OPP Six Questions

The result of the survey of each circle were compiled along with literature regarding the programme, and given to the councilor of each area. In motivation meetings the people were informed of this, and they started to pressurize their councilors to take an interest in the secondary drains. This resulted in a large number of neighbourhood lane organizations coming together and asking the OPP for technical assistance for construction of secondary drains.

The OPP no longer needs to motivate the people. Because of the demonstration effect, lanes organize themselves and contact the OPP for technical assistance, and the OPP organizers increasingly find themselves involved in technical supervision rather than organization.

Major changes have also taken place in the relationship between the Orangi councilors and the KMC as a result of the OPP programme. Councilors get grants in aid from the KNC for certain development projects in their areas which they have to identify. According to KMC regulations, this aid can only be utilized for the construction of roads, or for the construction of open surface drains for storm water. In November 1984, the people of Orangi Sector 5 forced their councilor to use this finance to construct an underground sewer. They initially also insisted that they should be allowed to use this money themselves, and that no KMC contractor should be used for development purposes. However, this was not agreed to, and a contractor was employed according to KMC regulations. The people supervised his work, and as they were now well versed in sanitation technology, did not permit any substandard work to be done. They also insisted, and got their councilor to agree, on getting the OPP to design and supervise the construction work on the drain.

Since then the OPP finds itself identifying the location of secondary drains for the councilors in Orangi, designing and supervising works being financed by the KMC, in addition to helping lanes construct their primary drains. The OPP, it seems, has become a research and extension agency for the KMC councilors.

Out of a total of 3181 lanes in the OPP’s part of Orangi over 1571 had, by December 1985, already built their sewerage system. Over 137 secondary drains had been constructed; 107 financed by the lane residents and 30 by the KMC. The people have invested Rs.26,991,950 (US$ 1,686,996) in this effort, whereas the OPPs investment in research and extension has been about Rs.1,500,000 (US$ 93,750), inclusive of capital expenditure for tools, shuttering and vehicles. The Local Bodies would have spent US$ 8,343,980 on this work. In addition the OPP social organizers, the lane managers, and those who participated in the development work are emerging as an alternative leadership to the traditional one, which consists mainly of the land-grabbers and subdividers who created Orangi and exploited the people ever since.

Two other squatter colonies in Karachi, Masoom Shah Colony and Jinnah Colony have applied to the OPP for assistance for helping them in acquiring a sewerage system through community participation and finance. In addition the Aga Khan Medical University and the Department of Architecture, DCET, Karachi, have associated their courses with the programme.

A major environmental and social change has also taken place in Orangi. The lanes which have a sewerage system are now clean and healthier. The people here have also undertaken an improvement of their houses, and the value of property has gone up considerably. A survey reports that quarrels related to sanitation which were common in the pre-OPP programme days have now disappeared, and there is more social harmony.

The OPP’s Sanitation Programme has shown that the unequal political relationship between government agencies and the poor, which results in the further deprivation and exploitation of their areas, can be changed through a development strategy in which they participate and finance, provided that in so doing they replace some of the functions of those agencies.


3.1 The Question of Technology

When the OPP began its Low Cost Sanitation Programme in 1980, there was an acute shortage of water in Orangi. Water was supplied irregularly by bowzers to small underground water tanks of which each lane had one. A water committee, nominated by the lane residents, managed the distribution. In spite of this OPP motivated and gave technical assistance to the people for installing an underground water—borne sewerage system. OPP’s technical advisors and national planners raised two objections to this decision1:

  1. That due to a lack of water the solids in the sewerage would not be flushed out in the sewers, and as such the system would clog up.
  2. That even if the sewers did flow, the creeks into which the sewers were being emptied would, in the absence of water, become stagnant pools of affluent, creating health hazards for the residents living on either side of the creeks. The problem of the lanes was simply being multiplied and transferred.

