Lahore Beyond Boundaries – Not a Walled City Anymore

This blog post is based on a session of the Lahore Policy Exchange, titled “Lahore’s Future” held at the Consortium for Development Policy Research (CDPR) on June 12, 2024, with Dr. Ijaz Nabi, Dr. Sanval Nasim, Dr. Mohammad Omar Masud, Ms. Qudsia Rahim, Ms. Imrana Tiwana, Mr. Omar Hassan and Mr. Kamil Khan Mumtaz.


Once a Walled City, with thirteen historical gates as its entry points particularly during the Mughal era, Lahore has expanded rapidly and is turning into a multicentric megacity, with a population of around 14 million people. The city has multiple business centres, including Raiwind, Defence Housing Authority (DHA), Gulberg and Mall Road. Several infrastructure projects, such as the Orange Line transport system, Lahore Ring Road and the signal free corridor initiative, have revamped the city’s outlook.

A large number of people move to Lahore every year, further expanding its boundaries horizontally and intensifying the demand for housing. To meet this demand, high-rise apartment buildings and self-sufficient housing societies, such as the Askari apartments, the new phases of DHA, Paragon City, Bahria Town and Lake City, have emerged in Lahore’s peripheries, making the city’s original boundaries increasingly unclear.


Delhi Gate, one of the thirteen gates of the historic Walled City of Lahore.


This blog focuses on the blurring boundaries of a metropolitan city like Lahore that has grown manifold in the past few decades and explores the social and environmental consequences of haphazard and unsustainable urban growth. It also highlights the need to have a consolidated approach for Lahore’s urban development.

Sprawling growth is unsustainable

Lahore currently has four main agencies looking after various segments of the city, namely Lahore Development Authority (LDA), Lahore Municipal Corporation (LMC), the cantonment board, and DHA. Despite multiple players, Lahore’s sprawling horizontal growth appears to be largely unplanned, unchecked and ungoverned. This urban sprawl is unsustainable as it not only encroaches on productive farmlands and villages but is also detrimental to the city’s natural resources, and a burden for the city administration in terms of provision of amenities including road network, clean water, sanitation, and infrastructure.

Let’s take a look at some of the challenges that Lahore is facing due to its blurring boundaries:

Smog as a permanent feature in Lahore’s cityscape

Lahore’s streets are always bustling with an unparalleled energy. Its colourful bazaars are crowded with street hawkers who offer an array of items – from delicacies to ethnic jewellery, and handwoven fabrics. The magnificent Wazir Khan Mosque, the grand Badshahi Mosque, and the glorious Shalimar Gardens are heritage sites that speak of an era of luxury, long gone but not forgotten. Now, an unfortunate addition has become part of the cityscape; smog veils the city’s cultural sites and business centres for most part of the year, blurring its vibrance and dulling its beauty.

Lahore has been repeatedly ranked as one of the most polluted cities in the world with declining air quality as a result of an increased number of vehicles on roads, high levels of industrial activity, emissions, and waste burning. Studies now show that the average age of a citizen of Lahore has declined by seven years due to poor air quality. Breathing in Lahore’s air has also been compared to smoking around thirty cigarettes per day!

An aerial view of Lahore enveloped in haze.


The cost of Lahore’s urban sprawl is also evident in terms of environmental degradation. The city of gardens, once in bloom, with a clean River Ravi flowing through it, is now losing its tree cover, due to rampant construction. Roads, highways and underpasses, while ensuring connectivity and economic growth, are also contributing to increased emissions.

Urban stress for the average citizen

It is not uncommon for Lahore’s residents to experience traffic congestion almost every day. The honks of impatient commuters add another layer to Lahore’s sounds, with buses, cars, and trucks inching forward, leaving little room for pedestrians to move. This leads to high levels of stress, prevalence of depression and low self-esteem among citizens

The rising temperatures and unpredictable weather conditions bring about urban flooding every year. Low-lying areas in Lahore, including Gulberg, Garden Town and Township, are submerged underwater after heavy rain, and with the city’s weak sewerage and drainage system, it takes days for rain water to clear, restricting mobility of residents, causing traffic congestion as well as electricity breakdowns, hence bringing economic activity and the daily course of life to a standstill. 

A street in Lahore submerged in water after heavy rain.


Outbreaks of waterborne diseases like cholera and typhoid are also common after heavy downpour and flooding. Other issues such as untreated industrial waste, falling groundwater levels and contaminated water also emerge as health hazards that are likely to exacerbate if left unaddressed.

