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Environmental Impacts of Urbanization Encroachment in the Lowlands of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan

Department of Environmental Sciences, The University of Haripur, Haripur 22620, Pakistan
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Sustainability 2022, 14(19), 11959;
Original submission received: 29 July 2022 / Revised: 30 August 2022 / Accepted: 2 September 2022 / Published: 22 September 2022


Urban encroachment due to urban sprawl and unchecked expansion in built-up areas is one of the top challenges developing countries such as Pakistan face. The fertile agricultural land is continuously converting into built-up areas reducing the capacity of food production and bringing down the livelihood opportunities associated with agricultural land. Pakistan is an agricultural country with extensive fertile areas. The GDP share of agriculture is more than 20%, and it engages more than half of the country’s total labor force, producing a handsome foreign exchange. However, this fertile and productive land is now altering due to urbanization encroachment. The primary purpose of this study was to assess the level of urbanization encroachment and its temporal dynamics in the lowlands of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The sample area of District Peshawar was selected for this purpose. First, the study’s objective was to detect the district’s temporal dynamics in the land-use pattern. Secondly, the quantification of agricultural land converted to built-up in District Peshawar was also considered. The study of urbanization encroachment in temporal dynamics focused on the conversion of agricultural land-use change using high-resolution satellite images (Arc GIS 10.5), a detailed questionnaire survey, and interviews, and focus group discussions were conducted to obtain more profound insight into the study area. SPSS (Statistical Package for Social Sciences), ANOVA, and regression models were applied where needed. For the agricultural land investigation, data from the landowners were also incorporated to learn the size of the lands they currently hold. To claw out the fragmentation of the land, the previous status of the land, its selling, purchasing, and the causes thereof, have also been probed. The results show that 46.35 sq. km of the land area has been built-up since the first census in 1981. In 2019, it increased by 173.3049 sq. km in District Peshawar against the total area of 1257 sq. km. In the sample area, the fertile agricultural land shows a change five times greater than the population increase. The land is continuously reduced and utilized for different purposes. The land values also appeal to the land owners for handsome returns, which is another crucial factor of urban encroachment over the fertile agricultural area. A proper and active regularity authority is recommended, and policies for land transformation from agriculture to built-up coverings should be formed. Decentralization of facilities, subsidies, and incentives to the farmers are recommended to slow down the speed of land conversion.

1. Introduction

The world population has increased remarkably as a result of the industrialization of counties over the last two hundred years. This change has led people to move from rural areas to areas where more facilities and job opportunities are available to them. This process leads to the phenomenon of urbanization, causing the formation of more cities. In addition, livelihood opportunities and other basic amenities attract people who migrate to urban centers. Therefore, countries changing from agriculture to industrial economies are discussing urbanization more. In discussing push and pull factors [1], poverty, natural disasters, environmental degradation, and social conflicts are all considered push factors, while better economic status, various services, and better social environments are considered pull factors for urban–rural migration in the cities.
Global urbanization is showing a continuous and speedy trend, and the current urban sizes are expected to be doubled by 2050. It is estimated that 7 out of 10 persons will live in urban areas. It is well known that urban centers produce about 80 percent of the global GDP. Despite many benefits, this speedy urbanization also yields many adverse effects, e.g., high demand for accommodation, an active transport system, basic amenities, better socio-economic conditions, and the conservation of the ecology [2]. Furthermore, cities have been responsible for the massive changes in climate in recent years. Exposure to such a risky climate increases calamities, epidemics, and other risks.

1.1. Causes of Urbanization in Pakistan

As discussed earlier, migration is the root cause of urbanization and is the result of many factors. Human migration comes in many forms, e.g., internal migration usually occurs within the country. Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the USA are showing high internal migration trends from a global perspective. Urbanization has entered its later stage in most developed countries, but developing countries are still rapidly urbanizing. The decentralization of powers and resources in developed countries has now been followed to decrease the risks of natural or social disasters. Internal migration is the prevailing and ordinary type because it shows the same trend over the history of the world. The people in this migration style have the same objectives. A case study from the semi-arid regions of Pakistan was carried out [3], which mentioned the conventional reasons for migration along with unsustainable policies and planning.
In the case of Pakistan, the deprivation experienced in the areas that are not much developed usually pushes people to cross the boundaries of their motherlands to new ones. Complex mobility has continued here since the 1970s, which has sped up and is worsening the urban environment due to the capacity for sustainable development. Along with internal migration, international migration has also been focused on anthropogenic history. International migration is the crossing of international boundaries, and it can occur for many reasons, e.g., job, education, or acquiring nationality, all of which are usual ways compared to other violent reasons, including civil unrest, wars, terrorism, etc. These causes lead to an abrupt change in the local population, putting pressure on socio-economic and ecological environments. The number of international migrants was estimated to be almost 272 million worldwide. The United States is the most prominent host, accommodating more than fifty million refugees worldwide [4].
The migration within a country caused by natural calamities or civil unrest leads to the displacement of people who become known as IDPs, Internal Displaced Persons. In recent years Pakistan has also been stricken with IDPs. According to the South Asia Terrorism Portal, about 5 million people fled from the Federally Administered Tribal Areas to the other parts of the country, including District Peshawar. Apart from IDPs, in the late 1970s, the first international migration influx took place. This type of influx is also known as immigration. Roughly more than 0.02 million Afghan refugees reside in Pakistan [5]. Mostly, they are in Peshawar, the adjacent district to their country, while some populations are scattered throughout the country. About 40.5 percent of the refugees sought migration from 1989 to 1998, followed by 36.8 percent who migrated between 1978 and 1988. After these two influxes, about 11.3 percent of the respondents sought migration from 1999 to 2008.
The average national growth rate of Pakistan was 2.4% in 1998, if it is applied to the expected population of 2017, the expected figure is 3,180,687 so the net natural increase is about 1,153,836 from the population of 1998. However, if we compare this estimated population (3,180,687) with the actual figure of the census population in 2017 (4,269,079), the increase is more than the estimated population, i.e., the difference is about 1,088,392, which shows the net migration toward the district. This figure may include Afghan refugees, IDPs, and urban–rural migrants.
Mostly the Afghan-migrated population settled residences in Hayatabad and the city areas. They are living in diverse localities with the indigenous people. Peshawar was and is the most accessible and convenient place for the refugee settlement because Afghanis have similarities with the host culture and linguistics. In Pakistan, no other city has hosted as many refugees as Peshawar. However, the city was influenced/suffered by their prolonged presence. The most devastating effect of the population increase is the encroachment of built-up areas and alteration of the city. It reduced the resources/facilities and burdened the economy. Along with these, ecological changes have also occurred. Migration plays a vital role in urban expansion, [6] accumulating a variety of ethnic groups coming from different parts toward the focused centers with attractive purposes. In the case of Peshawar, it is the center of business and facilities, which are the driving forces for urbanization and its adverse impacts. The push and pull factors analyzed are universally the same, including basic amenities, shelter, and enhancement of life status. Along with the migration aspects, urbanization has also been observed to increase by natural increase. The natural increase can be defined as the difference between the number of births and the number of deaths in a specific period. For example, in 2020, more than 20.5 persons per 1000 population were increased. Along with this discourse in demographic terms, a country’s natural total urban growth is determined by a combination of births and subtracted death within cities [7].

