Between 2011 and 2012, the urban population of Pakistan grew by more than 2.2 million people. The country's urban residents now make up 38 percent of its total population of about 180 million. Much of this urban growth, according to an official at Pakistan's Bureau of Statistics, is a result of rural-to-urban migration. Islamabad, for example, has seen its population grow rapidly from 800,000 in 1998 to more than 2 million today. Current estimates predict the country will shift to a majority urban population within 20 years.
Pakistan's urbanization story is by no means unique, but it raises significant questions about its future. Sheer population growth has occurred at a swift pace. According to figures from the United Nations, Pakistan's total population sees a net increase of more than 3.3 million people per year. As more of this growth occurs in urban areas, the country's stressed infrastructure and public services will be put to the test.
Water will be a major limiting factor. Saleem Shaikh, deputy director at the Ministry of Climate Change in Islamabad, has raised the alarm that water storage simply hasn't kept up with population growth:
The country’s water resources, in any form, are under virulent pressure because of the population growth, while failure of successive governments to build reservoirs to store water has only aggravated the situation of water accessibility. According to official reports, per capita water availability is currently at 1,011 cubic metres per capita, which is marginally above the minimum requirement of 1,000 cubic metres. In 1951, it was around 5,269 cubic meters. As population grows further, the per capita water availability would further drop to 877 cubic meters by 2020 when population will hit estimated 204 million mark.
As Shaikh notes, the fertility rate in both rural areas and urban slums is more than 5 children per woman. If these growth rates continue and more of those rural dwellers continue to move into cities, the country's shift to an urban majority could come even sooner than expected and place even greater stresses on an already stretched water system.
Top image: A man pushes a cart of water jugs in Karachi, Pakistan. Credit: Akhtar Soomro / Reuters