Sprawl and slums

The signs of inequality in Lahore are now more visible than ever. In recent years, ineffective coordination between federal, provincial and local government departments and lack of prioritisation for efficient urban growth has led to haphazard expansion of the city, where developers have leaped over massive patches of land to acquire cheaper land far from the urban centre of Lahore. With the city expanding without a plan, informal settlements have started to form around city limits and within the city, particularly near construction sites, under bridges and outside gated communities. Slum dwellers lack proper food and sanitation facilities, and the likelihood of drug addiction and crime in areas around slum settlements is also high.

Defining boundaries

Imagine a well-connected, walkable Lahore with pedestrian-friendly streets, where people can walk freely and comfortably without any mobility constraints and where amenities are accessible with ease. The sidewalks are lined with trees to provide shade for pedestrians and the traffic is managed efficiently. 

While such an image of Lahore might appear to be inconceivable, it is indeed probable through a proactive approach of policymakers and leaders, and a normative mindset of the community:

Public sector’s role in setting boundaries

Having multiple players managing a city’s urban development can lead to fragmented policy-making and conflicting interests, and can be largely detrimental to the city’s overall growth and the well-being of its people. The role of government is hence crucial in adopting an integrated approach to ensure sustainable urban growth, curbing urban sprawl and preventing leapfrog development. It is now more important than ever to use a data-driven approach to set city boundaries and manage the city’s limited resources more efficiently.

Lahore needs a unified urban voice

For Lahore to have a normative future where its unplanned urban sprawl is curtailed and managed, a unified urban voice is the need of the hour, integrating efforts of all agencies responsible for its urban planning and providing a space for civil society, citizens, academia, and other relevant stakeholders, to interact and participate in policy-making. 

Developing cities around Lahore

A holistic urban vision for the city will also allow stakeholders to prioritise the development of Lahore’s neighbouring cities such as Gujranwala, Sheikhupura and Kasur so that more economic opportunities emerge for the people residing in those cities. This approach will also control the influx of population entering Lahore every year, hence keeping a check on Lahore’s annual average growth rates.

Empowering citizens and the civil society

An empowered community can play a pivotal role in devising and implementing an urban strategy that will define clear boundaries for Lahore. Such a strategy will prioritise accessibility, walkability, sustainability and preservation of its heritage sites as major pillars of urban development.

Making the city of gardens green again

The cultural capital of Pakistan has been known as the city of gardens, but the loss in tree cover is a disturbing truth that requires immediate attention and action. Urban planning needs to account for greener spaces in the city so that Lahore lives up to its title.



Faiza Zia is a Programme Manager at the Consortium for Development Policy Research (CDPR).

Addressing the Gender Digital Divide in Pakistan: Promoting Equal Access to Mobile Phones for Economic Empowerment

Globally, women face reduced employment prospects in comparison to men. Particularly in developing countries, women are more likely to be unemployed, have limited job opportunities, and work in the informal sector, with the majority serving as contributing family workers. This gender inequality in the physical world also extends to the digital world, where globally a higher percentage of women are offline compared to men. The Global Systems for Mobile Communications Association’s (GSMA) mobile gender gap report (2024) reveals a concerning gender disparity in mobile phone ownership. It states that women are 8% less likely to own a mobile phone compared to men. However, the extent of this gap varies greatly across regions. South Asia, in particular, faces the widest gender gap in mobile phone ownership, reaching 15%. Among the countries surveyed, Pakistan stands out with the largest gap of 38% in mobile phone ownership. Additionally, the report highlights that only 26% of women in Pakistan own a smartphone, while the statistic for men is 52%. The statistics emphasize an urgent need to address the gender digital divide and promote equal access to mobile and smartphone technologies.

Considerable research attention has been devoted to studying the effects of digitalization on gender equality, income, and employment. Mobile and smartphones hold significant economic value for individuals with limited financial resources, as they offer greater convenience and portability compared to landline phones. Additionally, lower fixed costs associated with physical infrastructure make mobile and smartphones a more accessible asset for the economically disadvantaged. In our study, we examine the gender dimension of the mobile phone ownership divide and its relevance for female labour force participation in the context of developing countries, that is, Pakistan.

Figure 1 – % of individuals 10 years or older with mobile ownership

Source – Pakistan Social and Living Standards Measurement Survey (2019-2020)

Gender digital divide in mobile phone ownership

Figure 1 shows that there exist noticeable gender differences in mobile phone ownership. In our research, we examine the gender digital divide in mobile or smartphone ownership and identify the contribution of individual covariates (characteristics) in explaining the divide.  The results show that men, on average, are more likely to own a mobile or smartphone making them an advantaged group in our analysis. Among observable characteristics, literacy and income are the major contributors to the gender digital divide in Pakistan. However, the results show that sociocultural or institutional factors are primarily responsible for the huge gender digital divide in Pakistan. The combination of policies, laws, and social norms in developing countries creates barriers for women. These barriers lead to a vicious circle that hinders women from achieving financial independence to afford digital technologies, which can significantly enhance their economic well-being. In addition, the acquisition of technology is typically associated with men, and prevailing gender norms regarding men’s access to and use of technology restrict women’s opportunities to learn, utilize, and reap the benefits of technology. Furthermore, sociocultural factors play a significant role in shaping the actual and perceived benefits of digital tools, often leading to women being unaware of the advantages of utilizing these tools.

