LAHORE: Rapid and unplanned urbanisation in the provincial capital is creating social problems and disruption of the ecosystem, Pakistan Today has observed.
The population of Lahore has increased up to 10 million. The available records regarding the increase in the population shows that from 1901 to 1921 the annual average growth rates were slow. Since then onwards, the rate of population growth remained steady and after the independence it picked up at a faster rate i.e. 2.38 and 4.32 percent during the periods 1951-1961 and 1961-1972, respectively. This has registered a corresponding increase in the population of 52.65 and 67.36 percent.
According to Geologist Dr Safdar Ali Shirazi the increase can be attributed to a substantial rural to urban migration which took place during that period. He stated that the drop in an average annual growth rate to 3.71percent during 1972-1981 and a further decrease to 3.32 percent for 1981-1998 seemed to be due to the intra-urban residential motilities from the inner city towards the suburbs.
“This large-scale increase in the population and resultant development in the residential or infrastructural sectors caused an increased pressure on urban vegetation and has also disturbed the ecosystem of the city” the geologist said. Therefore, the urban vegetation has been significantly reduced and thus had a significant socio-environmental impact on the residents of the city, Sherazi further added.
Dr Uzma Khan, an expert, was of the view that the rapid construction work had hampered the ecosystem badly, reducing the biodiversity. “The reduction in the greenery has caused a significant reduction in biodiversity”, she said and giving the examples of parakeets, fruit trees of mango, guava and jaman which used to be very common in the past.
Uzma Khan said that the ecological meltdown is a consequence of changes to the ecological communities in the fragmented habitats driven by the disruption of ecological interactions through the losses of species with the higher tropic roles. “If a city expands then that land is no longer useful for the agriculture and hence production goes down and in the case of new constructions the soil is disturbed which removes the stored carbon” she added.
She believes that the unpaved green belts fall under green areas across the cities which are of great worth because they help in water drainage and also in stability of the groundwater.
In an urban life, ecosystem has a great importance because trees absorb the carbon dioxide and there are a lot of vehicular emissions like carbon monoxide and other toxic gases and if for some reason trees are cut, the natural cleansing process will stop.
Talking about the importance of trees, she said that the trees also provide food and nesting to birds. Uzma informed that the importance of the green belts has been very evident. “The PHA had been informed the ways to preserve the green belts and roadside tress in the case of necessary construction”.
Almost all the roads of the city were covered with the trees which used to be the habitat of different birds. Dr ZB Mirza recalled his memory of 1960s and said that all of that has been vanished for the sake of roads and the other construction works.
“In an ecological system, the vegetation and birds are much important. In old Lahore there were wider and emptier streets” he said, and added that there used to be more trees and less high-rise buildings.
Mirza said that urbanisation has been carried out on the agricultural land; “The unplanned construction has been widely carried out in the city where trees were planted. Now there are high rise buildings, roads and housing societies, which are allowed ignoring the green areas” Mirza added.
Environmental Lawyer Ahmad Rafay Alam was of the view that where unplanned and haphazard urban planning practices in Lahore create structural conditions for traffic congestion, inequality and loss of productivity, it also works to reduce biodiversity in urban areas.
Rafay believes that the urban ecosystems provide important services that urban residents rely on for daily living. He added that ecosystems can supply clean water, produce food, absorb air pollution, mitigate urban heat, provide opportunity for recreation and much more than all it help in decreasing crime.
Unplanned and haphazard urban growth can result in a development far from consolidated urban area, and such horizontal sprawling urban growth results in exponential increases in the capital investments required to bring services to such locations as well as the maintenance costs of the extensive network of roads, sewage mains and waste collection and elimination systems, among many other basic services,” Rafay said while giving reasons of disruption of ecosystem of the city.
He added that authorities should be concerned regarding the ecosystem while making master plan of the city.
Talking about the recent Master Plan of the Lahore, Rafay said that the current plan is unsustainable and unreasonable as it will promote low-density sprawl at the cost of a prime agricultural land.
Dr Uzma suggested that instead of building pressure in the city like Lahore, the government should provide people of rural areas with all the basic facilities at their door steps so that they can avoid coming to Lahore for better prospects.