1.2. Urbanization Encroachment of Agricultural Land in Pakistan

Focusing on Pakistan, in the years 1960, 1970, and 1980, the annual GDP of Pakistan was 6.8%, 4.8 %, and 6.5 %, respectively. While in 2000, this rate showed a decline up to 2 percent. In the economy of Pakistan, agriculture is the leading sector. Its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) share is 24 percent, involving more than half of the country’s total labor force and earning a large proportion of foreign exchange by exporting 80% of agricultural products [8]. However, the rural population is migrating to urban centers using agricultural land, creating a difficult situation for our country in the coming time [9]. Speedy urbanization converted 3307 acres of agricultural land into built-up areas in the last 13 years; the decline was due to no rule regulations to restrict this conversion. This conversion has negative impacts on the food supply as well as on the environment. The situation is worsening at a continual rate; concrete buildings have been put up on the farmland, especially on the sides of the Grand Trunk Road, touching the adjacent close areas [10].
KP (Khyber Pakhtunkhwa) shows a deficiency in agricultural production, particularly wheat. The document of the Bureau of Statistics Planning and Development in its development Statistics of KP- 2016 showed that KP’s total wheat production in 2015-16 was 1155 tones, in expectation of 3056 tones, showing a deficit of 1901 tones. The enormous migration from the different parts of KP and Afghan refugees’ migration is the leading cause of shrinking agricultural land. Master plans are crucial for urban sustainability. The first master plan for Peshawar in 1965 was not executed, which derives the haphazard urbanization. The Peshawar Developmental Authority started in 1987 for the management of urban development. The concrete construction regulation authorities launched in the four municipal towns of Peshawar, but, unfortunately, they have not been successful. The provincial and federal governments are setting up housing projects that need a large proportion of land. The military-possessed Defense Housing Authority recently started phase I with a patch of 10,000 kanals along Nasir Bagh Road. The same scheme will acquire more than 5000 acres in the localities of Budni, Wodpaga, and Yaseen Abad for phase II [11]. Moreover, the Civil Aviation Authority is preparing to obtain about 2000 acres in the locality of Mattani for the recommended airport.
The current layout is a cause of the shrinking of agricultural land, putting pressure on farming; for this reason, farmers are starting to follow intense farming, which requires more fertilizer and machinery. Although under the Land Revenue Act, in which the government classified the land for different uses, there is no regulation to stop encroachment on the farmlands. As a result, the land owners are now more interested in the constructed properties, not the agricultural lands [10]. Scientific work on land encroachments has also been investigated in Peshawar [12]. It monitored Land-Use/Land-Cover Changes and Urban Sprawl in Peshawar City in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. This work presents data analysis regarding land uses for about seventeen years, i.e., from 1999 to 2016. Remote sensing technology was incorporated for the changes in land use and population increase in the study period. In addition, the Raster Boolean method, scatter plots, and histograms were also used. The results show a total increase in impervious cover of more than twenty-six percent, and the reduction in arable land was about twenty-three percent. The suggestion included rigorous investigation of the district regularly to stop unnecessary land encroachments.

1.3. Research Problem

Due to population expansion in the capital city district of Peshawar, a large proportion of the fertile agricultural land is being converted into impervious land, squeezing the green areas, and creating many socio-economic and environmental problems. Therefore, the spatio-temporal changes in land utilization in the urban areas are crucial to monitor the ongoing situation and their expected outcomes. Moreover, such inspections provide the basis for proper planning and better utilization of land, mitigating the adverse consequences related to the process of urbanization.

