Surviving Pakistan’s Slums: The Extraordinary Story of Mohammad Sabir
Thursday, June 25, 2015
Every morning at sunrise, five-year-old Muhammad Sabir stepped out of his house, sagging a garbage bag to his shoulders, filling it with aluminum, plastic, paper scraps or anything he could find to sell. Salvaging trash to survive, he picked up snippets of newspapers and tried to read them.
“My family thought I had gone crazy,” he laughs.
Sabir comes from a family of nomads living in a slum on the outskirts of Lahore, Pakistan’s second largest city.
Until this point, Sabir had never attended school. Squatting in flimsy tents with no electricity, running water or toilets, they were routinely harassed by the local development authorities and forced to relocate because of illegal encroachment.
In Pakistan, the housing shortfall is estimated at 9 million units, according to a report published by the State Bank of Pakistan. Those unable to afford housing are driven to settle in undesired areas such as near open sewage channels or along the hazardous banks of River Ravi which floods every year.
“It is a national crisis,” says Dr Murtaza Haider, an associate professor at Canada’s Ryerson University whose research interests include urban development in South Asia.
“The state helps the empowered classes by giving them land for free or at nominal prices and withholding the land from the very poor.”
Estimates regarding the number of slum dwellers in Pakistan vary between 23 to 32 million people. The majority are street hawkers and day labourers that earn very little and are not able to afford medical care or school fees.