An important insight from Figure 1 shows a considerable digital divide between rural and urban females. We further analyse the rural-urban digital divide in mobile or smartphone ownership between females. Women in urban areas are more likely to own a mobile or smartphone compared to women in rural areas. Furthermore, the digital divide in mobile or smartphone ownership between rural and urban females is mainly driven by observable characteristics.  The differences in literacy, education, income, and wealth are the main contributors to the observed digital divide between rural and urban females in Pakistan.

Digitalization through mobile phones and female labour force participation

The widespread adoption of mobile and smartphones has transformed how females manage their time and participate in different activities (leisure and home production), thereby influencing their engagement in the labour market. The use of mobile phones and smartphones as tools for job search directly affects labour force participation, enhancing their socialization skills and enabling the creation of external social networks even from the comfort of their homes. The study reveals a significant and positive association of mobile or smartphone ownership with female labour force participation in Pakistan. The results also highlight that women living in urban areas are less likely to participate in the labour force compared to those in rural areas, although the difference is not statistically significant. This could be attributed to urban women spending more time on leisure activities facilitated by mobile or smartphones, which they are more likely to own. On the other hand, rural women use mobile phones primarily for work-related purposes. For instance, studies from Bangladesh and India show that rural women use mobile phones for various activities such as social networking, employment, education, and accessing health-related services.

Bridging the digital divide: empowerment through digitalization and upskilling

Our analysis highlights several key points regarding the gender digital divide and its implications for women in Pakistan. To bridge the gender digital divide and empower females, we strongly recommend expanding employment opportunities through digitalization. This entails that interventions that provide digital training and upskilling programs for lower-income urban women and women from rural households may not only bridge the gender digital divide but also help them in uplifting their economic well-being through increased participation in the labour force. Furthermore, interventions that ensure that rural women have affordable and reliable mobile networks along with improvement in the provision of education and health facilities can serve as instruments for attaining gender equality, hence economic growth. More customized approaches, for example, agricultural advisory and market information about prices, information on weather conditions, and quality of inputs along with off-farm employment opportunities through interactive voice response (IVR) or short messages, can help women contribute to rural development.

The blog presents the findings of the following research paper:

Amber, H., & Chichaibelu, B. B. (2023). Narrowing the gender digital divide in Pakistan: Mobile phone ownership and female labour force participation. Review of Development Economics, 1-29.

Elections 2024: The Case for Political Manifestos

With Pakistan’s general elections looming overhead, it’s high time for political parties to publish their manifestos and inform the population of their economic objectives, and policy intentions for if and when, they win the elections. A manifesto also demonstrates the party’s roadmap for achieving the principles, values, and ideology that it prioritises. Thus, it is a key tool for the population to make informed, democratic decisions.

Pakistan’s political parties generally do not provide a detailed overview of the feasibility, timeline and implementation process of the policy promises that they make in their manifestos. In fact, less than 20% of Pakistan’s key economic and policy issues have been addressed in the political manifestos of the top three parties, and they usually lack financially probable, discussion-based recommendations, or effective consultations, during their formulation process. For example, Pakistan People’s Party has announced its 10-point manifesto for the 2023 elections, in which it promises free healthcare services for all citizens, construction of three million houses for the homeless, and green energy parks in every district, amongst other things. However, this manifesto does not offer any practical plans to achieve these ambitious goals, or consider Pakistan’s precarious financial circumstances as the country’s external debt reached $124.3 billion in June 2023.

As witnessed in the past elections, manifestos are often disregarded soon after the elections take place, as majority of the parties view manifestos as mere formalities that most of the voting population will not pay attention to – which makes them inconsequential and neglecting execution. Nevertheless, it is pertinent that civilians are made aware of all the published political manifestos so that they can make informed decisions that reflect their needs from the upcoming government. Moreover, a manifesto serves as a record of a party’s promises to the public – and an opportunity to hold the party accountable for delivering on the promises which it has made.

Therefore, political manifestos should include quantitative, evidence-based policy targets that adhere to a regulatory framework and a set timeline. They must offer viable solutions for addressing Pakistan’s most pressing challenges, which range from economic development, climate change, human rights and security, and democratic civilian empowerment.

