Needs and Pri­or­i­ties

The Pak­istan gov­ern­ment is spend­ing money on im­prov­ing public trans­port. It could also spend with as much gen­eros­ity on ed­u­ca­tion and health.

Southasia - - CONTENTS - By J. En­ver The writer is a free­lance con­trib­u­tor.

By the time the Rawalpindi-Is­lam­abad Metrobus pro­ject was com­pleted and opened, it had cost the Pak­istan gov­ern­ment some US$ 443 mil­lion. The La­hore Metrobus pro­ject cost US$ 298m while a sim­i­lar pro­ject in Ahmed­abad, In­dia cost just US$ 2.4m. The Metrobus pro­ject in Bei­jing, China cost US$ 4.8m and the one in Leon, Spain cost US$ 1.8m. The length of the Metrobus sys­tem in Rawalpindi-Is­lam­abad is just 23 km while the one is La­hore in 29 km. Com­pared to these, the long­est Metrobus sys­tem built so far is lo­cated in Sao Paulo, Brazil. It has a length of 104 km and was built at a to­tal cost of US$ 3.5 mil­lion.

The Pak­istan gov­ern­ment’s pri­or­i­ties can be gauged from the choices it makes in terms of its spend­ing on pu­bic fa­cil­i­ta­tion. Ac­cord­ing to the latest edi­tion of the Eco­nomic Sur­vey of Pak­istan, the coun­try at present has a to­tal of 1,142 hos­pi­tals, 5,499 dis­pen­saries, 5,438 Ba­sic Health Units (BHUs) and 669 Ru­ral Health Cen­tres (RHCs). If the coun­try’s cur­rent pop­u­la­tion is rated at 200 mil­lion, this amounts to one hos­pi­tal for 175,131 per­sons and one dis­pen­sary for 36,370 per­sons.

The sit­u­a­tion is even worse in the ru­ral ar­eas where over 70% of the peo­ple live. They are served by only 669 health cen­tres and 5,438 BHUs. No won­der then that the to­tal ex­pen­di­ture on health dur­ing fis­cal year 2014-15 was just Rs114 bn – a pal­try 0.4pc of the na­tional GDP. The spend­ing on health is so poor that there is only one car­di­ol­ogy hos­pi­tal each in the cities of La­hore, Ka­sur, Sheikhupura, Okara, Pak­patan and Sahi­wal. In some ar­eas of the coun­try, peo­ple travel for hours and days to reach hos­pi­tals for ba­sic med­i­cal aid.

But the gov­ern­ment must dete-rmine where it will spend first. Even un­der its new bud­get, just 2.2% of the GDP is ear­marked for the ed­u­ca­tion sec­tor. Ac­cord­ing to one re­port, Thai­land has al­lo­cated 28.3% of its bud­get for ed­u­ca­tion while Morocco spends 26.4% on ed­u­ca­tion. Among Pak­istan’s lead­ing as­sets is its youth­ful pop­u­la­tion. An es­ti­mated 54.8% of Pak­ista­nis are un­der the age of 24. Of these, 33.3% are un­der the age of 14. With­out rea­son­able ed­u­ca­tion, their fu­ture looks bleak.

It is true that public trans­port is one area, es­pe­cially in Pak­istan’s ur­ban cen­tres, that needs the gov­ern­ment’s ur­gent at­ten­tion. The grow­ing pop­u­la­tion of the coun­try must be pro­vided with prac­ti­cal means of trans­porta­tion. The coun­try is well served by road, rail and air links. The only prob­lem is that these links are not or­ga­nized in a man­ner that they would meet the peo­ple’s

re­quire­ments in a more prag­matic man­ner.

In re­cent times, how­ever, some head­way has been made in pro­vid­ing public trans­port within the larger cities of the Punjab province. The La­hore BRT was Pak­istan’s first rapid bus transit sys­tem. It op­er­ates a fleet of 86 buses which run on a sin­gle 28.7 km long Ferozpur Road cor­ri­dor.

The Rawalpindi-Is­lam­abad Metrobus pro­ject, opened re­cently, took prece­dence over the much an­tic­i­pated Karachi Metro Bus pro­ject and most of the funds of the Karachi pro­ject were di­verted to the Rawalpindi-Is­lam­abad Pro­ject. Iron­i­cally, while Karachi has a pop­u­la­tion that is five times big­ger than that of Rawalpindi-Is­lam­abad, it still lacks a mass transit sys­tem.

A Metro Bus sys­tem is also planned for the city of Peshawar. It will have a Sky­train and will be ini­tially con­structed on 18.4 kilo­me­ters from Chamkani to Hay­atabad.

The Metro Bus sys­tem planned for Faisal­abad would have a sin­gle line, sim­i­lar to the sys­tem in La­hore. It will con­nect the Faisal­abad In­ter­na­tional Air­port to the City Bus Ter­mi­nal, pass­ing through some main hubs of the city.

In Mul­tan, con­struc­tion on the BRT sys­tem be­gan in May 2015 and is ex­pected to be com­pleted in12 months.

Karachi is Pak­istan’s eco­nomic en­gine of growth with some 20 mil­lion peo­ple. Since it has ex­pe­ri­enced tremen­dous up­swing in traf­fic, the Ja­pan In­ter­na­tional Co-op­er­a­tion Agency (JICA) pre­pared a mass transit net­work for the city with a 2030 vi­sion sug­gest­ing two metro lines and six RBT lines, be­sides the Karachi Cir­cu­lar Rail­way re­vi­tal­iza­tion pro­gramme. The first Green Line Cor­ri­dor was to be laid from Sur­jani Town to Jamia Cloth Mar­ket (21 km) while the sec­ond Red Line Cor­ri­dor was to cover the dis­tance from Model Colony to Re­gal Chowk via Safoora Chowrangi (24.4 km). The third Cor­ri­dor would con­nect Da­wood Chowrangi to Nu­maish Chowrangi and Lucky Star. The busi­ness ty­coon Ma­lik Riaz has also of­fered to build a Metrobus Sys­tem for Karachi with di­rect routes from the up­com­ing Bahria So­ci­ety on the out­skirts of the city to Jin­nah In­ter­na­tional Air­port at a 25 minute dis­tance and another route from Bahria to the City Cen­tre, a ride of about 20 min­utes.

Once these sys­tems are in place, a good por­tion of city dwellers across Pak­istan will have ac­cess to de­pend­able city trans­port. While this is a pri­or­ity that the gov­ern­ment must at­tend to with full in­ter­est, it must also take steps to con­trol the ex­pen­di­tures be­ing made on these projects and also to set its pri­or­i­ties in a man­ner that the more ur­gent needs of in­creas­ing spend­ing in health and ed­u­ca­tion are given prece­dence over public trans­port.

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