Pakistan’s is one of the most urbanized of south Asian countries. Although a majority of its population is still rural, its cities are nonetheless burgeoning. Karachi is the largest city in Pakistan with some experts placing its population as high as 12 million.

One of the main problems in such large cities is the existence of slums and squatter camps. Because these dwellings are “unofficial,” springing up as people gather together, there tends to be very little in the way of government involvement.

While local governments are primarily responsible for the provision of basic services, their revenues have not kept up with population and economic growth. The government does not make an effort at maintaining sanitation infrastructure in these areas because of a lack of funds.

If such population centres get large enough, the government may install some sewage lines or maybe build a school or hospital, but the job of developing any kind of infrastructure typically falls at the feet of non-governmental organizations and the local population.

A lack of basic infrastructure, such as water supply, sewerage disposal and solid waste management are creating serious health and environmental problems in both rural and urban areas in Pakistan. In recent years, urban areas have been developing rapidly, but at least 40 % of the total urban population (38 million according to the 1998 census) live in “katchi abadis” (slum and low-income settlements) that also do not have basic infrastructure such as water supply.

With approximately one million inhabitants, Orangi is the largest squatter settlement in Karachi. The first squatters settled there in the early 1960s. Government agencies only constructed the main roads, the water supply network, electricity lines and a few schools and hospitals. Until 1980, most households used bucket latrines and soakpits for the disposal of human waste and open sewers for the disposal of wastewater, resulting in a high rate of water-borne diseases.

The Orangi Pilot Project in Karachi, is held up as one of the best examples of NGO-led development in an urban area. Known as one of the most successful NGO sanitation provision projects, this program has helped over one million people to improve sanitation since its inception in 1980.

The residents of Orangi were aware of the many problems they faced due to poor sanitation, but they could not solve them for several reasons:
” they believed that the provision of infrastructure is the responsibility of the government (the psychological barrier);
” they did not have the technical expertise to construct a sewerage system (the technological barrier);
” they were not organized to undertake collective action (the sociological barrier);
” they could not afford the costs of a conventional sewerage system (the economic barrier).

Dr. Akhtar Hameed Khan established the Orangi Pilot Project (OPP) in 1980 with the objective of improving living conditions in the area and to develop a model for replication in other areas.

The OPP started with a study of the problems in Orangi and identified four levels in a modern sanitation system: the sanitary toilets inside the house; the underground sewer lines with house connections and manholes in the house access lanes; the secondary collector drains; and the main drains and the treatment plant. OPP research found that house owners were willing and competent to assume the responsibility for the construction and maintenance of the first three levels that constitute about 90 per cent of the system. The main drains and the treatment plant were clearly the responsibility of the government.

Research also showed that a family owning a house on a 100 sq.yrd plot with an average value of US$800 could have a sanitary toilet on the plot connected to an underground sewer line in the lane at a cost of US$33.

To implement the plans for a low-cost sewerage system, the community of Orangi had to be organized. A viable community organization has to be small enough to encourage participation and large enough to undertake the relatively big task of building a sewerage system. The OPP chose the lane (gully), consisting of 20-40 houses as the basic unit of organization, since it is small enough to ensure participation and large enough to ensure economies of scale.

The involvement of the residents did not stop with the construction since regular maintenance is also very important. Because the lane residents made a contribution towards the construction of the system, they were also highly motivated to ensure its sustained operation through regular maintenance.

The rate of sanitation-related diseases has gone down giving residents, especially women, more time and energy for productive activities. Because less money has to be spent on medical treatment, more of the family income can be used for education, housing, nutrition etc.

The only downside to the Orangi Pilot Project is that while residents came through on their commitments, the government failed at its end: it never constructed the sewer mains and treatment plant to evacuate the sewage from the area.

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