Thus, this blog highlights some of the most pertinent issues impacting Pakistan today, which require immediate focus in political manifestos.

Economic Policy and Human Development:

Pakistan’s rising foreign debt is a subject of growing concern, and in order to ensure sustainable economic growth, the state must prioritise long-term strategic economic policy, over short-term relief.

The country has long-crossed the 58% mark for its debt-to-GDP ratio, which had been set by the Fiscal Responsibility and Debt Limitation Act. SBP reported that the country’s total debt and liabilities reach up to 91.1% of the GDP in FY2023. This paints a grim picture for the country’s financial future if Pakistan does not break out of its debt trap and empower the domestic economy to reform the local business sector and improve both efficiency and productivity.

Pakistan can attract foreign business inflows if the country provides a stable and conducive business environment that adheres to an established regulatory framework. By reforming its standard of operations for business processes, the country can foster market competition and job growth. Moreover, Pakistan must also resolve the constraints that impact private sector activity, such as protectionist trade policies, lack of investment, surging inflation and corruption. Possible interventions that can be adopted but political parties have yet to focus on include incentivizing exports, implementation of market-friendly business regulations, and investment into small and medium-sized businesses.

In FY22, Pakistan was spending only 1.7% and 1.4% of its GDP on education and health respectively. This is one of the lowest public spending in these sectors, within South Asia. Thus, political parties need to emphasize how the state can utilise its 242 million population by investing in its human capital, via human development programmes, facilitating quality-improvement of its education sector, and enhancing research and development. Moreover, Pakistan’s female labour force participation rate stands at a mere 21%, which indicates that the country is losing out the economic productivity of women’s participation in the workforce. Thus, the country must mobilise development initiatives to enhance women’s access to education, skill development and thus, improve their role in the economy.

The Role of 18th Amendment:

In recent years, devolution has stalled and there is a lack of accountability in performance or resource allocation at both provincial and federal levels, which has hindered good governance and fiscal responsibility and effective administration by the state. Thus, it is essential for political parties to clarify their stance on the future of the 18th Amendment since its present-day set-up does not reflect its original promises of provincial autonomy.

A common criticism against the 18th Amendment’s enactment is over the lack of efficient coordination in provincial service delivery and administration. This has also resulted in a fragmented tax base and hindered tax policy and collection. Pakistan’s poor ranking in human development (161st out of 192), education (37% of school-age children are out of schools), and gender disparity (ranking 142nd out of 146 countries), all showcase the country’s inability to address key issues of the population.

These issues can be resolved by building the capacity of the provincial governments to raise their own resources, and mandate greater transparency in all policy and monetary processes. Local governments need to be empowered by ensuring that devolution cascades down to the district or “tehsil” level. Instead of simply assigning the devolved functions to the relevant ministries on paper, the allotment should be accompanied by financial, legislative, and administrative autonomy. Moreover, the policymaking process should be monitored at every stage to ensure effective governance.

Thus, political parties should outline how they will ensure that basic service delivery will be decentralised to the grass roots level, in their manifestos. As well as how they plan to combat regional inequalities and hold local government accountable to the public’s interests.

Climate Change Crisis:

There is no doubt of Pakistan’s vulnerability to climate change, as the country faces acute water shortage, extremely hazardous levels of air pollution, high temperatures and devastating floods. Increased urbanisation, lack of urban planning, and management all contribute to exacerbate Pakistan’s climate change vulnerability, as there is an absence of climate-resilience settlement planning or sustainable development initiatives. This had a catastrophic impact during the 2022 floods, in which almost 8 million people were displaced from their homes.

Thus, it is essential for political parties to recognise the severe risk of Pakistan’s climate change crisis and propose measures to mitigate these threats. These policy measures should be constructed on science-based regulations, following the best global, sustainable practices. Effective climate change mitigation requires disrupting the existing socioeconomic structure of the country, to introduce financial, institutional, social, and regulatory reforms that will alleviate the climate crisis. Moreover, climate change inequalities must be addressed through social and economic packages to ease the disproportionate impact of climate change on the vulnerable communities such as women, marginalised groups and the lower-income population. There must also be a transparent allocation of the necessary funds and measurable targets set in place to assess the policy impact on the environment.

In conclusion, political manifestos should clearly illustrate why and how the specific policy targets were selected, which institutions were involved in raising these issues, how the policy will be enacted, what are the costs, potential barriers, and solutions. These should be presented to the public so that they make educated voting decisions for Pakistan’s future.


This blog is based on a seminar organised by CPPG, CDPR, and IGC on “Elections 2024: Identifying Key Policy Issues.”

