Spreading the word about Karachi's contested land

A report on land ownership and low-income housing is influencing future urban planners.

Article, 14 September 2014
The implications of land-use dynamics for poor households and the environment are explored in the short film 'Karachi Rising' (Photo: IIED)

The implications of land-use dynamics for poor households and the environment are explored in the short film 'Karachi Rising' (Photo: IIED)

A report and short film on the contested nature of land ownership in Karachi, Pakistan, has documented the impact on poor residents and the environment and outlined strategies for urban planners to improve housing conditions. 

The creation of the report and its findings has given the skilled local researchers behind it and IIED the opportunity to create real change and take the blueprint from Karachi to other urban settlements.


Land in Karachi is hotly contested, with individual areas controlled by the government, military and groups referred to by local press as 'mafias'. The report found clashing interests and poor coordination between the military and city officials. 

The report also highlighted the issues facing low-income residents trying to buy – including being forced to buy properties outright and loan sharks – and outlined where the financial system could make an impact.

The text and film have highlighted the recent and often ignored trends in the old katchi abadis and created a better understanding of rental and land markets.
- Arif Hasan
Architect, planner, activist 

In addition to the report's findings, the process of publication and promotion was instructive for IIED. The fact that the report was initiated, designed and directed by a local research team proved to be key. The local team brought buy-in and helped the report and film receive in-depth media coverage. The report is now being incorporated into courses at NED University in Karachi along with other schools planning projects.

International debate 

IIED is now looking at how this project can help other cities around the world. The report and film can add to the international debate on development assistance and sustainable development goals for cities.

The new data from Karachi has been added to the IIED project alternative routes to density along with IIED-related projects in Bangkok and Kathmandu. This will act as a resource for people working on equitable housing around the world.


Gordon McGranahan, co-head, Human Settlements Group; team leader, urbanisation