1.4. Study Area

Peshawar is the metropolitan city and is the capital district of KP (Khyber Pakhtunkhwa), formerly called NWFP. The city was created as the capital of the province in 1901. The city is the main center of business. As shown in Figure 1, the two districts, i.e., Charsadda and Nowshera, are in the east and northeast, while the Afghan border is around 40 kilometers to the west. The total geographical area of district Peshawar is 1257 km², covering a large area and stretching over 50 km north to south and over 30 km east to west. Geographically area of the district is located from 33°44′ to 34° 15′ North Latitude and from 71°22′ to 71°42′ East Longitude and at the height of 374 m (1138 ft) above sea level. Peshawar valley is somehow circular, stretching from River Indus to the hills of Khyber. The hills are all around the north and northeast, separating it from Swat valley. In the north west are situated the jagged and irregular mountains of Khyber. In the south are the extensions of the spur from Koh e Safed that reach the Indus River, the lower part of which separates Peshawar from District Kohat. The historic Khyber Pass is situated about 48 km from Peshawar, which leads to the country of Afghanistan and holds the key to the sub-continent. Its strategic location leads to the oldest cities of Central Asia and has contributed to it being declared a prominent trade center.

1.5. Limitations of the Study

Many respondents in the sample areas did not cooperate in giving information. They were expecting governmental aid or some developmental work for their areas. So, it was challenging to obtain information after telling them about the nature of research, i.e., only for research purposes. Being a female, it was tough to enter a house to conduct a household questionnaire survey due to the strict culture. For security reasons in Peshawar, most households fear welcoming an unknown person into their houses. About 8 to 10 questionnaires were conducted daily, which consumed more than 40 days to carry out the household questionnaire survey. Some questions were very distressing; they considered them very personal, which could be misfortunate for them regarding safety concerns, as they heard of some mishaps in the nearby areas.

1.6. Future Research Directions

By the current study, the efficiency of the governmental departments can be taken into the spotlight to avoid such speedy encroachments through proper implementations. Awareness through the study about the impacts of land transformation is visualized. It will draw the attention of key stakeholders to regional development in general and local development, in particular, to mitigate or at least minimize these problems, which are putting adverse effects on the social and physical environment through these encroachments. It could also be helpful to researchers, students, and persons to identify other research questions and recommendations for future research studies in this particular field. The research will also present and summarize a relatively large amount of literature on the subject. This study will also be a practical implementation of the knowledge researchers gained through their academic studies at the university.

2. Material and Methods

The objective of land conversion was to find it with the help of GIS maps, which were developed for the years 2007, 2012, and 2019. The total built-up area of District Peshawar was brought into the light and compared with the built-up through the previous years. Quantification of the land in sq. km was performed. Through maps, clearer pictures of land conversion along with the increasing percentages of the built-up area were achieved. ArcView and ArcGIS 10.5 (Geographical Information System) were used to develop maps for showing spatio-temporal changes in connection with urbanization. The accuracy assessment was considered essential to check the quality of the output product. In the current study, the land-use maps were validated by using a stratified random sampling method and ground truth reference data. After overlaying ground truth reference points on the land-use land-cover map, the accuracy value was extracted. The overall accuracy value was greater than 70%, which is considered reliable and acceptable. In addition, data of land over years in sq. km were analyzed and compared with the population along with the regression model (Town I to Town IV) for insight study.
Population data from the statistics bureau and a questionnaire survey to investigate the on-ground reality of the current land and its utilization were incorporated. One-way ANOVA was also blended for better understanding. Least Significant Difference (LSD) if F-test > F-crit, and ANOVA indicated a significant difference in the means of comparing two or more samples. The LSD method was applied to evaluate which samples had statistically different means.
LSD = t MSW ( 1   N 1 + 1 N 2 )
For t, N – I degree of freedom is used. Ng = No. of replicates in each sample or group. LSD is the smallest significant difference that is considered statistically significant at a particular level of confidence. As far as sampling is concerned, a purposive sampling technique was applied in the selection of the sampling localities.