Ayesha Zaman is a Research Associate at the Consortium for Development Policy Research.

Avoiding Air Pollution

This blog is based on a recent IGC funded study and draws on findings from the working paper—titled “Forecasts: Consumption, Production, and Behavioral Responses”— available here

Air pollution is a serious problem

South Asia perennially experiences the worst air quality in the world, posing a significant risk to human health. In Lahore—Pakistan’s second most populous city and the capital of Punjab province—reducing particulate matter (PM2.5) levels to the World Health Organization’s (WHO’s) standards would lead an average resident to gain 7.5 life years. Beyond mortality and morbidity, both long-term and short-term exposure to hazardous air impairs brain development and cognitive ability, affecting school outcomes, labor productivity, and decision-making in general.

Figure 1 depicts Lahore’s daily PM2.5 levels in micrograms per cubic meter (μg/m3) from February – August 2023 by three different sources along with the local Environmental Protection Department’s (EPD’s) daily PM2.5 mandated standard and the WHO’s daily PM2.5 recommended safe standard. The trends reveal that Lahore’s air pollution levels exceeded the mandated and recommended safe standards almost throughout the six-month period—on an overwhelming majority of days, pollution levels remained considerably higher than the standards.

Though improving air quality in cities like Lahore is a major challenge—we know what the broader policy response should look like, but policymakers lack resolve—citizens can’t afford to wait for policymakers to get their act together. When citizens end up constantly facing hazardous air, they must adapt to protect themselves from air pollution’s myriad harmful effects.

Figure 1: Daily PM2.5 levels

Note: This figure shows Lahore’s daily PM2.5 levels (in μg/m3) from Feb – Aug 2023 by three different sources—1) United States Consulate, Lahore (US Consulate [blue trend line]); 2) Pakistan Air Quality Initiative (PAQI [orange trend line]); and 3) Environment Protection Department Punjab (EPD [green trend line]). The red horizontal line represents the EPD’s daily PM2.5 mandated standard while the black horizontal line represents the World Health Organization’s (WHO’s) daily PM2.5 recommended safe standard.

Air pollution forecasts

Air pollution forecasts comprise an important form of information that allow citizens to avoid hazardous air and adapt to air pollution. Economic theory predicts that forecasts in general improve welfare. For example, if you accurately forecast rain tomorrow, you may carry an umbrella to prevent yourself from getting drenched. Or if you forecast an income shock next month, you may adjust your current consumption to buffer the predicted shock. Similarly, if citizens can forecast high pollution, they may act to avoid poor air quality.

But developing-city residents face a challenging information landscape to accurately forecast air pollution. In Lahore, some sources (public and private) now provide retrospective and real-time air quality information, but such efforts remain incomplete in space and time, and information quality is uncertain. Retrospective and real-time readings aren’t readily available to residents—especially the majority who don’t speak English—while air pollution forecasts are entirely absent.

Average levels of human capital (education, training, skills, etc.) also hamper developing-city residents’ ability to accurately forecast. An average Lahori receives under seven years of education while an average Pakistani receives under five years—a year lower than India, and roughly comparable to Uganda, Ethiopia, and Nigeria. Residents across the developing world face similar skill constraints and may confront the same behavioral biases that generate forecasting errors even in highly educated populations.

What we ask and how we answer our questions

We study how developing-world urbanites solve air pollution forecasting problems in the presence of limited information and human capital. We concern ourselves with the following broad questions. 1) Do developing-city residents value air pollution forecasts? 2) Can we improve their forecasting ability? 3) How do forecasts influence their behavior, especially air pollution avoidance? The answers to these questions shed light on human decision making and inform benefit-cost analyses of policies concerning air pollution monitoring and abatement.

To address our research questions, we implemented a randomized controlled trial with roughly 1,000 residents of a lower-middle-income neighborhood in Lahore, Pakistan. Our experiment included two treatments: 1) day-ahead air pollution forecasts delivered by text message (SMS) for eight months; and 2) general in-person training designed to improve forecasting performance. During a baseline survey before deploying our treatment, every respondent received a pamphlet explaining (in basic Urdu) fine particulate matter (PM2.5), how its measured, and its health effects.

We designed a model to forecast day-ahead PM2.5 air pollution, combining data from the Lahore US Consulate’s pollution monitor and two satellite sources (MeteoBlue and SPRINTARS). We delivered the PM2.5 forecasts through SMS at 8 p.m. every evening for eight months to a random subset of our respondents.

We also implemented a one-hour training in forecasting skills based on the principles of Philip Tetlock and Daniel Kahneman with another random subset of our respondents. Broadly, the training aimed to reduce behavioral and psychological mistakes that decrease the accuracy of subjects’ forecasts.

