Development Ethics

AKHTAR Hameed Khan, the celebrated South Asian social scientist, died 20 years ago in October 1999 in America. He was buried in the compound of Karachi’s Orangi Pilot Project Research and Training Institute — in the shadow of the Orangi hills — where he had worked for over 19 years in developing community-financed and managed models of sanitation, housing, health, and education.

Akhtar Hameed Khan’s development-related thinking has not only shaped the projects he developed and those that sought his advice but also those whose initiators have never met him. His thinking has been transferred to the new generation by the students of his students and it is necessary to remind the new generation of his thinking regarding development work.

Akhtar Hameed Khan’s development- and sociology-related wisdom is for all times and situations because of its ethical foundations and the dialectic structure of thinking. Its application can yield different results in different situations but the ethical values and the emphasis on community empowerment that underscores it remain constant.

It is important to mention here that his illustrious colleague and first student, Shoaib Sultan Khan, has helped immortalise his work by setting up the Akhtar Hameed Khan Resource Centre in Islama¬bad. The centre contains all of Akhtar Hameed Khan’s written work, documentation of the projects and programmes he initiated and worked on, videos of his talks to programme workers, community gatherings and workshops and to academia the world over.

Akhtar Hameed Khan’s wisdom is for all times.

This collection of his work is a source of immense knowledge that has the potential to teach students and their teachers a whole range of subjects such as development, economics, history, and sociology. This volume of work should be compulsory reading for students and teachers, and government officials, especially for those who are immersed in Western-produced theoretical discourse which is far removed from the realities of the developing world.

The Orangi Pilot Project (OPP) was not only Akhtar Hameed Khan’s last work but also his only urban project. In Orangi, he developed different programmes that overcame the social, financial, and technical constraints governments face in the development and the upgrading of informal settlements. He set up the research and training institute with the hope that government officials would come here, acquire knowledge and implement these models throughout Pakistan, and on the basis of this, policies incorporating these models would be developed and implemented.

The models, especially of sanitation and microfinance have expanded all over Pakistan and a sanitation policy based on the Orangi model also became federal law in 2006. This policy has not been implemented by state organisations and remains a piece of paper. However, well before the policy was initiated formally, Tasneem Siddiqui implemented the principles of this policy when he was director general of the Sindh Katchi Abadi Authority. As a result, the authority became solvent for the first time and carried out major upgrading schemes. In this process, he was supported by Perween Rehman who was then director of the Research and Training Institute.

While working with him, I was able to discern a number of principles that he applied to the functioning of the OPP. He believed that projects should have a strong populist bias which meant that their priority should be the problems and potential of low-income communities. He believed the project should be supported by an informed public. So when the OPP was young, we went out of our way to create linkages with academic and media institutions. Over time, they became an integral part of our project and participated in all our activities.

For communities to develop their own infrastructure and housing, it was necessary to develop affordable models and their delivery systems. This was left to me. He also believed there should be strong links between the project and government institutions, especially those that formulated policy. So these links were created and promoted through lectures and workshops at institutions such as NIPA, Staff College, and presentations at the Planning Commission.

Being a part of an international debate on development was important to him. In the absence of such participation, he felt the OPP would die of narcissism. So there was continuous coming and going of academics and development experts from all over the world and the publication of books and working papers for important international journals on the Orangi experience.

Along with these principles, Akhtar Hameed Khan firmly believed in the transparency of accounts. He always said that the accounts explained the project better than any other evaluation. He was a great believer in the sanctity of minutes and of regular board meetings. It is these principles that have made the OPP whatever it is today.

Published in Dawn, October 27th, 2019

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