3. Results and Discussions

3.1. Temporal Dynamics in the Land-Use Pattern of Peshawar

Before the British settlements (1858) in the subcontinent, Peshawar city was surrounded by a wall with the famous fort Bala Hisar. The colony rulers of the British did not alter the original city. Only the expansion of some roads was undertaken. The walled city had sixteen gates. During British rule, the Military Cantonment 1866 was established. With the formation of the cantonment, the considerable extension/growth of the city took place, and the urban part crossed its boundaries from the confined walled city toward the open area of the district. The starting of Islamia College in 1913 led to the establishment of Peshawar University and attracted the city’s expansion towards the west. This is how the encroachment started. With time, city expansion was also undertaken in different directions [13]. The urban encroachment of District Peshawar is explained as follows:
Urban encroachment (from 1947 to 1981): After the creation of Pakistan in 1947, Peshawar was declared the capital city of North West Frontier Province (now Khyber Pakhtunkhwa). The city became administratively and financially more developed, along with the expansion of the urban area. The constructed areas increased from more than 2000 hectares at the time of independence and almost doubled by 1981 [14].
Urban encroachment (from 1981 to 2019): The timeline from 1981 to 2019 shows the major physical expansion of Peshawar District; according to the Planning and development department of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, it altered from 4365 hectares to 17,330.49 hectares. This period differs from the previous one because of the well-known episode of the Afghan Refugee influx to Pakistan, primarily to Peshawar District. Besides settling refugees in the central city, they also dispersed into the city peripheries.
According to the statistics bureau, in 1981, the population was more than 11 million. However, this was doubled in the censuses of 1998 and 2017. The contributory factors were the militancy in FATA (Federally Administered Tribal Areas) since 2001, along with the Malakand militancy in 2009, and the natural disasters such as the River Kabul flood in 2010 that affected many people and pushed these IDPs (Internally Displaced Persons) toward the capital District Peshawar for shelter and other facilities. Secondly, constructing the ring road in Peshawar boosted the urban encroachment considerably. The ring road started in 2010 and is about 43 km long. Mostly the physical expansion was undertaken alongside the road; this also affected the traffic and congestion problems. In addition, new towns with health facilities and educational institutions were built, attracting more and more population to the available facilities. Apart from Afghan refugees, local migration also occurred from the other districts in the province and the country.
Mostly, the agricultural land was converted into built-up areas to accommodate the population, and the land prices become so high that the land owners tended to sell them for a handsome amount, as shown in an earlier analysis [15]. In this research, land-use cover change detection was performed from 1991 to 2006 using the GIS maps of Pathankot and Dhar Kalan Tehsil at three points 1991, 2002, and 2006. The comparison was made between the built-up and forest areas. Likewise, the land-use changes in Mardan city were detected [16] and found fast growth from 1990 to 2010. GIS was used as a tool to find the urban pattern. A ribbon and haphazard expansion, along with the loss of agricultural area, was noticed. Similarly, in District Peshawar, the land was converted from agriculture to built-up with the population increase over the years. As shown in Figure 2 and Figure 3, encroachment in District Peshawar was found by investigating the built-up areas in 2007, 2012, and 2019.
In 2007, the total built-up area was 132.2981 sq. km, which was only 10.5 percent of the total area of Peshawar district. As shown in Table 1, land encroachment can be seen increasingly till 2019, which became 13.78 percent. Many settlements were added to the old ones, which came be seen in Figure 4 and Figure 5. The outlying villages in the fringe area include Tehkal Bala, Tahkal Payan, Hazar Khwani, Nauthia, Landi Arbab Chughalpura, Sardar Garhi, Babu Garhi, Pahari Pura, Deh Bahadur, Malakander, and Pakha Ghulam, which are all merged with the urban center due to development. The old city has become congested. Comparatively new household residential areas such as Nishtar Abad, Gul Bahar Colony, Sheikh Abad, Zeryab Colony, Faqir Abad, Gulberg, Danish Abad, Shaheen Town, and Nauthia Jadeed, etc., have become huge and developed [17]. The reason for this addition of new localities was mostly the influx of people from other localities for availing of social amenities. Other major reasons behind migration in the sample area were access to education, the war against terrorism, job opportunities, and availing of health facilities. Their economic conditions were enhanced. Peshawar’s land conversion also depends on the influx of Afghan Refugees. The above-explained communities are mostly occupied by them living as permanent residents availing themselves of all the facilities such as other Pakistani citizens.
The urban population of District Peshawar through the years (as shown in Table 2) is analyzed by a regression model to estimate the relationship between the population increase and urban encroachment. The population of District Peshawar in 1981 was about 0.51 million, which became 1.39 million in 2007 and more than 2 million in 2019. This increase in population altered the built-up area through the same years in an increased manner as compared to the population growth.
The following shows a regression model of the urban encroached area and urban population from 1981 to 2019 in District Peshawar. The x-axis shows the urban population while the y-axis shows the urban encroached area of District Peshawar.
The Y-intercept is 6.1496 in Figure 6, while the slope (x) is 0.9691 here in the case of urban areas and populations. These both estimate an average rate of change. When the magnitude of the slope is greater, the steeper the line and the rate of change is more significant. When x is increased by one, y increases by five (response variable); the slope represents the urban population change with time and estimates it, while the y-intercept shows the area showing a change five times greater than the population increase. The urban area is the dependent variable (response variable) as its variation depends on the population encroachment.
One-way ANOVA is used to determine the statistical differences among the mean of the following three population groups through the years (population is taken as ‘one’ independent variable or factor, which is why one-way ANOVA is used). Populations for 1998, 2007, and 2017 were compared of the all studied towns, i.e. (Town I, II, III, and IV). The p-value, which is below 0.05, shows more variance. The least significant difference between the population of 1998 and 2007 is 0.18384. As 0.219 (which is the comparison of LSD and the absolute value of the mean differences) is greater than 0.18384 (LSD), the findings have statistical significance between the populations of 1998 and 2007. From 2007 to 2017, the absolute value of the mean difference is 0.342, which is greater than 0.18384, showing a statistical significance between the populations of 2007 and 2017. The results of one-way ANOVA, a single factor for the buildup, show that the p-value is more than 0.05, which shows the variation is not that significant within the three groups of the built-up area (over the years) of Peshawar. However, the variation between the groups (i.e., the built-up area of four towns) also shows the same result. The LSD value (64.103) of the built-up area between 1998 and 2007 is greater than the comparison value of LSD and the absolute value of mean differences. It shows no statistical significance between the area of 1998 and 2007. Likewise, the LSD value (64.103) of the built-up area from 2007 to 2017 is also greater than the absolute value of mean differences showing the same result. The land was investigated through a field survey for ground realities. In this survey, the size of the current fertile agricultural land, its utilization, selling purchasing, and land monitory values are discussed in the following discourse.