Some of our respondents received both the forecasts and the training. Respondents in the control group received neither treatment. We compare the average outcomes of respondents in our treatment groups with those in the control group. Figure 2 depicts the experimental groups.

Figure 2: Experimental Groups

They focused on the following outcomes: 1) willingness to pay for air pollution forecasts; 2) error in forecasting air pollution; 3) willingness to pay for particulate filtering (N95) masks; and 4) time use (time spent outdoors) in response to air quality. To elicit truthful responses, we incentivized the first three outcomes. The experiment ran April 2019 – February 2020, concluding just before Covid-19 broke out in Pakistan.

What do we find?

First, developing-city residents value air pollution information. Respondents who received our one-day-ahead air pollution forecasts were willing to pay an average of 93 PKR (in terms of PKR’s value in January 2020) to continue receiving forecasts for 90 days (Figure 3). On a monthly basis, this equals roughly 60 percent of the cost of 4G mobile internet access or 20 percent of an unskilled laborer’s one-day earnings. Thus, scaling the service across the city—with close to 14 million residents—will lead to large public benefits relative to the costs of providing the service.

Figure 3: Willingness to pay (WTP) for air pollution forecasts

Note: This figure shows the willingness to pay (WTP) in Pakistani Rupees (PKR) to continue receiving air pollution forecasts for another 90 days for respondents who received our daily day-ahead forecasts. The vertical long-dashed line marks the average WTP at 93.22 PKR, while the vertical short-dashed line marks the median WTP at 100 PKR. We elicited the WTP using an incentivized mechanism (Becker-DeGroot-Marschak) with a maximum bid of 200 PKR.


Second, we can improve residents’ pollution forecasting ability. Both forecast provision and in-person training improved respondents’ pollution forecasts. Both treatments reduced respondents’ error in forecasts of fine particulates (PM2.5) by roughly 5 micrograms per cubic meter (μg/m3)—which equals approximately 20 percent of the World Health Organization’s corresponding maximum safe 24-hour standard. Given that four to six months elapsed between when we trained our respondents and elicited outcomes, the notable error reduction shows that our training durably increased human capital.

Third, we can increase residents’ demand for pollution avoidance goods. Forecast provision increased willingness to pay for particulate filtering (N95) masks by roughly five percent of the retail price (Figure 4). While forecast training also increased the willingness to pay for particulate filtering masks by a similar amount, our estimated effect is statistically imprecise. Pooling all respondents, the average willingness to pay for N95 masks was roughly 70 percent of the retail price.

Figure 4: Demand curves for particulate filtering (N95) masks

Note: This figure shows the demand for particulate filtering (N95) masks across the control and treatment arms. We elicited willingness to pay (WTP) using an incentivized mechanism (Becker-DeGroot-Marschak), in which all subjects bid on an N95 mask with a retail price of 135 PKR. We capped the maximum bid at 200 PKR. We’ve expressed quantity demanded as the share of subjects purchasing—that is, the share with WTP greater than or equal to a given price.


Fourth, we can enable residents to align their time use with the level of air pollution. Respondents who received our pollution forecasts increased outdoor time by 16 percent on relatively less polluted days and reduced outdoor time by 3 percent on more polluted days. These results were more pronounced for individuals who reported caring about air quality (during our pre-treatment baseline survey) and for children.

Policy takeaways

We present evidence of meaningful willingness to pay for air pollution forecasts among developing-country urbanites, which suggests that the scarcity of environmental information in many developing countries does not stem from a lack of demand. While capital and operating costs for reference-quality air pollution monitors are considerable—the equipment for a single site typically costs more than

$20,000—the level of demand we estimate indicates that investing in pollution monitoring and forecasting in cities such as Lahore will lead to considerable welfare gain.

We show that increasing air pollution information and human-capital allows developing-country urbanites to make more accurate forecasts. Most strikingly, our one-hour forecast training reduced forecast error for incentivized predictions made up to six months later. Such exercises complement education and job trainings in the developing world. Policymakers could scale the debiasing lessons and exercises in our trainings via low-cost channels such as videos and video-games.

We also demonstrate that exposing developing-cities residents to air pollution information increases their willingness to pay for protective (N95) masks. This suggests that in areas where mask-wearing is not yet commonplace, information provision may spur residents to adopt N95 masks and avoid pollution through other means. Our finding that the average willingness to pay for masks is roughly 70 percent of the retail price indicates that modest subsidies could produce large changes in mask take-up, with concomitant health benefits.

Husnain F. Ahmad is  an Associate Professor of Economics, Sewanee at the University of the South.

