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In Pakistan, government demolitions fuel growing housing crisis

Caritas steps in with aid, but evictions soar in marginalized communities

In Pakistan, government demolitions fuel growing housing crisis

A Pakistani woman collapses as her house is demolished during an operation to tear down a poverty-stricken neighborhood, Afghan Basti, in Islamabad on July 30. (Photo by Farooq Naeem/AFP)

Muhammad Fiaz' home is now a bare plot of land. City authorities tore down his family's house in late July while he was attending a religious event.

"Someone told me that machines were ripping down my house," Fiaz said. "I ran back and saw the ceiling being pulled down. We pleaded and cried but nobody listened."

That day, local authorities made 130 families homeless in a makeshift settlement called Tibba, outside Faisalabad in Pakistan's Punjab province. The Faisalabad Development Authority gave Fiaz a 75-square-meter plot of land as compensation.

During a recent visit, Fiaz stood on his empty plot, while putrid wastewater flowed from an open drain nearby. Like many of the evictees, Fiaz scrapes by making the equivalent of US$2 a day as a laborer. He doesn't know when he'll be able to build a new home.

"Whatever we earn, we spend that on food and medicine. There are no savings for construction," he told ucanews.com.

The Tibba evictions were a disaster for Fiaz and his family. However, they represent just a small sample of evictions taking place in slum communities around the country.

Faisalabad authorities are planning further evictions in Tibba. Karachi officials have said as many as 29,000 homes will have to be demolished in the port city to implement city infrastructure repairs. And in Islamabad, authorities recently bulldozed the entire Afghan Basti slum. According to the Capital Development Authority, there were 32 Katchi Abadis, or mud colonies, in its area. Only 10 are approved, meaning that the remaining ones could be at risk of demolition as well.

 

Minority communities uprooted

Muhammad Iqbal, director of enforcement for the development authority, said affected families in Islamabad received ample warning of the pending evictions.

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He said authorities are merely carrying out the orders of city courts, which have ruled in favor of the private developers that claim ownership of the land.

"The actual owners, who were allotted plots by the [capital development authority], have been waiting for three decades," he told ucanews in a telephone interview.

However, Farooq Tariq, general secretary of the leftist Labor Party, said such cleanup operations have become a worrying trend in Pakistan.

He said the evictions have been fuelled by soaring land prices. The end result is that "the poor are being uprooted".

"Housing is a constitutional right but it is being neglected now," he said. "Property dealing has become a major business as the price of land has greatly increased in the past few years".

This trend often means the country's most marginalized communities are also the most affected.

Many of Afghan Basti's residents, for example, were ethnic Pashtuns. In Tibba, the community is a mix of impoverished Christian minorities and Muslims; many families have lived there for three decades.

Caritas Pakistan is stepping in to offer help to some of the evicted families — both Christian and Muslim.

"Most of the families have been allotted plots but they cannot afford to build new houses. Now they are exposed to humidity and mosquitoes," said Farhan Lawrence, executive secretary for Caritas Pakistan Faisalabad.

Recent monsoon-season floods have exacerbated an already tenuous situation, he said, inundating makeshift tent shelters with water.

As part of outreach efforts this month, local Caritas representatives offered food and supplies to evicted families in Tibba, during an event that began with recitations from the Quran and the Bible.

Caritas officials said they have also distributed tents and held medical camps to treat people suffering from health problems. Lawrence said Caritas also planned to distribute construction materials to evicted families.

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