3.2. Land Information through Direct Investigation from the Land Owners

3.2.1. Size of Land Holdings in the Sample Localities

Urbanization leads to the continuous loss of productive land. The conversion can be for many purposes such as recreation, transport, housing, or other urban uses. The results of the sample area show explicit scenarios of land holdings, i.e., the rural areas still show some more vast patches compared to the crowded and populated places. The land holdings in the study area talk about the current land status with the land encroachments. All four investigated towns of the district show the currently available agriculture area, which has yet not been converted; the land holdings also show the land status, whether the localities still have agricultural land or are encroached completely by the incoming population sprawl. Small pieces of agriculture show the conversion of lands to being built-up with decreasing land pieces or land fragmentation due to encroachment.
In Town I (e.g., the locality of SMT-I), there are still some green patches, i.e., 5 to 15 kanals of agricultural land are still available, compared to this locality (SMT-II locality) of the same town, which has significantly fewer pieces of land left, as shown in Table 3 in which one or one and a half kanal patches of land exist. In contrast, the rest of the locality is encroached upon by concrete buildings. The people here are of mixed culture and came from different parts of the country’s districts besides the urban–rural migrants from the same district and Afghan refugees from Afghanistan. The localities of Town II are located on the big roads, including Pandho Road and Ring Road. The converted lands are used for multiple purposes. Town II presents a rural type of nature, but still, some areas such as Pakha Ghulam are more encroached as compared to the Larama locality of Town II. The latter community presents large pieces of agricultural land compared to Pakha Ghulam’s locality. Both the localities are touched by the big roads enhancing their value. These localities are also a mixture of ethnicities. The indigenous people are a smaller percentage in these two localities. They are mainly in the rural areas (in village councils of Town II) where migration or mixed ethnicities are not such a big percentage. Big patches of agricultural land are still there, as shown in Table 3, but these patches are adjacent to the active built-up areas, which makes them more prone to urban encroachment. Town III has a share of small sections of barren and agricultural land (mixed land) shown in Table 3, as compared to the other two towns. Town III is more exposed to the urban expansion process. The locality of Shaheen Town in Town III is mainly filled with encroached cover; only small pieces of agricultural land can be seen, but in a smaller proportion. The other part of the same Town III is Hayatabad, which is a housing society built in the late 1970s. The people here are from different ethnicities and cultures, including Afghan refugees as well as the local urban–rural migrants and migrants from other districts. In Town IV, the Mera Kachori community still has some agriculture, but it is speedily being encroached upon due to the shifting of the internal city people, urban–rural migration, and other types of migration. The land values along the roadsides are higher while the range decreases towards the southern part. From 10 to 40 kanals of land are still owned by local people while in the area of Hazar Khwani (Town IV), the land encroachment is more due to the location of the community, i.e., its closeness to the ring road and main GT road.
The values of land matter a lot in land conversion; in addition, migration also plays an important role and speeds up the encroachments. The prime agricultural land has been converted into concrete buildings over the last few years. It is expected that after 20 to 25 years, the remaining fertile area will be consumed by unchecked concrete encroachments [19]. The unchecked land transfer needs to be addressed, especially in urbanized areas. Segmented agricultural land is a direct or indirect result of urban sprawl. The land patches are the outcomes of multiple drivers in these towns of urbanization [20].

3.2.2. Land Sold by the Land Owner

In Town I, about three-quarters of the interviewed landholders affirmed that they have sold land from time to time. In Town II, about 62.5 percent admitted selling; in Town III, more than three-quarters gave the same response, while in Town IV, all the land property owners responded positively. By assessing all four towns, more than 70 percent of the focused land owners confirmed that they have been selling land. It is concluded that in more than three-quarters of each sample town, land has been sold by the land owners (Figure 7). Among the not sold category, the figure was about one-quarter. The reason was because of the influx in population from different sites of the city and other districts of the province, which enhanced the price of the land and encouraged the local people/land owners to sell their lands for handsome returns. In addition, some local investors have bought these lands to establish commercial areas for profit making [21]. In the regions where vast agricultural areas are still available, such as Town II and IV, the selling trend is greater, while the areas near Ring Road in Town I have also shown this selling scenario. The increased population added by the Afghan refugees created opportunities for the residents and land owners to establish businesses for more benefits and profits.

3.2.3. Reason for Selling the Land

In the study findings of this section, as shown in Figure 8, different reasons have been recorded for selling land. The respondents said they wanted to establish their businesses, which is why they invested the money; the rest mentioned various reasons, such as children’s marriages, house construction, health care, payments of debts, and children’s education. The reason for land selling given by the landowners of Town I was to fulfill their basic needs. The sample area is a slum where fulfilling basic needs is challenging. So, the patches that were sold by the land owners were sold for their basic needs due to their lower economic status. The other three Towns affirmed that for the establishment of businesses, they wanted to sell their lands.
The urbanization and agricultural land selling nexus can be seen in the case of District Peshawar. This district presents a vast population and growing needs economically. A similar study attempted to record the population growth through the years with a comparison of 25 districts in the Hyderabad District [22]. The ratio of land selling was about 90 percent, and the respondents gave different reasons for selling their agricultural lands. The most prominent reasons were economic, social, and financial. The respondents were also told the consequences of selling their lands. As a whole, the conversion of agricultural land creates food deficiencies and damages the ecosystem in both cases.

3.2.4. Type of Land Purchasers

Two kinds of answers were noticed when they were asked about the type of land purchaser. About 64.5 percent of the landholders mentioned that they sold their lands to the local migrants as a whole, i.e. (from other districts of Pakistan), while the remaining respondents declared that they sold the land to the local people. The agricultural land was mainly sold to local migrants rather than to the residents of the localities (Figure 9). Only Town I showed the inverse situation where mainly the local buyers (the people of the city) purchased the areas near Ring Road and Pandho Road to convert them into built-up areas for commercial establishments, housing societies, or other uses. The unchecked farm rules and poor legislation have put a vast area of agriculture at risk. Timely prevention of agricultural land from such stresses is crucial to protect the environment. A similar study shows that the multicultural environments of cities in developing countries have created similar havoc, and having no tax incentives and no agriculture districting, purchasing, and transferring of rights has led to such losses [23]. The local people or residents are deprived or unaware of smart agricultural resource utilization, along with the non-availability of governmental support in terms of agricultural inputs and the facilitation of outputs or markets. The altered areas can be seen on the fringes of Peshawar city in a clear way where agricultural land is still a good percentage.

