Zahrah Nasir A home of ones own is, for many people, way beyond their wildest dreams and financial expectations yet, in a country that is upping the volume on how desperately poor we are, a certain segment of the population is increasingly laying claim to not one home, but two or three within the country, plus, in some cases, additional ones overseas. It is only possible to live in one home at once and this 'main base is liable to be in the hustle and bustle of a city with additional 'homes in rural locations to be visited as and when the mood indicates or school holidays allow. The growth in holiday home ownership, this, no bones about it, is exactly what they are, could be viewed as a positive factor indicating, as it does, that the economy is nowhere near as bad as the government would have us believe, but the prosperous image thus presented is grossly incorrect. It is no secret that as the 'haves accumulate wealth, be this by honest means or otherwise, the 'have-nots are sliding towards absolute desperation on the survival scene with each day being grimmer than the last. True too is that those who have worked long and hard to be able to afford not one, but at least two homes, have the right to spend their money, if honestly gained and taxes fully paid, as they wish and 'investing, as they often see it, in rural property rather than spending their money overseas could be seen as patriotic it and how does this affect the rural poor? First and foremost is the point that countless holiday homes, be they outside, never actually in, rural villages in, for example, the Galiat, around Abbotabad, in Kaghan, Naran or further north in Gilgit-Baltistan to name but a few 'select locations, are constructed on land purchased outright from local people either with, or without, the grasping services of one of those notorious beings known as property dealers, who pocket as much as 20 percent of the cash price in the process from the seller. (The writer has witnessed such an event.) As outsiders move in to dominate the property scene land prices escalate which encourages more, often poverty-stricken local people, to part with piece after piece of ancestral land until all that remains is an unviable holding, insufficient in size to distribute between heirs who, quite naturally, end up selling that too and dividing the miniscule spoils between them. Such situation results in entire joint families becoming homeless as the money gained is, for whatever reason, quickly spent. Now one could say that it is their own fault for selling off even a single piece of land in the first place but, in reality, it doesnt work quite like this. Rural regions, unless they indulge in large-scale tourism as in Murree for instance, are mostly dying on their feet. The majority of the population is largely uneducated although, and certainly not before time, children do now have limited educational opportunities up to a certain level even though cultural 'norms have a habit of getting in the way, particularly as far as girls are concerned. Work opportunities are often seasonal and low paid, women rarely enter the labour market even as home based workers; therefore cash is usually very scarce indeed, and what money there is certainly doesnt go anywhere near as far as it used to do. Debt, mostly associated with wedding or legal expenses as property disputes are common, does drive people towards selling parcels of land and, as land values escalate, it is only outsiders who can afford the asking price. Owners of holiday homes may use local builders to construct them, but this does not automatically mean that the local economy benefits as, while the contractor may be of local origin, much of the labour used is liable to be of a 'nomadic nature saving their income to send it back to wherever it is their family resides. Completed homes are also unlikely to be furnished with locally manufactured goods and when the owners are finally in residence, for a week or two or perhaps a month or two at the most, they often bring household servants and foodstuffs with them; therefore, in this too, the local economy does not gain and employment opportunities are limited to a single poorly paid chawkidar: one such chawkidar may be responsible for more than one holiday home. In the case of holiday apartment blocks, then a single chawkidar is usually all there is. In this way indigenous people lose their land, land associated employment and, over time, all they ever had or could even hope to have and entire villages, Dunga Gali, Ayubia and Nathia Gali being prime examples, turn into shuttered ghost towns once the 'season concludes. Far from 'investing in rural areas, holiday home owners are killing them off: In a country with an increasingly acute housing shortage, it would make sense to ban the ownership of more than one home and for holiday makers to reside in hotels thus seriously contributing to the economy and employment opportunities of the places they profess to adore. The writer is a freelance columnist.