Lessons Learnt: Increasing Coverage and Quality of Sanitation Provision

Orangi Pilot Project’s (OPP) Work in Orangi

The OPP began work in Orangi in 1980. It observed that people invested large sums in building soak-pits and bucket latrines for sanitation purposes. They invariably desired the development of an underground sewage system for their lanes and neighbourhoods. However, they were reluctant to invest in this for four reasons. One, they felt that this was the function of the state and it should be done for them free of cost. The OPP termed this as the phycological barrier. This barrier was removed through dialogue and by explaining to them that the state was in no position to provide them these facilities free of charge. Two, an underground sewage system has to be a cooperative effort. Only organised communities can undertake it. Orangi communities were not organised. This was termed by the OPP as the social barrier. It was overcome by motivating communities to organise at the lane level, collect money and manage the construction of the sewage system. Three, the cost of development of a conventionally built underground sewage system was too high for people for afford. This was termed by the OPP as the economic barrier. This was overcome by carrying out research into sanitation technology, simplifying it and by getting people to build the system themselves thus removing contractor’s profiteering and kickbacks to government officials. And four, people did not have the technical know-how to design and build a sewage system. This was termed by the OPP as the technical barrier. It was overcome by the OPP team providing designs, maps, estimates and tools to the community for; construction purposes, supervising construction and training masons in the community to build lane and collector sewers.

Results in Orangi

In Orangi, 88,211 houses in 5,856 lanes have built their latrines, lane sewers and over 400 collector sewers. They have invested 74.3 million rupees (US$ 1.5 million) in this work. The state would have invested at least 700 million rupees in this work. Since people have invested in this work they also maintain it.

All these sewers use the natural nalas in Orangi as their disposal.

OPP’S Concept

As a result of its work in Orangi, the OPP has developed a concept for the development of a sanitation system in which communities and people are partners. In this concept, communities finance and build the latrine in the house, the lane sewer and the collector sewer. These three components are termed as internal development by the OPP and experience from all over Pakistan shows that communities can finance and manage this development incrementally provided technical support and managerial guidance is provided to them. Long collector sewers, trunks and treatment plants, however, cannot be built by the communities and have to be built by the government agencies. This government input is termed as external development by the OPP. In the experience of the OPP, the cost ratio of internal-external development is 3:1. Thus, the government by adopting this concept could use its limited funds for a far larger coverage and save itself subsequent maintenance costs as well.

Expansion of OPP’S Work

Since 1987, the OPP has worked with communities on the basis of its internal-external concept in over 45 settlements outside Orangi in Karachi and in 7 other cities and with government and international agencies which include, the Sindh Katchi Abadi Authority (SKAA), Karachi Municipal Corporation (KMC), Karachi Water & Sewerage Board (KWSB), Sukkur Municipal Corporation (SMC), Hyderabad Municipal Corporation (HMC), the World Bank, UNICEF and the Swiss Development Corporation (SDC). In addition, it has documented existing infrastructure developed by communities and the KMC in 136 katchi abadis in Karachi. It has also participated in discussions on policy issues (often initiated by it) with government and international agencies.

OPP’S Observations

Based on the above work and association with planning agencies, the OPP has the following observations to make on urban sanitation related issues in Pakistan.

  • In the cities where the OPP has worked, a British laid system of shallow and medium depth sewers exists. These originally terminated at treatment plants which have long since ceased to function properly and are inadequate for the cities. These old systems can be maintained by scavengers since they are not very deep and are easily accessible.
  • Self-cleansing-deep-sewer systems were built in all these cities in the Ayub era. These sewers were also taken to new treatment plants (sometimes to old ones). However, almost all these sewers have collapsed since they could not be maintained because of their depth. Scavengers were not willing to risk their lives by entering to clean them. As a result, most of the areas that were served by these sewers now discharge their sewage into natural nalas or cesspools (johrs). As such the sewage no longer reaches the treatment plants and so they do not function at all, or function at considerably reduced levels.
  • After the late 60s, there has been a phenomenal growth of both formal and informal settlements in Pakistan’s urban areas. The settlements developed during this period now house over 65 per cent of the total urban population of Pakistan. Their sewage systems, even when planned, discharge into natural nalas or cesspools and do not link up to any treatment plants. Wherever natural disposal points were available in these settlements, communities and municipal councilors through their funds have connected to them by constructing open drains and sewers. Much of this work is substandard since technical advice was not available to the builders. Trillions of rupees have been invested in this work and it functions.
  • A survey of 136 katchi abadis in Karachi, which have a total of 79,426 houses in them, shows that out of 8,479 lanes, sewer lines exist in 6,922 or 81.6 per cent of the lanes. Of these, 49 per cent or 3,398 lanes have sewers financed by the people while 51 per cent or 3,524 lanes have sewers financed by the KMC. People’s investment in the work done by them has been 62.45 million rupees whereas the KMC’s investment has been 151 million rupees. As such the total investment in these settlements has been more than 213 million rupees. In addition, there has also been a World Bank financed component for sanitation in the katchi abadis under the jurisdiction of the KMC. However, statistics regarding the work done under this component is not available. All the sanitation systems described above dispose into natural nalas and it is these nalas, which are increasingly getting choked, that need attention. Pucci abadis also discharge into these nalas.

Problems with the Existing Systems

The systems described above which discharge into natural nalas and cesspools are faced with a number of problems which are listed below.

  • The nalas which take the sewage have not been cleaned for decades. They have silted up and have become disposal points for solid waste. As a result, in many cases, their levels have become higher than the sewage lines and so even a small amount of rainfall results in the flooding of the settlements that they serve. In addition, the nalas have been encroached upon and their widths have been considerably reduced. Empress Market, Karachi
  • The cesspools on the other hand, are increasingly being reclaimed for development purposes and can no longer be used as a disposal point for sewage. Consequently, previously functioning systems can no longer work and many settlements and neighbourhoods are being flooded, especially after water comes.
  • Many settlements have no disposal points and as such their residents and councilors cannot develop sanitations systems and are forced to drown in their sewage.

Government Proposals

Major government plans for the sector are invariably designed and funded by foreign sources. They disregard the functional systems built by communities and municipal councilors as they consider them to be substandard in engineering terms. They try to rehabilitate the deep sewer systems and increase the capacity of the treatment plants that they are linked to. In addition, they lay deep self cleansing trunks along the roads to the existing treatment plants. Pumping is required to take the affluent to the plants since the sewers are deep and the systems do not follow the natural gradients. This increases operational costs and poses problems as there are frequent power failures in all cities. The existing trunks do not relate to the functioning “substandard systems” and as a result trillions of rupees will be required to relay these systems so as to link them to the new trunk sewers. If the old functioning systems are not re-laid, then the sewage cannot reach the treatment plants. The situation described above holds goods for Karachi, Sukkur, Faisalabad and Hyderabad and may hold good for other cities as well.

The government’s proposals are extremely expensive to implement. Many times more finances are required to realign existing systems and make the new trunks and upgraded treatment plants operational. These costs have not even been estimated. The Karachi experience shows that required realignments to make the new systems operational will not take place and as such the implementation of the government proposals will not bring any short or long term relief.

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