OPP Six Questions


The concept, sociology, economics, technology and history, of the Low Cost Sanitation Programme of the Orangi Pilot Project (OPP) has already been explained at length in the case study of the Programme prepared for the HIC. This paper will therefore limit itself to answering a number of questions which have been raised by professionals, social workers and the public at large. However, before this can be done, a summary of the HIC Case Study is essential so that the participants acquire an understanding of the Programme.


The Orangi Pilot Project (OPP) was set up in 1980, as a result of an understanding between Akhtar Hameed Khan, a renowned Pakistani social scientist, who is now the Director of the Project, and Aga Hasan Abadi, the President of the Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI), which provides funds for the Project.

Orangi Township, situated on the Orangi table land, is a largest squatter colony in Karachi. About half of this township falls within the target area of the OPP. This project area consists of about 2000 acres, contains 3181 lanes and 43,424 housing units.

Except for a recently installed water supply system through stand posts, and the on—going Low Cost Sanitation Programme of the OPP, (begun in 1980) urban services in this area are non—existent. The most pressing need of the squatter colonies, or katchi abadis” as they are called, is some form of sanitation, particularly for the disposal of excreta and waste water.

There are two major problems in providing a sanitation system to the squatter colonies. One, the local authorities do not have the necessary finances for constructing a sewerage system. Where international finance is available the problem of repayment arises. Even if repayment were not a problem, international loans can only deal with a small part of an immense problem. This can be appreciated by the fact that there are over 362 squatter colonies in Karachi alone, housing over 4 million people. The costs of urban services as developed by the local authorities are five times the actual cost of labour and materials required for such development. Users in squatter colonies cannot afford to pay these charges in one go, as do their counterparts in Karachi’s more affluent areas. Furthermore, experience has shown that it is impossible to recover development expenditure from low-income users in installments. In addition, before the app’s programme began, the people of Orangi felt that the local bodies should develop their sewerage system free of cost. Thy were made to think by their local leadership, that the more affluent areas of the city did not pay for the installation of urban services.

Keeping the two above factors in view, the Low Cost Sanitation Programme of the OPP aimed from the very beginning at discovering alternative sources of finance for development. This could only come from within the community and had to be available before the development work was undertaken. An alternative method of implementation of development was also necessary. This method, if it was to succeed, had to be low cost and should not exceed the actual costs of materials and labour.

To achieve the above objectives it was necessary to study the sociology, technology and economics of the people’s solutions to the sanitation problems, and see if the OPP could build on them.

Before the OPP’s Low Cost Sanitation Programme started, the majority of the people of Orangi used bucket latrines which a scavenger (at Rs.15 per month) would empty out every fourth or fifth day, very often into the unpaved lane. The more affluent houses constructed soak-pits, which filled up after a few years and did not solve the waste water problem. Some people had also laid sewerage lines from their houses to the nearest natural creek or “nullah”. These lines were usually defective, and as there was no communal effort, one found many parallel lines in one lane. However, in spite of these shortcomings this system cleared the streets of both excreta and waste water. The people also had a preference for an underground system, and the OPP felt that if the right kind of technical support and tools could be provided, and if the lane residents could be organized and trained to use them, then an underground sewerage system financed and constructed by the people could be developed in Orangi.

The first step towards building up a sewerage system, therefore, was the creation of community organizations. The lane, which in Orangi consists of about 20 to 30 houses, was made the unit of organization. This was Jcause it was a small and thus cohesive unit, and there would be no Jylem of mistrust involved. in addition, the traditional Orangi leadership, which functioned at neighbourhood level, would not feel threatened if the programme was limited to one lane at a time; at that initial stage the OPP was not in a position to antagonise anybody. An underground sewerage system is a complex affair, and developing one lane at a time without a master plan was considered by planners to be an invitation to disaster. However, because of innovation and modifications to engineering practice, no disaster took place.

The methodology for developing lane organizations consisted of four stages. First, the OPP social organizers, who are paid employees of the OPP, would hold meetings in the lane and with the help of slides, models and pamphlets, explain the programme to the people along with its economic and health benefits. They would explain that the Karachi Development Authority (KDA), or the Karachi Municipal Corporation (KMC), do not lay sewerage lines free of cost, and their charges could not be afforded by the lane residents. The motivators would tell the people that if they formed an organization in which the whole lane participated, then the OPP would give them assistance. In the second stage, the organization was born and chose its lane managers who, on behalf of the lane, formally asked for assistance. In the third stage, the OPP technical staff surveyed the lane, established benchmarks, prepared plans and estimates (of both labour and materials) and handed over this data to the lane managers. Lastly, the lane managers collected the money from the people and called meetings to sort out any sociological problems involved in the work. The OPP staff supervised the process. At no time, however, does the OPP handle the money of the people.

As no central supervision and controlling agency was looking after the work being done, and as people in many cases worked themselves, the only way of guaranteeing the quality of work was by educating the people. However, people who are financing and managing the work themselves cannot be forced to listen to advice, and their confidence in the OPP could only develop over a “prolonged association”. As such, certain substandard work was done in the lanes by the people, and in mid-1982 there was a lull in the programme. As a result, an evaluation of the concept, design and implementation procedure of the project became necessary.

As a result of the evaluation, research was carried out to identify causes for substandard work and simplify standard engineering designs. The results of this research were taken to the people through a massive extension effort, and hundreds of meetings were held. As a result, the people learnt about mixing concrete and curing it, and about the proper manner of making inverts. This extension effort led to a great improvement in the standard of work, and more and more lanes applied for assistance.
As the lane was the unit of organization, initially only those lanes asked for assistance which were near a natural creek or “nullah”, or those which could drain into such “nullahs” easily. It was feared by the QPP advisors that the programme would end here, unless lanes away from the “nullahs” came together to construct secondary drains.

To promote the concept of secondary drains the OPP carried out a physical survey of Orangi. The unit of the survey was the circle of each elected ‘UC councillor. Architecture and engineering students carried out this survey. After 30 to 40 students had moved through Orangi, talking to the people and involving them in their work, Orangi became a changed place. People interacted with the students and the concept of development drains registered in their minds. In addition, the concept of development through community participation went back to the professional universities and colleges, and their involvement with Orangi is growing as a result.

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