Pakistan Institute of Development Economics



Changing Demographic, Social, and Economic Conditions in Karachi City, 1959–94: A Preliminary Analysis

Kingsley Davis (1961) had argued that the reason that the ancient cities failed to survive was that they were too deadly. He suggested that “three of their (cities) main traits….the crowding of many people in little space, their dependence on widespread contacts (due to in-migration), and their wealth…laid them open to contagious diseases, environmental contamination, occasional starvation and warfare”. Even in the medieval age, some European cities provide examples of such problems; but especially so following the Industrial Revolution. Do the events of the 1980s and the 1990s in Karachi suggest that the city may be heading in the same direction. Recently, The Times London in a lead article in November 1994, labelled Karachi as a “City of Riches and Shattered Dreams”. It further said that Karachi had grown into a megalopolis where life moved fast and street violence had become a norm. Indeed, more than 65 percent of Pakistan’s industries and 80 percent of its finance, banking, and business are concentrated in the city and people come to it from all over the country to find jobs and fulfil their dreams [Husain (1994)]. During the past decade, street violence in the form of ethnic clashes has become a sort of regular event in Karachi. At times, these clashes have been more frequent and even bloodier than the ones before. According to the local newspaper accounts, between 1985 and 1988 (in four years), about 400 people died in Karachi due to violence, which has increased substantially over time. Thus, while the number of violent deaths remained between 350–500 during 1991–93, in 1994 alone the number exceeded 1,100, and during the first three months of 1995, over 300 persons have died due to violence. According to the Karachi Police sources, most of the victims of violent deaths in Karachi during 1994 were men in the age group 13–50.

Mehtab S. Karim