Technology and Social Issues

As a result of the changes that have taken place, land is now the basic issue. My research since 1985 has focused on how land is acquired (formally and informally), developed, built upon, regularised and or re-acquired by the original owner through a process of evictions and demolitions. Almost all land for low income housing in Pakistan is acquired in two ways. One, through the development of katchi abadis on state land and two, through the informal subdivision of agricultural land. In both cases informal sector entrepreneurs and government officials (who help in the violations of government rules and regulations) collaborate with each other. In the case of informal subdivision of agricultural land, security of tenure is guaranteed. In the case of katchi abadis, it may be acquired through regularisation. If these two systems did not exist, Pakistan’s poor would be living on the streets and the social costs of this would be horrifying. However, in both cases no infrastructure is provided to the settlements and as such water and sewage become important issues. They are an integral part of housing and need a solution as well – perhaps more so than a roof and walls and R&D process is also required for their solution.

At the OPP-RTI we have evolved a low cost sanitation programme and a low cost housing programme through an R&D process which I wish to share with you.

The Evolution of the OPP-RTI Sanitation Model


No sanitation in Orangi. Streets flooded with sewage.

Questions and Answers:

  • Why is there no sanitation?

Government cannot afford to give it.

  • Why not?

Its cost is seven times higher than cost of labour and materials involved. So government needs loans and this increases cost by over 300 per cent of government cost.

  • If the cost was of labour and material only, would it be affordable to government?

Yes, it would but the government cannot do it.

  • Can the people do it?

Yes, but at the neighbourhood level only and that too if their physiological, social, technical and economic barriers to doing this can be removed.

So programme objectives become:

  • Removal of the four barriers
  • Making technology compatible with the concept of a sanitation programme financed and managed by communities.

The Evolution of the OPP-RTI Low Cost Housing Programme


A study was carried out on the existing sociology, economics and technology of housing in Orangi.

What did we find?

  • The most important role in the housing process is played by the thalla whose owner is the architect, engineer, part contractor and housing bank for the Orangi residents.
  • Building related artisanal skills are poor and as a result houses are badly built and badly detailed.
  • Houses are built incrementally but this incremental building is not foreseen resulting in inconvenience and major financial losses to poor families.
  • Due to a lack of understanding between the various actors, bad relationships developed between thalla, skilled artisans and house owner. As a result, disputes are common due to which houses often remain incomplete, or are badly built or both. The victim is the owner.

The programme has therefore focused on:

  • Upgrading the thalla with new products and credit.
  • Training masons in the use of new technologies.
  • Educating house builders in establishing an equitable relationship with the thalla and skilled workers.
  • Developing design parameters for incremental housing and extending them.
  • Training para-architects for advice to communities which in turn controls the quality of products at the thallas.

In conclusion it must be understood that in our context appropriate technology has to relate to the ongoing housing process. For this the existing process and its actors need to be sympathetically understood, their good practices supported and their bad practices regulated through supporting a change in relationships. It must also be understood that the process related R&D concept which makes technology subservient to social issues, will have to begin at the professional universities and colleges.

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