Matthew Gibson is an Associate Professor of Economics at Williams College.

Fatiq Nadeem is a PhD Candidate at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

Sanval Nasim is an Assistant Professor of Economics at Colby College.

Arman Rezaee is an Assistant Professor of Economics at the University of California, Davis. 

This blog has also been published on the IGC website.

The Inequality of Rapid Urbanization

Urbanization exists almost wholly as a response to the massive influx of people in urban cities like Lahore and Islamabad. Some of the reasons for this influx are provincial disparities, disproportionate impacts of climate change on farmers and fishermen, lack of rural development and employment opportunities, and a general belief that urban areas promise a better standard of living. This rapid rural-urban migration highlights a core dysfunctionality in Pakistan’s domestic policy i.e., the lack of implementation of positive policies to bridge the disparities between rural and urban areas (Urbanization in Pakistan,  2018). It is predicted that Punjab’s urban population is likely to increase to 52 million by 2025 and 59 million by 2030; meaning the addition of  1 million new residents every year (Government of Punjab, 2015). This rapid migration coupled with increasing population growth simmers down to a critical  demand i.e., more housing for urban populations. 

This blog focuses on the inequalities associated with the provision of housing – which indicates a broader trend of income inequality in the economy – and discusses how land is seen to be a site of private investment and competition. It then explores the long term implications of the current urbanization paradigm which include deepening gentrification and socio-economic stratification. 

Breaking down Urbanization

The act of providing housing to the general public in Pakistan somewhat follows the capitalist model of urbanization. This framework is characterized by capital accumulation and land possession for industrial development and megaprojects (Saleem, 2021). Administering this system in the state of Pakistan failed to consider one major loophole: the exclusion of the urban poor from development. The forcible accumulation and land possession more often than not disadvantages the poor who cannot evade this complex system. Mirroring David Harvey’s concept of Accumulation by Dispossession, the current model of urban development seeks to benefit a certain class of capitalists by dispossessing minorities of their rights, land, and livelihoods. Similarly, considering Boaventura de Sousa Santos’ Sociology of Absences, the urban poor, integral to the city’s economic and cultural webs, remain absent from the development-oriented thinking of policy-makers (Saleem, 2021). As a result, the system mimics the foundations of colonialism – an economic ploy that in the name of “modernization” and “development” ends in exploitation and displacement. By introducing higher cost housing and commercializing poor urban areas, it insists on disciplining and pushing out the poor (Malik, 2021). Official records suggest that 400,000 people in Karachi have been displaced from residential properties over the past two decades, due to infrastructure and development projects. The case is further complicated as said people are rendered into a permanent state of ‘limbo’ or ‘waiting’ for compensation. People are forced to indefinitely rely on the government resulting in an asymmetrical relationship of dependence (Anjum et al., 2022).

With the exclusion of the poor, new and improved housing can find its ideal residents with ease. This act of exclusion can be labeled as “durable inequality,” where it is argued that inequalities are not the natural outcomes of differences in abilities, talent, and motivation, but are the results of institutional and social relations that have been deliberately crafted by individuals and groups for their advantage (Ahmad., et al 2021).

Inequality of Urbanization & Formation of Slums

This inequality gives rise to a paradox in the urban space: hyper-modern elite housing communities on one side, and slums on the other. Roughly 30% of the settlements in Lahore are slums and two-thirds of the labor force (most of the informal economy) are estimated to live in these “kachi abadis”(Abubakar, 2016). This way of living is plagued with complications including lack of adequate living space, insufficient public goods provision, and poor quality basic amenities, all of which lead to poor health and low levels of human capital (Marx., et al 2013). Slums can be found across the city in areas like Shahdara, along Ferozepur Road as well as in newer developed areas like Johar Town. These settlements are generally located near open sewage channels or along the hazardous banks of River Ravi. (Ali & Khan, 2017) The issue is exacerbated by government inaction since the state takes limited responsibility for the residents of slums due to budget constraints, lack of clear policies and prioritization. Additionally, obtaining legalized status is nearly impossible due to which the inhabitants of slums do not invest in their homes in fear that they might be demolished anytime (Pervez, 2018). Slums encapsulate the incompetence of the state to provide basic services to its residents. Often left to their own devices, unregulated slums become inter-generational poverty traps. 

To deal with the challenge of inequality in housing and slums, rural-urban migration needs to be addressed in a way that reduces the annual influx of residents into urban cities. This can include providing reliable healthcare, housing, jobs and education in rural areas. Once this issue is tackled, the government should prioritize providing basic services to residents of slums and build up to its legalization so residents can live without the constant threat of demolition or displacement. Money could be invested to help build cemented houses as well as proper roads with drainage systems. (Pervez, 2018). The road to being a more prosperous nation is not linear nor does it depend on a fixed rubric of urbanization. The people are integral to Lahore’s prosperity and should be factored into the development agenda.