To overcome these problems it was suggested that the OPP adopt the twin leach pit system for sealing the excreta, and have open drains for the disposal of waste water.

The OPP however was not willing to accept the leach pit solution because:

  1. The people aspired to an underground sewerage system as is common in the more affluent areas of the city, and were unwilling to finance anything else. Denying them this, was “adding insult to injury”.
  2. The local government had plans of supplying 35 million gallons of water per day to West Karachi, of which Orangi is a part, in the next three years. If that was to happen there would be no shortage of water, and the soak-pits would quickly fill up. Thus the peoples’ investment in leach-pits would go to waste.
  3. Open drains are very difficult to maintain in a climate where it hardly rains. Orangi’s existing open drains were always clogged up with garbage.
  4. The building of a soak-pit was an individual matter for each house. It would not bring people of one lane together and subsequently many lanes together for the secondary drain. As such it would not help in bringing about a change in the unequal relationship between the “katchi abadis” and the KMC.

The OPP technical consultants however agreed with the two objections raised by the planners and OPP advisors. So to overcome these objections the OPP introduced a one chamber septic tank, know in Orangi as the “haudi” between each house connection and the sewer line. As such only affluent, without any solids, flowed into the sewers.

Once the single chamber septic tanks or “haudis”, were installed, a new question was raised by the planners. Now that no solids were flowing into the lines, there was no need for large gauge concrete pipes and manholes. Therefore, will not a small bore system be considerably cheaper?2 The OPP agreed that a small bore system without manholes would be less than half the cost of the OPP system, but converting it to a water-borne system, whenever water would eventually come to Orangi, would be impossible.

Piped water came to Orangi in 1983. In the lanes where no sewerage system had been built, severe water-logging followed, and in some cases people were forced to move out of their houses. Due to water-logging, a large number of lanes came forward to build their sewerage systems, and the creeks became full of fast flowing affluent. The “haudi” was no longer necessary, and so it was dispensed with.

However, two new objections were raised at this stage. These were:

  1. Once a year, for about a week, when it rains in Karachi, the creeks or “nullahs” as they are called in Pakistan, carry away the storm water. Now with the affluent added to this storm water, there was every possibility of flooding in certain areas of Orangi.3
  2. OPPs sewerage system in Orangi would be contributing 5 million gallons of untreated sewerage to the sea, thus adding considerably to marine pollution.4

The OPPs technical consultants had already observed the “nullahs” of Orangi during the rains, and were of the opinion that none of them would overflow. However no detailed measurements were taken. The opinion was based on intuition, but an intuition that was backed by experience. If any “nullahs” did flood, the OPP consultants were sure that the people would build the necessary embankments with OPP advice to protect themselves in the future. in the absence of funds, knowhow, and authority to plan and implement a master plan, one had no option but to tackle problems as they came. One “nullah” did flood during the rains, after which the people of their own accord diverted part of its flow to a neighbouring “nullah”. It has never flooded since.

All government and private development in Karachi empties untreated sewerage into the sea. Pressure should be put on Government agencies to set up necessary treatment plants rather than object to low income settlements emptying their sewerage into the sea. As one Orangi resident told a public health engineer, when he raised this point at a meeting in one of the lanes, “Why, is our sewerage any different from yours?”5

  1. Nicholas Haughton and Jorge Gavidia: UNCHS advisor to the OPP and UN Consultant to OPP respectively, in conversations with the author: 1982-83, Also Shaukat Ali, Public Health Engineer in private practice, Karachi.
  2. Shaukat Ali, Public Health Engineer in private practice, in a conversation with the author: February 1984.
  3. Nicholas Haughton and Jorge Gavidia, in conversations with the author: 1982-83.
  4. Kausar S.K., Community Health Science Department, Aga Khan Medical University, Karachi, in conversation with the author: October 1985.
  5. Reply given to Ashraf Ali, a Public Health Engineer in private
    practice in Karachi: August 1984.

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