in that province. For sustainable results, Khan should take stock of previous governments’ successes and failures in this sector and urge provincial dispensations to strengthen the housing development authorities that exist in urban centres.