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DAWN Editorials – 19th December 2015

Shedding light on urbanisation

A REPORT released by the World Bank uses an innovative new tool to map South Asian cities and their growth along economic and demographic lines.

Pakistan’s urbanisation is featured in the report, and since the country is dealing with large urban problems such as law and order in Karachi and mass transit in Punjab’s cities, the report deserves a close read.

The new tool they use is night lights data, which shows the extent of urban sprawl by examining the spread of city lights as seen from weather satellites that have been collecting this imagery since the early 1990s.

Know more: WB report highlights ‘messy, hidden’ urbanisation

Since the images are taken every night, then averaged out for the year to show the spread of luminosity associated with growing urban areas, the methodology actually takes into account power outages.

The World Bank recently embraced the technique and produced the new report looking at urbanisation in South Asia, and the results are quite impressive.

Urbanisation in our region has progressed with staggering speed. The entire stretch of land between Delhi and Lahore, for instance, now appears as a single agglomeration when viewed from satellite night lights data, a virtually unbroken band of urban space.

This growing urbanisation holds much promise for the region, mainly in the “unintended benefits that firms and workers experience from one another as they cluster together”, say the authors of the report. But this potentially transformative opportunity presented by growing urbanisation is undermined by the poor quality of urban management as cities spill beyond their boundaries.

More than 130 million people in South Asia live in urban slums, the report reminds us, where life is hazardous and the quality of urban services like water, sewerage and waste, land titles, law and order and electricity are all dismal.

The failure to properly extend urban services to urban slum dwellers in some measure grows out of the inability of the state to even see these populations, as one important characteristic of South Asian urbanisation, according to the authors, is that it is “hidden and messy”.

It is hidden because many of the regions that are urban in all but name continue to be classified as rural, and messy because they have been left to their own devices as they grow without the guiding hand of city or state authorities.

Night lights data enables us to see this in Karachi and Lahore, as well as track the growth of these large urban informal settlements over the years.

Tapping the potential of our growing cities is a crucial growth opportunity, but to do so, we must first learn to see urbanisation as it has developed over the years, and then invest in the institutions required to nurture and build on urban spaces. Pakistan’s policymakers — federal and provincial — need to listen keenly to the message of this report.

Education crisis

MANY of Balochistan’s social indicators are not encouraging, and the situation in the education sector appears to be particularly troubling.

Speaking in Quetta recently, the adviser to the Balochistan chief minister made some frank and worrying admissions about the state of education in the province.

Sardar Raza Barrech said that 1.6 million children were out of school in the province; two-thirds of these unfortunate youngsters were girls.

Also read :1.6m children out of school in Balochistan, says adviser

The official also observed that there was a shortage of schools, while the ones that existed lacked facilities. Such figures are routinely quoted by education activists and NGOs. While the latest version of the Annual Status of Education Report shows a slight improvement in enrolment figures as well as learning outcomes in Balochistan’s rural districts as compared to last year, there is still much ground to cover in the province.

It is welcome that a government functionary can realise and admit to the scale of the problem. Yet simply stating the problem will not be enough; thorough action is needed to remedy the situation.

While such a vast number of children out of school is problematic, it is just as unfortunate that school-going children are apparently not learning very much.

For example, discussing learning levels, the 2015 Aser survey says that 60pc of class five students could not read class two-level sentences in English.

On the other hand, 55pc of the surveyed class five children could not read a class two-level Urdu story. This small window into the state of education in Balochistan shows that matters still need massive improvement. While public education in Pakistan overall is mostly below par, in Balochistan (as well as in Sindh) the situation is particularly bad.

Teacher absenteeism is a problem, as is the menace of ‘ghost’ schools. So whether it is out-of-school children or poor learning outcomes, unless there is a complete overhaul of the education system in Balochistan the outlook will remain bleak.

A generation of illiterate or poorly educated children will have adverse socioeconomic and sociopolitical consequences for the province, which already lags behind in most fields.

Both the provincial administration and the centre must realise that while Balochistan’s law and order and political problems are indeed major and require full attention, the state of education is no less alarming and requires equal focus.

The state has promised to fight illiteracy in response to the Army Public School tragedy. Balochistan must not be left behind in this endeavour.

Glory lost

WITH the passing on Thursday of veteran satirist and actor Kamal Ahmed Rizvi, yet another link has been lost to what many consider the glory days of Pakistani drama.

Having migrated to the newly formed Pakistan and enduring a life of privation and struggle, he was kept afloat only on the back of his tenaciousness and a talent that was as acerbic as it was impossible to deny.

He ceased to work in his sunset years, and was not part of Pakistan’s liberalised media landscape, where channels and productions in unprecedented numbers sleet past a bemused audience. What he, and others of his generation of drama, will be remembered for is the work done in the ’60s, ’70s and the ’80s on the then single, state-owned PTV channel: work of biting wit, satire and social relevance.

Take a look: Kamal Ahmed Rizvi — Allan forever

The fact that these programmes are remembered with such nostalgia today may be because they shone like stars in the emptiness of the space that was Pakistan’s media landscape then. Yet there is no countering that between Pakistani drama then and now, there is a palpable, though perhaps nebulous, difference.

That difference is worth pondering today when the drama on the television screens is frequently criticised for having trite or hackneyed storylines, and an over-vigilant eye on ratings and profits.

What Rizvi and others of his generation, some of whom continue to work today, embodied was the steadfast adherence to an ideology. That ideology was the use of drama to not just hold a mirror up to all segments of society, but also, crucially, to work as a vehicle for social change.

This last is what is missing now. Whether it was Alif Noon or Mr Shaitan, Such Gup or Fifty Fifty or a host of others not necessarily comedies, much of the work back then was underpinned by keen observation of the Pakistani condition in all its shades, thus becoming arrestingly relevant as well as enduring. It was an ethic that could do with a revisit now.

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