3.3. Temporal Conversion of Agricultural Land to Built-Up Area in District Peshawar

The need for residential areas is the substantial consumer of agricultural land. Because of this, vast agricultural land is turning into unplanned towns and commercial uses. These agricultural lands were cultivated before with crops for local utilization; now, they are dependent on the other provinces to import food. So, unsustainable urbanization has, in turn, a direct effect on the environment in the form of global warming, and if the ratio of this conversion continues, there will be no land for agriculture, and soon afterward, we will face many related problems such as food security, pollution, and floods, etc. In District Peshawar, about 88% of the residential part has overlapped with the agricultural land. The Agricultural Department Crop statistics for KP have been working on the land statistics in this respect. About 320 hectares of agricultural land were swollen up by commercial developments [24]. The hotspot of this conversion is along the sides of the ring road, which is more than half of the overall expansion. The industrial encroachment enhanced slowly as compared to the residential and commercial increase, by 427 hectares, which increased by 598 hectares, and took over agricultural land [25]. Inside the city, the small patches of agricultural area are continuously disappearing. The marble factories along the main Warsak Road take about 90 hectares of agricultural area. The roads in the North, i.e., Charsadda Road, Warsak Road, and Pajagi Road, are attractive places for land conversion. The western side of Kohat Road is not as fertile as other parts of the city. The southern part with the main GT road and Ring Road is a hot spot for future encroachments. In the case of District Peshawar, the agricultural area reduction is strongly related to the encroachment of the built-up area. The pressure of construction of built-up areas for residential and commercial purposes leads to agricultural land reduction. It adversely affects the fertile land, which causes fluctuations in food production, which is already in a bad state. In District Peshawar, many reasons speed up the land conversion, among which policy and planning, market values, population, etc., are prominent.

3.3.1. Unsustainable Policy and Planning

Governmental policies play a vital role in land-use change, including in urban and rural agricultural areas, as both are essential assets to be conserved through sustainable planning. We can see that the urban boundaries of Peshawar are encroaching over their limits, and the nearby rural areas are merging with cities in a speedy manner. The reason is the lack of practical zoning plans; although, a structure plan was designed in 1965. (A structure plan in urban development plays an important role; it is a framework to define or map out the development of an area by defining land-use patterns, areas of open spaces, infrastructure, and other basic features that influence urban development.) This structure plan was unfortunately not approved for implementation. Then, in 1986, the same effort was made again by formulating another detailed structure plan, but again with the same disappointing result. In 1978, the PDA (Peshawar Developmental Authority) was formed under the NWFP Urban Planning Ordinance 1978 [26]. The PDA was authorized to make developmental plans to preserve and oversee the open spaces, slum formation, and damaged areas, by the Local Government Act, 1979. Privileged authority was trespassed by another authority, i.e., Municipality, which was given the same mandates; as a result, conflicts in both the authorities started. The PDA formed a structure plan from 1986 to 2001 for the city’s development in which the agricultural land regulations had been explained but could not be implemented by the said hurdles and clashes. At a third attempt, another structure plan was formulated for the period 2001 to 2020, but as usual, the same failure was observed again due to a lack of legal and institutional structure and inadequate potential of the PDA, which failed to stop the haphazard development over the fertile agriculture land of Peshawar.

3.3.2. Monetary Land Values

The location of the land has always defined land encroachments. It is the location that decides the land values. They usually have high prices when land is along transportation routes or other active areas. In the city of Peshawar, commercial activities are at a high point, due to which it demands such attractive and feasible lands, which raises the land prices. This price attraction has encouraged the local land owners to sell their lands for a handsome return. In Peshawar, in 2020-2021, the land prices observed through the survey present the following ranges.
Peshawar’s current land values are higher than those of the last 10 to 12 years (Table 4). The construction of Ring Road attracted more buyers to these areas. The boundaries of the urban center are continuously encroaching upon the rural part of the district. Urban–rural migration, Afghan Refugee migration, and IDPs are more attracted to the city core. The urbanized part of District Peshawar is mostly stretched in the middle of the city, having the same outlook regarding land encroachment over the fertile agricultural land. The land values are nearer the commercial areas or the areas near the roads as compared to the peripheries. The urbanized parts of District Peshawar have more value near the roads, e.g., Dalazak Road, Phando Road, the GT road, Pajagi Road, University Road, etc. [14]. One of the main reasons for the agricultural land encroachment in District Peshawar is the low land values 10 to 12 years ago. When people were attracted to these vast areas with fewer prices, the incomers invested in land and altered it for residential or commercial uses. The population increase is the main reason for the rapid engulfing of the agricultural land. Despite the high price hikes, the present land values attract big investors for businesses in this urban center of a large population where various kinds of businesses can be established for greater profit.

3.3.3. Land use of district Peshawar

Table 5 below shows the changes in the land use of the sample district from the year 2007 to 2019. Again, a decrease in the agriculture area can be seen, which is about 2.48 percent in the twelve years of the presented data. On the other hand, the built-up area shows an increase of about 3.3 percent. An increase in built-up area and population can be seen through these years, as shown in Table 2. The other land uses also show an increase and a decrease in their percentages.

