Chairperson HEC writes letter to VCs/Rectors of all public, private sector universities

ISLAMABAD   -   The Higher Education Commission (HEC) has proposed all the universities to adopt a ‘Katchi Abadi’ in its vicinity for improved life style of the residents, while mitigating the negative effects of slums and squatter settlements on climate change.

“The idea is that by adopting a ‘Katchi Abadi’ over the passage of a decade or less, the university would be able to turn it around and make living conditions better for the inhabitants,” Chairperson HEC Dr Shaista Sohail said in a letter written to the Vice-Chancellors/Rectors of all public and private sector universities.

The increase in population has led to mushroom growth in ‘Katchi Abadis’ across the country. The inhabitants of such localities do not have access to clean drinking water, electricity or hygienic conditions, the letter available with The Nation further said.

“It is proposed and encouraged that each university may adopt a ‘Katchi Abadi’ in its vicinity so that students may carry out social welfare activities including research on the issues of ‘Katchi Abadis’ and come up with cost effective solutions to provide clean drinking water, solar panel driven air conditioners, roads and houses constructed with compressed waste and any other possible solutions,” the letter said.

The idea is based on the findings of the Research and Development wing of HEC, which extensively outlined the problems faced by ‘Katchi Abadis’ and its prospective solution.

According to UN Habitat, almost 37% of the population of Pakistan lives in urban areas and is expected to increase by about 40 million people to an estimated 118 million by 2030. Moreover, more than 50% of the population of major cities of Pakistan lives in slums and squatter   (Katchi Abadis).

The key burning issues confronting squatter settlements which need prompt action include:  Lack of infrastructure, absence of policy level guidelines and their implementation to guarantee the legal protection of ‘Katchi Abadi’ residents against forced evictions, harassment, and other threats.

Absence of adequate and durable housing most of the houses are made of cardboards, wood, corrugated iron, plastic sheeting, etc leading to overcrowding and unbalanced urban equity.

No access to health-care facilities, poor hygiene, sanitation, low access to clean drinking water and malfunctioning sewerage schemes is another hallmark of the ‘Katchi Abadis’. Non-availability of schools, colleges, technical and vocational training institutions for affordable and accessible quality education is another issue faced by these abadis.

Municipal waste disposal and dumping areas in surroundings are open dumpsites contributing to air, water, and soil pollution, including plastic waste, as well as emissions of greenhouse gases such as methane. The ‘Katchi Abadis’ add to environmental degradation, air pollution, and have negative effects on climate.

They are also susceptible to natural disasters (flooding, droughts, heat waves, land sliding, lightening, wildfire, etc).

Inadequate open public spaces, parks, recreational and social facilities are negatively affecting the productivity of the inhabitants.

The following action items are suggested for the universities to promote socially and environmentally sustainable squatter settlements: It has been proposed that the universities through public private initiative can improve basic infrastructure and amenities in the squatter settlement. Construction of roads through recycled waste products such as plastic, availability of affordable transportation services through ride sharing applications, rapid transit systems.

Actions such as provision of utilities such as electricity through solar powered resources, water through effective recycling and conservation, and clean cooking fuels through cheap and eco-friendly bio-degradable resources, etc have been proposed.

The universities can actively engage in synergizing the efforts to improve access of the people in the settlement to sufficient food for all through mechanisms such as innovative interventions in agricultural produce, introducing resilient agricultural practices through R&D, encouraging the households as small scale food-producers, etc.

Development of water tanks, bulk elevated water storage and rainwater collection mechanisms to improve the water conservation and its access to the public. Building of wastewater collection, water filtration and treatment plants to promote grey water recycling and ensure provision of clean drinking water to the dwellers.

It has been proposed that universities may provide access to bright students and learners of the settlements to university’s laboratories and allied educational facilities including scholarships for higher studies.

Training the locals especially the women in making them primary and secondary level certified schoolteachers for the well-being of the settlement and increasing access to education at large.

Universities can also play a significant role in uplifting the quality of life of squatter settlements by providing them with health care facilities.

The R&D also proposed introducing and facilitating self-help schemes for the settlement by providing them with access to local cheap resources such as low cost building materials for house construction, soft loans through government schemes, etc.