The rise of Gentrification

Running parallel to the inequality of urbanization is the more damaging impact of gentrification; a spatial phenomenon that involves changing economic, demographic, social, physical, and cultural landscapes (Yang, Hui & Lang, Li, 2018). Arguably, this is the most dangerous product of urbanization. The cycle of gentrification in the context of housing can be broken down this way: low-income people are increasingly priced out because of neo-liberal urbanization and can no longer move to gentrifying neighborhoods. The public and private sectors seek higher profits that can only be obtained through a new and more intensified regime of profitable land use and commercial exploitation (Chronopoulos, 2016).Unfortunately, in order to improve the livability of neighborhoods, the government fails to incorporate the ground realities that shape cities as communities, as well as design strategies aimed at encouraging interaction between people of diverse income groups (Saeed et al., 2019). 

An interesting case of gentrification is the case of the Old City in Lahore. The space has undergone a series of socio-spatial transformations under the World Bank funded operation to repair and preserve its historically significant architecture. Tawaifs (courtesans ), mirasis (hereditary musicians), and the Khwaja Sira, residents of the Shahi Mohalla (Royal Neighborhood) are among the individuals increasingly displaced by the “museumification” of the Old Neighborhood. The neighborhood which used to be considered a lifeline of the radio, television and film industry of Pakistan, is now a newly made food street enjoyed by the middle class (Hussein, n.d).  Although the case of the Old City is intrinsically different from the case of modern urbanization, it prompts the same realization: the consequences of modernization need to be considered in line with the preservation of Lahore and its people’s distinct identity. By pushing out rightful residents of areas and imposing housing to facilitate only the elite, it could be argued that Lahore might lose the history that makes it so charming and unique. To combat this complex condition, urbanization must be contextualized by the cultural history of Pakistan. 


Conceivably, Pakistan could achieve significant prosperity by reforming the urbanization framework to be more equal and representative of the population of cities like Lahore. By remaining true to the rich history of the state and taking into account marginalized communities that are otherwise disregarded in the process of modernization and development, more just and ethical development could possibly be achieved. This reform should include regulation of rural-urban migration, policies to develop rural areas and legalization of slums. By dealing with these core issues, the larger problems of slums, gentrification and rapid migrations could be relieved.

Natalia Bokhari is an intern at the Consortium for Development Policy Research. 


Ahmad, S., Ullah, S., & Wang, Y. P. (2021, November 5). Understanding Housing Inequalities in Urban Pakistan: An intersectionality perspective of ethnicity, income and education. Taylor and Francis Online.

Ali, S., & Khan, A. (2017, October 27). Lahore – a city of slums and shanties. Daily Times.

Anjum, G., Toheed, M., & Anwar, N. H. (2021, December). Policy Brief #1_ land, governance, & the gendered politics of … ResearchGate.

Chronopoulos, T. (2016, September 28). African Americans, gentrification, and neoliberal urbanization: The case of fort greene, Brooklyn . SpringerLink.

Government of Punjab. (2015). Urban development sector plan – Punjab, Pakistan.

Javed, U. (2014, January 20). Lahore’s prosperity. DAWN.COM.

Malik, R. (2021, August 10). Lahore’s Post-colonial Food Culture. The Students’ Herald.

Marx, B., Stoker, T., & Suri, T. (2013). The Economics of Slums in the Developing World. JSTOR.

Pervez, S. (2018). Conditions of slums in Pakistan are getting increasingly worse: Policy Analysis. LUMS .

Profiles of underserved areas of 08 largest cities of Pakistan – UNICEF. (2020).

Saeed, A. (2023, April 20). Home. The Students’ Herald.

Saeed, R., Khan, D., Naeem, A., Rafae, M., Yazdani, R., Sultana, W., Naeem, M., Manzar, Z., Insha, M., Fatima, T. e, & Shahid, M. (2019, December 29). Lahore: Of Diversity and inclusivity: Shehr. thenews.

Saleem, S. (2021, July 26). Inclusive gentrification: Presenting the “absent” in the urban development of Karachi. South Asia@LSE.

Sociospatial perspective. Securipedia. (2013).

UKEssays, Uke. (2023, March 21). Urbanization in Pakistan. UKEssays. 

Yang, J., Hui, E. C. M., Lang, W., & Li, X. (2018, June 13). Land ownership, rent-seeking, and rural gentrification: Reconstructing villages for sustainable urbanization in China. MDPI.