4. Conclusions

Agricultural land has been encroaching in a continuous rhythm. Peshawar is the province’s largest urban center, which is why it is experiencing rapid urban sprawl along with a significant impact on agricultural land. With the population increase and economic activities, the demand for the built-up area in the form of housing, transportation, and other commercial and industrial needs is increasing. The concrete area is expanding outwards from the main city center and encroaching on the active fertile agricultural land. The built-up area of District Peshawar was only 2000 hectares (20 sq. km) at the time of independence and doubled in 1981 to about 46.35 sq. km. The encroachment increased by 71.82 sq. km in the year 1991. The population of the sample district at the time of the first census (1951) was only 390,687, of which the urban share was 109,510. In the sixth and last census (2017), the population became 4,269,079 with an urban share of 1,970,042 people.
In 2007, the total built-up area was 132.2981 and many rural localities merged with the urban center due to development, e.g., Tehkal Bala, Tahkal Payan, Hazar Khwani, Nauthia, Landi Arbab Chughalpura, Sardar Garhi, Babu Garhi, Pahari Pura, Deh Bahadur, Malakander, and Pakha Ghulam. The comparatively new household residential areas, such as Nishtar Abad, Gulbahar Colony, Sheikh Abad, Zeryab Colony, Faqir Abad, Gulberg, Danish Abad, Shaheen Town, Nauthia Jadeed, etc., have become more vast and developed. In 2012, the built-up area became larger and reached 136.3469 sq. km of the total area, which is 1257 sq. km. In 2019, the figure reached 173.3049 sq. km, which is about 13 percent of the total area of the city. This thirteen percent started from only three and a half percent in 1981.
The growth pattern in Peshawar started inside the walled city (old city) as a cluster, and then it encroached beyond its boundaries. The other clusters were the cantonment and University Town. So, initially, the population was scarce, and the pattern was in a somewhat cluster form. After 1960, the patterns changed their manner and were converted to ribbon-like, and the sudden change took place in a leapfrog style. The reason was the cheaper land availability. The city started encroachment along the major roads such as Grand Truck Road, Kohat and Bara Road, Pajagi Road, Warsak Road, Dalazak Road, and Phandu Road. The most considerable encroachment can be seen with the construction of Ring Road, where most of the prime agricultural areas have been converted into built-up areas due to unsustainable development and mismanagement. The increase in population altered the agricultural land to built-up and merged many villages to be a part of urban centers.
The Study area, namely, Town II (e.g., Larama/Pakha Ghulam) and Town IV (e.g., Mera Kachori/Hazar Khwani), is an illustration of such merging. The merging attack of urbanization can be stopped or slowed down with sustainable management. In all four towns, about 6 to 10 kanals of patches were held by fourteen owners, followed by 1 to 5 kanals strips, which nine land owners kept. The rest of the pieces were held in lower percentages. Most of the land was inherited by the land owners who were surveyed, while the land in the new townships was only purchased, such as in Town III (e.g., Hayatabad), while in Town I, the ring road development increased the land values, so the landowners of that site mostly purchased the land for their future benefit. The analysis concludes that the land has become fragmented mostly due to population increases and inheritance, which reduces the agricultural land by further divisions. It is concludes that in more than three-quarters of each sample town, the land was sold by the land owners. Among the not-sold category, the figure was about one-quarter. The reason was the influx in population from different sites of the city and other districts of the province, which enhanced the price of land and encouraged the local people/land owners to sell their lands for handsome returns.
Along with this, some local investors bought these lands to establish commercial areas for profit making. In the regions where vast agricultural areas are still available, such as Town II and IV, the selling trend was more, while the areas near Ring Road in Town I have also shown this selling scenario. In addition, the increased population added by the Afghan refugees created opportunities for the residents and land owners to establish a business for more benefits.
The reason for land selling given by the landowners of Town I was to fulfill their basic needs. The sample area is a slum where fulfilling basic needs is challenging. So, the patches that the land owners hold are sold for their small needs due to their lower economic status. The other three towns affirmed that for the establishment of businesses, they wanted to sell their lands. The agricultural land was mainly sold to the local migrants rather than to the residents of the localities. Only Town I showed the inverse situation where mainly the local buyers (the people of the city) purchased the areas near Ring Road and Pandho Road to convert them into built-up areas for commercial establishments, housing societies, or other uses. The land owners owned was primarily utilized for commercial purposes in Town I, while the other areas have a mix of utilization purposes, including agricultural, commercial, and residential.
There are three reasons for urbanization in KP. Firstly, urban-based developmental strategies are the pull factors for most of the rural population by which they sought migration to urban areas for basic facilities and better living standards. In addition, the migration of Afghan refugees added more to the urbanization. Secondly, internal migration due to terrorism and unrest in the localities pushes people to migrate to safer areas. Thirdly, the high fertility rate is increasing at a faster rate. Urban land encroachments result from poor governance, selfish interests, and the careless attitude of citizens. The existing built-up area of Peshawar is 173.3049 sq. km, which is expected to be 335 sq. km by the year 2039, which will demand more proper planning to accommodate the urban sprawl in a manageable way.

