Tackling Lahore’s Urbanization Challenges (RUDP)
Many have voiced their concerns regarding the Ravi Urban Development Project and how it will require thousands of farmland to be used for the construction of urban infrastructure, leaving a damaging impact on the environment and the country’s exports of different varieties of mangoes! What remains ignored is the fact that rapid urbanisation and a growing number of residents in Punjab’s capital, Lahore, are becoming a challenge for city administration as urban amenities continue to deteriorate.
The city is increasingly becoming recognised for its increasing environmental pollution and poor waste management. In winters, the city is covered by a thick layer of smog which has left many of its residents with respiratory problems besides covid19. The RUDP is not just an infrastructural development project aimed at urbanising the already urbanised areas, rather it includes multiple environmentally friendly initiatives which can lay the backbone of a sustainable and green urban development. Continue reading to understand the prospects of developing a green and eco-friendly urban development project.
Why Lahore Needs a Reboot
Cities, by their nature, offer their residents greater economic opportunities and better standards of living than their rural counterparts. Therefore, a massive number of people migrate towards cities all year round. However, the resources available with cities are increasingly becoming inadequate compared to the overwhelming number of people migrating towards them. Rising population trends due to better healthcare facilities and increased economic capacities for families also mean that the already scarce resources must be shared among a greater number of people. Most of these migrant workers and their families tend to live in informal settlements with very poor availability of urban amenities such as clean water, sewerage, and garbage disposal. Lahore, being a prime example of the above-mentioned phenomenon, is struggling to cope with the huge demand for resources that its 13 million-strong population generates. Horizontal spread into agricultural lands has also become a norm for illegal housing societies; however, recent regulatory relaxations in the construction of high-rise buildings has shifted the trend towards vertical development.
However, the biggest challenge for Lahore comes in the form of its depleting groundwater resources and the contamination of River Ravi due to the increased dumping of industrial chemical waste. The river has actively become a dumping ground for solid waste and a reservoir for heavy chemicals, toxicants, and poisons released from chemical factories. This has, in turn, led to a serious problem for the environment surrounding the river Ravi. Many efforts to clean the river have been planned in the past; however, none have achieved success as the authorities seemed the least concerned about it. In the last year, the Prime Minister announced the formation of the Ravi Urban Development Authority (RUDA) which will oversee the development of the Ravi Urban Development Project. The first phase of the project is specially targeted towards revitalizing and rejuvenating the river Ravi, which in turn will provide water to Lahore and replenish the depleting groundwater resources of the city and its surrounding areas.
Some can still argue that the challenges associated with rapid urbanization can be dealt without developing a separate entire city alongside the already resource-challenged Lahore. However, the main challenge with Lahore is that the city’s master plan has not been updated in several decades, and although there have been efforts to redesign the city, the land available is not enough to host the sheer amount of current and migrating residents. Also, developing new green initiatives that increase the city’s tree cover is always a welcome initiative; however, they are not going to be effective as long as a significant portion of the population is not shifted towards new settlements outside of the main city. Pakistan is also facing a dire problem of unemployment among the youth. University graduates are entering a job market with outdated skills. Considering this, developing a new riverfront city will open multitudes of opportunities for these young graduates and other skilled and unskilled labour. Lastly, considering the number of green initiatives planned under the Ravi Urban Development Project (RUDP), the environmental impact of construction will be offset by the formation of urban forests and groundwater regeneration lakes.
RUDP to Establish Sustainable Urban Development
The Ravi Urban Development Authority (RUDA) has planned to set up Pakistan’s first industrial zone based on renewable energy to promote sustainable urban development in the country. It will not only provide job opportunities to the youth, but it will also help in curbing the growing environmental pollution on a macro and micro level. The major purpose of the project is to revitalize the river Ravi which is the main reason for the degradation of Lahore’s ecosystem. The river has been converted into a sewage drain that flows with large amounts of toxic wastewater. Under the project, RUDA will install water treatment plants on both sides of the riverbank to inject treated water in the river, and according to some plans, the water from river Chenab will also be routed into Ravi. The riverbed will also be laid out with huge rocks to allow for groundwater seepage and replenishing of groundwater reserves in the surrounding areas.
The RUDA has also planned to generate electricity from waste as no landfill site will exist in the new city. Smart solutions based on the latest technologies are, therefore, a key part of the new development project. Another major contribution towards sustainable urban development will be the introduction of modern farming techniques such as hydroponics, aquaponics, vertical farming, and greenhouses. These models have globally proven successful and only require 70 percent of the water, land, and resources being used by current farming methods. Wastage can also be reduced significantly through these methods, making the total output greater and more efficient. This will also help in tackling the growing demand for food over time as the population increases.
Although there are genuine concerns regarding the environmental impacts that construction and urban development will have over time, the Ravi Urban Development Project has all the characteristics of a sustainable modern eco-friendly urban development. Concerns related to the destruction of farmlands are not accurately placed as the overall impact of the development will be offset by the establishing of sustainable wildlife parks and water treatment systems for river Ravi. Without these developments, the river will continue to get polluted with industrial waste contaminants and there can be no reliable solution to address the depleting groundwater reserves of the area surrounding Lahore. Therefore, the project must be analysed considering the environmentally friendly measures being taken, and a bigger picture must be established to ensure that the project brings about a positive impact on the deteriorating effects of urbanisation on Lahore.