Some Water and Sanitation Related Issues: Initial Thoughts

1. Observed and Documented Ground Realities

1.1       In the urban areas of Pakistan sewage schemes have been formally planned over the years to dispose into the natural drainage system. This reality is often ignored when trying to develop treatment plants and new sewage disposal systems. What needs to be done is to lay trunks along the natural drainage system or turn the nalas into box trunks in arid areas and place decentralised treatment plants where the nalas meet the water bodies. Most of Europe’s and Japan’s systems have developed through this process. This process lowers costs considerably and does not negate the existing systems built at a huge expense.

1.2       Systems in most urban areas (especially small towns) have collapsed and instead of repairing and upgrading the systems new systems are being laid at an enormous cost.

1.3       Water supply systems have major leakages. Removing these leakages should be a priority as opposed to the developing new water sources in the larger cities. In the rural areas the government schemes have consisted of soak pits in homes (seldom made) and open gravity flow drains on either side of the streets. These have not worked and have resulted in major health and environmental problem. It is possible to convert this infrastructure into shallow trunk sewers and small treatment facilities. Successful examples of this exist in the work of NGOs and CBOs.

1.4       Rural water supply schemes that have been most successful have consisted of upgrading traditional water sources. Also making a scheme around a neighbourhood rather than a cluster of villages has proved to be more sustainable and cost effective since communities are already organised at the neighbourhood level. Many examples of this also exist.

1.5       Over the years, water supply and sanitation schemes and projects have been developed by local government institutions; MPA, MNA and councillor’s funds; and NGOs and communities. There is no documentation of this enormous formal and informal infrastructure. In the absence of such documentation it is not possible to plan rationally and cost effectively. This documentation and mapping is necessary. Local governments very often do not have a capacity and capability of carrying out such mapping and in most cases it is not a priority with them. However, such mapping has been done by a number of NGO supported community projects.

1.6       Communities and CBOs are constantly engaged in investing in the development of water supply and sanitation. Much of this is of bad quality since they do not have access to technical assistance and managerial guidance. How such guidance can be provided and by whom is an important issue.

1.7       Union councils have been provided with considerable funds and in most areas sanitation is a priority with both rural and urban communities. Yet, union councils do not have a capacity to survey, map conditions or develop plans and estimates for water and sanitation schemes. A lot of public funds are wasted as a result. However, where communities are involved, better results are achieved. Examples of this exist in all four provinces.

1.8       In the solid waste management sector, there is a large informal and formal solid waste recycling industry. This industry plays an important economic role and recycles almost all of the recyclable waste. To make solid waste manage successful, this reality has to be taken into consideration.

2. Project Concepts and Costs

2.1       Documentation shows that projects funded by IFIs and bilateral agencies have a much higher per capita cost as compared to nationally funded projects. Reasons for this, need to be clearly identified and addressed.

2.2       NGO and community projects are much lower in costs than local government projects. Reasons for this also need to be identified. NGO-CBO methodologies should feed into the local government systems. Constraints to achieve this must be understood and addressed.

2.3       Most sanitation schemes and projects are not part of a larger sanitation plan for the city or the tehsil. As a result, they create larger environmental problems even if they solve problems at the micro level.

2.4       Most poverty alleviation programmes and the katchi abadi improvement schemes run into problems (also create problems) because they are developed in isolation from the larger reality of the urban area in which they are located.

2.5       In many countries, conventional engineering standards have been modified to relate to affordability and to be made compatible to the concept of community participation. The same has been done in a number of places in Pakistan. These changes should be formalised.

2.6       A clear definition of the complimentary roles of government agencies, the private sector (formal and informal) and communities need to be developed and applied with flexibility. Again, there are numerous examples of this in Pakistan.

3. Institutional Issues

3.1       There are both weaknesses and opportunities for the water and sanitation sector in the new local government setup in Pakistan. These need to be identified and articulated as a pre-requisite for reform and development.

3.2       The planners of water and sanitation projects and those responsible for their operation and maintenance (O&M) have major differences of approach to the sector. A reconciliation of these two very different considerations would be of benefit to both planning and O&M.

3.3       Examples from other Third World countries show that the interests of the poorer sections of the population are best served through the public sector or by the enforcement of a strict regulatory framework on the private sector.

4. Possible Directions for Consultants

4.1       IFI funded projects, their costs, conditionalities and process conceptualisation and of implementation should be identified and presented along with comparisons with government projects and community and NGO initiatives. This is important to identify where the problem areas are with regard to costs and sustainability.

4.2       The availability of existing infrastructure documentation at the provincial, district and tehsil level should be studied along with the level of capacity and capability for this exercise.

4.3       The major stakeholders in the sanitation and water supply sector should be identified, especially those who belong to civil society organisation and communities.

4.4       A list of major failures should be developed since one learns from failure much more than from success.

4.5       A list of “successful” projects should also be identified. Successful projects are those which are affordable to the community, that can recover costs and are sustainable. Unsuccessful projects are those that cannot be replicated due to high costs and are not sustainable.

4.6       The above points could be a part of the basis of provincial level consultations. Issues related to the definition of sanitation, potable water, etc, could emerge from these discussions rather than the imposition of textbook or international definitions.

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