The changing face of Quetta
Quetta was once a city of orchards but now it has turned into a
concrete jungle which is destroying its ecological character. It was a
hill station and health resort for the privileged people who had the
means to move to Quetta valley from Sibi-Kachhi plains or adjoining
areas of Sindh and Dera Ghazi Khan during the hot summer days.
Sunset in the horizon
People from Afghanistan’s southern and western parts also used to
come to this mountain-ringed city in search of jobs after independence
in 1947. Before that, during the British colonial days, the authorities
did not allow many Afghans to enter the city. Quetta was a beautiful
city before the 1935 earthquake, which razed the entire city to the
ground, claiming 35,000 lives.
Later on, it was rebuilt on the pattern of western cities with
straight roads in the heart of the city, and trees lining the streets
and roads of residential and commercial areas, and provision for proper
civic services and amenities. There was a reliable drainage and sewerage
system in the city; all open sewerage lines fell into the Habib Nullah,
the huge outfall drain meant to discharge flood and rainwater downhill.
Peaceful stream flowing the Quetta Valley. Picture by Saleem
There were no overflowing gutters and sewage water polluting or
inundating the streets in any part of the valley. Even during heavy
snowfall or torrential rains, civic services were not disturbed and the
storm water drain carried off the water without damaging property,
orchards and farms. Surface water, fresh and fit for human consumption,
used to flow along the sidewalks of the main roads. People fetched water
from these flowing streams. However, municipal authorities ensured piped
water supply to the residents, especially in the city centre.
The Governor House, the Chief Minister House, Balochistan
Secretariat, General Post Office, Circuit House and other important
offices and residences were located at the famous Thandi Sarak that was
lined with huge teak and other beautiful trees. Till the mid-70s
electric fans were not needed in Quetta due to its pleasant weather
during the summer, while the Quetta stove was famous during winter.
The building code was strictly observed, particularly after the
devastating earthquake of 1935. Only single storey buildings were
constructed and double storey buildings were not allowed by the civil
However, people living in the outskirts used traditional methods and
remained part of the grand tribal society of Balochistan.
Quetta retained its basic characteristics of a British cantonment
township till Balochistan was given provincial status and Quetta became
the provincial capital.
After becoming the provincial capital people from all corners came
here to settle in and around Quetta. Since successive governments had
failed to provide civic services and facilities to remote parts of
Balochistan, there was mass migration to Quetta putting unbearable
burden on its civic services. During the Afghan civil war more than a
million Afghan refugees settled here, suddenly swelling the population
which played havoc with the civic services of the city.
Earlier, after the earthquake of 1935 Quetta was designed as a
township for 50,000 to 80,000 people - contrary to this, now the city
houses more than 2.5 million people. The city started expending after
1970 towards all the surrounding four mountains – Chiltan in the west,
Takto to the north-west, Murdar in the east and Zarghoon in the north,
without any proper planning. Only a few areas like Satellite Town,
Shahbaz Town, Jinnah Town and Model Town were established with some
planning. The people living in the outskirts of the town constructed mud
and brick-walled houses. Unplanned and illegal towns established in the
suburbs have no proper road network and a poor sanitation system.
The residential areas of Quetta have completely turned into a jungle
of huge commercial plazas, hotels and multi-storyed shopping malls. Lack
of monitoring of residential and commercial buildings has resulted in
violation of the building code.
Commercial plazas constructed in the heart of the city lack parking
facilities, which force the people to park their cars on the roads
resulting in road blockades. Most of the buses and rickshaws emit smoke
which causes air pollution. The situation worsened with the import of
15,000 rickshaws during 2007-8, putting an additional burden on the
city’s roads and its environment .
Once called little Paris, now the beautiful Quetta city needs
urgent attention and planning.
One of the lakes
CNG is indeed economical fuel but rickshaw drivers complain that CNG
damages their vehicles’ engine, and they prefer to run their vehicles on
petrol and diesel. Presence of thousands of other vehicles in the city
is another burden. This city of a few thousand is now awash with
thousands of legal and illegal smoke-emitting vehicles. Growing problem
of air and noise pollution has damaged the beautiful environment of
Quetta and increased the incidence of eye, lung and other diseases in
In the name of widening the roads hundreds of trees were felled. Even
the office of the Environmental Protection Agency, the kidney centre and
some other offices were constructed after cutting down trees. The famous
Thandi Sarak is no more - it is now called Zarghoon Road. Birds have
migrated from Quetta to other other places after the cutting down of
trees. Air population, brutal tree-felling, ill planned construction and
other factors have changed the weather of Quetta, forcing the people to
use all kinds of fans, air conditioners, refrigerators and others ways
during the summer.
Gone are the days when Quetta used to be a cool hill station where
people from across the country used to come and enjoy a cool summer,
with a clean atmosphere.
Little is being done to improve the civic amenities and hygienic
conditions in this provincial capital. All housing schemes established
by the QDA and the QCB and other localities are facing drinking water
shortage, sanitation and other basic problems. Once neat and clean
Quetta has now turned into a dirty city. According to a report published
by the UN, Quetta was declared the world’s second polluted city after
Mexico City, which is really a shame.