The Low Cost Sanitation Programme of the OPP

The Problem of Services

Land was provided at reasonable terms by the subdivider, housing was taken care of by the thallawala, but water, transport and sewerage disposal remained problem for the people of Orangi. The neighbourhood organizations thus became institutions of lobbying for urban services. The people however, had very little involvement in this process, which was managed entirely by the leader with some superficial help from the self appointed officer bearers.

Transport was established in the early stages by raising funds from within the community to pay a transporter to acquire a route permit for the area by bribing a relevant government agency. He could then ply his buses in Orangi. An additional lump sum payment would be made to him by the community as he would be working in an area which had no roads. It is stated that the office bearers of the neighbourhood organizations misappropriated large sums of money in the process. The people were aware of this, but did not object as they were able to get what they desperately needed.

Again through lobbying, the leadership working through the neighbourhood organizations, got the Karachi Municipal Corporation (KMC) to sanction a certain number of water tankers for different neighbourhoods. In some cases if twelve tankers per day were sanctioned for an area, only ten actually delivered the water. The leader sold the water of the other two outside the area, and pocketed the money. If the people protested, they were told that the accusation was false, and if not withdrawn, the leader would have to withdraw his involvement in their affairs, and as a result water would not be available any more.

Each lane constructed its own communal underground water tank into which the tanker emptied itself. To manage the distribution of water, the lane residents nominated a committee, known as the ‘tanki’ committee. The members of this committee were the trusted residents of the lane, and as such its possible leaders. However, since water was scarce, the ‘tanki’ committee members soon became very unpopular, and were constantly accused of nepotism and corruption. If disputes were referred to the leadership, or the “respected” residents, they always supported the accusers, so as to prevent an alternative leadership from emerging.

Garbage is supposed to be lifted by KMC vans from certain fixed locations in Orangi. However, this is not done. Research into this problem by the OPP has shown that the van drivers are only interested in lifting garbage which has glass, plastic, metal or paper in it. Such garbage they deposit, not at the normal dumping areas reserved by the KNC for this purpose, but at the colonies of scavengers, who pay the van operators for this favour. Orangi garbage has none of the required ingredients, as the residents sell metal, plastic and glass bottles themselves, and certain Orangi children make a living by collecting cloth and paper from garbage dumps.

The most difficult problem in Orangi however was, and still is, related to the disposal of sewerage. The Orangi leadership had no solution to it, and its efforts at lobbying with the KDA and KNC for a sewerage system were unsuccessful. The people however were convinced, and the leadership built up this conviction, that the provision of a sewerage system was the responsibility of the local bodies, and that they only fulfilled this responsibility for the affluent areas of the city, and ignored the low income areas. In the minds of the people, this was also the most important problem, as the provisional solutions of soak-pits and bucket latrines, which they had been using, were rapidly becoming inadequate.

The only infrastructure put up by the local bodies in Orangi till as late as 1983, was the building of a few main roads, and the construction of some storm drains from the lanes to the nearest open creeks. Very often people connected their latrines to these drains, thereby creating pollution and health hazards.

The road work and the drains were built by KMC contractors. No engineers supervised this work, although they were supposed to, and no designs were prepared for it, and if they were, they were never followed. The rates of construction were exorbitant and the contractors worked without necessary tools or equipment, such as levels, theodolytes, mixing machines or even trolleys. Most of the roads were washed away after the first rains, and the concrete storm drains disintegrated due to a lack of cement in the concrete mix, and due to insufficient curing. Very often the drain could not function as its gradients were mal-aligned. In the more affluent areas of the city such substandard work is not done, although engineers do receive kickbacks, and contractors do make enormous profits. It was Orangi’s political weakness and its unequal relationship with the government agencies, that public funds could be misused in this manner, and as a result contractors and engineers could grow rich at the expense of the people.
In 1979, elections to the Municipal Corporation were held in Karachi, and 13 councilors were elected from Orangi. They were, by and large, all part of the old leadership. As councilors they became responsible for getting funds sanctioned for their wards, from the KMC, for storm drains and roads. As such they acquired a share in the kickback to engineers and in the contractor’s profits. The people meanwhile remained apathetic. Their attitude is summed up in a local saying; “if the government is distributing oil, take it, if even in a sack”.

The above description explains briefly the situation in Orangi before the OPP began its operations in 1980. Much of this situation still remains unchanged, but the people have started asking questions and identifying the causes of their problems. The Low Cost Sanitation Programme of the OPP is in some ways responsible for this change.

Akhtar Hameed Khan’s Research And Findings

Dr. Akhtar Hameed Khan spent many months in Orangi meeting people, talking to the leaders, and trying to understand the various relationships and the nature and functioning of the existing neighbourhood organizations. There were no surveys or questionnaires, only informal talks and meetings. His impressions and observations are recorded in the initial reports of
the Orangi Pilot Project, and they make extremely interesting reading.

Dr. Khan discovered that the highest priority for the people was the installation of a sewerage system, and that they felt that the KDA or KMC were responsible for providing this to them at no cost. They were also convinced that the KMC and KDA provide this service to the more affluent areas at no cost. Dr. Khan then approached the KDA so as to know their point of view on this subject.

The Karachi Development Authority informed Dr. Khan that they do not provide free services to anyone. The affluent pay a development charge of Rs. 150 to Rs. 200 per square yard of their plot area for water and sewerage services. That meant that at an average a house owner in Orangi would have to pay Rs. 15,000 or US$ 950, for acquiring a sewerage system. This no Orangi resident could afford or would be willing to pay. The KDA further informed Dr. Khan that there was however hope. Funds could probably be raised as loans from international agencies for building the sewerage infrastructure, and the people could repay these in installments.

When Dr. Khan studied the urban development schemes prepared by international finance, he discovered that their cost of development was much higher than the cost of those projects which were developed by the local bodies. In addition, if the interest was added back to the original cost, the user ended up by paying more than twice the original investment. Further study revealed that in Pakistan the history of recovery of loans from the poor, was a very poor one indeed. It was also obvious that development through international finance was no solution for the macro situation in Pakistan. At best, it could serve a few privileged ‘katchi abadis’.

The next issue taken up by Dr. Khan was related to the question of the cost of development. Why was it so high? Investigations made by OPP consultants showed that the KDA charges were four times (some times more) than the actual cost of labour and materials involved in construction. The reason for this was profiteering by contractors and kickbacks to government officials. Dr. Khan felt that if these could be eliminated, and some further savings made in the design of the system, then maybe the people would be able to afford a sewerage system.

All this meant that there had to be a manner of finance where the necessity of repayment was eliminated. Such funding could only come from the people and before development was commenced. his also meant that there had to be an alternative manner of implementation of work, so as to eliminate all overheads and corruption. This only the people could organize and manage, if it was to be affordable. This also meant that research had to be carried out to lower costs further, and to make modifications in traditional sanitation technology to make it compatible with the concept of self help and self finance. This, the OPP would have to undertake. But before all this could be undertaken, the people had to be told that the KDA or KMC would not develop their lanes free of cost. This “psychological barrier’, as Dr. Khan called it, had to be broken.

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