Karachi is a cosmopolitan city, inhabited by people with culturally enriched background and a sense of social commitment. The city covered about 8.3 sq km in 1946, where the population was reported to be 0.43 million in the 1941 census. Now, this mega city along with its suburbs spreads over 3,530 sq km having an estimated population of 18 million. Karachi, by population, is now among the ten largest cities in the world. The UNDP estimates that only five cities of the world have crossed the 16 million mark until 2007 and Karachi bears a population of 12.1 million. This fact has already been nullified by the local government, which reported a population of 16 million in 2006. It shows that the population explosion is far more than what expert demographers have calculated.
Almost 94.8 percent population lives in urban area, which indicates about 17,325 people per sq km population density on an average. Karachi has passed through phenomenal physical and demographic changes since the creation of Pakistan in 1947. Apart from the spurt in population that it has experienced, the intra-urban distribution of population has also changed phenomenally. During the few three years, the pattern of the population growth has changed a lot where the demographic statistics are difficult to be estimated. As such, there are huge numbers of migrants which are moving towards Karachi from the North and North-Western areas due to instable law and order situation. Furthermore, the floods in Pakistan have caused a movement of large population from rural areas to the urban centres and Karachi is among the cities receiving the largest number of immigrants. There is no official figure, but a rough statistics of different
NGOs suggest that the city must be crossing the 20 million mark. It is not only suppressing the social environment, but the natural environment which is unable to handle this abrupt influx of people is also under pressure. The number of households in 2005 was about 2.1 million and by 2020, it would increase to 3.9 million, which means an increase of 1.77 million households at an average size of seven people per household.
Even at a decreasing average annual growth rate (from 4.15 percent in 2005 to 3.5 percent in 2020), the increase in absolute terms is staggering and will put heavy pressure on the physical, infrastructural, financial and institutional systems of the city. Literacy has also increased considerably and the male-female literacy gap has decreased substantially, especially in the younger generation. In 1972 and 1981, 51.18 percent and 55.04 percent residents of Karachi were literate, respectively, while in 1998, the figure was 67.42 percent.
In 1972 and 1981, 45.02 percent and 48.84 percent of women, respectively, were literate as compared to 62.88 percent in 1998.
The average household monthly incomes are estimated between Rs 3,000 and Rs 5,000, mainly due to a huge number of immigrants that remain unemployed for longer times and earn their living by doing irregular poorly-paid jobs like masonry or labour at the small scale industry.
Karachi has grown nearly 25 times since 1947 and is growing at the rate of about 5.4 percent per annum, making it one of the fastest growing cities of the world. Besides, migrants from other cities and rural areas of Pakistan and a large number of migrants from Afghanistan and Bangladesh have settled in the city with a smaller part from Myanmar (Burma). This has resulted in the massive exponential growth. In 1972, almost 63 percent of the population lived within 10-km of the city. By 1981, this had declined by 52 percent, as the population growth shifted to the ring located between 11- and 20-km from the centre. At present, over one half of Karachi’s population lives more than 10-km from the city centre. The city of Karachi has grown from the old town and the port at the sea outwards along radial avenues that connect all city segments to the port. There are a few means of circumferential movements. A major growth has been observed along major arterials because of commercial enterprise development. Further, the vertical growth has vertical growth has been increased during the last two decades, thereby increasing the population density of the city. Multi-storey buildings and residential apartments are getting more common as they are perceived to be comparatively safe as residence or office.
Extract from Salman Qureshi’s research paper, “The fast growing megacity Karachi as a frontier of environmental challenges: Urbanisation and contemporary urbanism issues”, published in the Journal of Geography and Regional Planning Volume 3(11).