5. Recommendations

In light of the discussed conclusions, the following recommendations are suggested.
Sustainable policies related to urbanization must be formulated to maintain economic development and avoid damage to the ecosystem. The Regularity Authority needs to be formed to monitor official activities related to urbanization. In addition, policies for land transformation from agriculture to built-up covering have to be formed.
Biasness in the urban areas regarding policies, planning, and funds must be kept away. The decentralization of facilities in rural areas needs to be incorporated. In addition, subsidies and incentives for agricultural products need to be given with better transport and market opportunities for farmers. It is essential that physical development be vertical to minimize the use of agricultural land to avoid food shortages. Regulations for residential, educational, trade, industrial, and recreational zones should be implemented. The full attention of governmental and non-governmental agencies to the existing pathetic conditions of the city is vital to mitigate their effect on development. Health and education facilities should be revised in the villages and small towns to minimize migration toward urban centers. The dire need for employment should be tackled through effective planning to reduce the unemployment ratio in the rural areas and the areas from where the migration arises to the city of Peshawar. People registration in rural and urban areas should be included to check rural–urban migration.
The repatriation of Afghan refugees should be obligatory and be workable and systematic, which can positively affect the urbanization and economy of Pakistan. However, if Afghanistan’s conditions are not suitable for repatriation, then the aid-giving, donor agencies, and more prosperous countries of the world should help the Pakistani government cope with the situation.

Author Contributions

This research article has one author F.R. with the supervision of A.K. All authors have read and agreed to the published version of the manuscript.


The author received no financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article.

Institutional Review Board Statement

The study was conducted in accordance with the Declaration of Helsinki, and approved by the Institutional Review Board of Directorate of Advance Studies & Research Board The University of Haripur (UOH/DASR/2022/104 and 24 August 2022).

Informed Consent Statement

The data from the respondents was collected door to door with their consent but not in written form, verbal consent was taken at the time of interview.

Data Availability Statement

Some data have been collected from concerned departments through internet while some data is directly taken from them through personal visits to relevant departments.

Conflicts of Interest

The author and supervisor declare that we do not have any commercial or associative interest that represents a conflict of interest in connection with the work submitted.


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Figure 1. Location of the study area with reference to Pakistan.
Figure 1. Location of the study area with reference to Pakistan.
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Figure 2. Built-up area of Peshawar in 2007.
Figure 2. Built-up area of Peshawar in 2007.
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Figure 3. Built-up area of Peshawar in 2012.
Figure 3. Built-up area of Peshawar in 2012.
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Figure 4. Built-up area of Peshawar in 2019.
Figure 4. Built-up area of Peshawar in 2019.
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Figure 5. Comparison of Built-up areas in Peshawar.
Figure 5. Comparison of Built-up areas in Peshawar.
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Figure 6. Regression Model of Urban Encroached area and Population.
Figure 6. Regression Model of Urban Encroached area and Population.
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Figure 7. Size of land sold by the land owner.
Figure 7. Size of land sold by the land owner.
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Figure 8. Reasons for selling land.
Figure 8. Reasons for selling land.
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Figure 9. Type of land purchasers.
Figure 9. Type of land purchasers.
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Table 1. Showing Built-up areas of District Peshawar.
Table 1. Showing Built-up areas of District Peshawar.
YearArea in Sq. kmPercentage
Total area: 1257
Table 2. Urban Encroached Area with Population.
Table 2. Urban Encroached Area with Population.
YearUrban Population in MillionsUrban Area in Percent
Source: Pakistan Bureau of Statistics [18].
Table 3. Size of land holdings.
Table 3. Size of land holdings.
Size of Land in KanalsResponses from the Land Owners in Each Town (in Percent)
Town ITown IITown IIITown IV
1 to 512.5252525
6 to 107531.32516.7
11 to 1512.56.3016.7
16 to 200000
21 to 2506.3016.7
26 to 3006.3016.7
31 to 350000
36 to 4006.308.2
Table 4. Land values per Marla in rupees (million). (Sample localities of all four towns of district Peshawar).
Table 4. Land values per Marla in rupees (million). (Sample localities of all four towns of district Peshawar).
LocalitiesLand Value (2009–2010)Land Value (2020–2021)
SMT-I0.05 to 0.150.8 to 2.5
SMT-II0.4 to 0.81.5 to 2.5
Pakha Ghulam0.007 to 0.160.25 to 2.0
Larama0.005 to 0.150.2 to 2.8
Hayatabad0.8 to 1.21.6 to 4.0
Shaheen Town0.8 to 1.52.0 to 5.0
Mera Kachori0.02 to 0.050.3 to 0.7
Hazar Khwani0.03 to 0.050.5 to 1.3
Source: GoKP land Revenue Record, 2009–2010 to 2020–2021 [27]. Marla is a traditional unit that is usually used in India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh, it is equal to 272.25 sq. feet, 30.25 sq. yards, or 25.2929 sq. meters.
Table 5. Land use of district Peshawar (2007 to 2019).
Table 5. Land use of district Peshawar (2007 to 2019).
Land Cover20072019
Shrubs and Bushes6820.545680.4
Agricultural land97,09977.2493,39974.4
Barren land79366.3174035.9
Fruit orchards2720.22410.2
Water bodies45273.6045123.6
Others (graveyards, Parks, etc.)7140.568230.6
Source: Forestry Department Peshawar, KP [28].
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Rehman, F.; Khan, A. Environmental Impacts of Urbanization Encroachment in the Lowlands of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan. Sustainability 2022, 14, 11959.

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Rehman F, Khan A. Environmental Impacts of Urbanization Encroachment in the Lowlands of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan. Sustainability. 2022; 14(19):11959.

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Rehman, Fazeelat, and Abdullah Khan. 2022. "Environmental Impacts of Urbanization Encroachment in the Lowlands of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan" Sustainability 14, no. 19: 11959.

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