The Low Cost Sanitation Programme of the OPP

Methodology of The Low Cost Sanitation System

Before the OPP’s Low Cost Sanitation Programme was accepted by the residents of Orangi, the people had devised various ways of dealing with their sanitation problems. The most common was the bucket latrine. This usually consisted of a used battery shell of a truck or car, which used to be placed in the toilet. A scavenger would remove this shell, throw out the excreta into the nearest natural creek, or ‘nullah’ as it is called, or onto the street, and then replace the container. The waste water in this case flowed out into a cesspool in the lane. Apart from creating severe environmental pollution and health hazards, the owners had to pay about Rs.15 per month to the scavengers, who are rapidly becoming a rare commodity.

The more affluent residents in Orangi dug soak-pits in their lanes. These were connected only to the foul water system of the house, and their cost to the user varied from Rs.1800 to Rs.3000. The waste water still flowed out into the street. These soak-pits usually filled up in two or three years, after which they filled up after every three to six months. The cost of having a soak—pit emptied by the KMC truck mounted pumps was Rs.75. This was a major drain on the people’s resources, and at the same time did not solve the waste water problem.

Some residents of Orangi had also laid sewerage lines from their houses to the nearest natural ‘nullah’. It was seldom that a whole lane or ‘mohallah’ (neighbourhood) undertook this work together. In the absence of community organizations, many parallel drainage lines have been laid in many lanes. The work carried out also suffered from technical shortcomings, and was in most cases substandard in quality. Consequently, the drains clogged up frequently, or their different elements weathered badly. However, in spite of these shortcomings, this system cleared the streets of both excreta and waste water, and no recurring expenditure was required to maintain it.

The OPP felt that if effective community organizations could be developed, and if the right kind of technical support and tools could be provided to them, and if the lane residents were trained to use these tools, then an underground drainage system, financed and managed by the people, could be developed in Orangi.

Three concepts are central to the understanding of the methodology of the Sanitation Programme of the Orangi Pilot Project. First, that the Sanitation Programme is a result of a need to develop lane organizations in Orangi and not the other way round. The concept is spelt out in a note on Welfare Work, prepared by Dr. Akhtar Hameed Khan, in February 1980. He says, “if social and economic organizations grow and become strong, services and material conditions, sanitation, schools, clinics, training, employment, will also begin to improve”. Second, that standard engineering technology and implementation procedures, the product of the traditional client, engineer, contractor relationship, have to be constantly modified to suit the new system where the user, organizer and implementer are one, and often they have little or no technical knowledge or artisanal skill. And third, that in the process of organization and participation in development work, changes are bound to occur in the community. These changes will result in a redefining of relations with the local government, the scope of future development work undertaken, and its manner of implementation. Keeping these concepts in view, the OPP developed its methodology for developing lane organizations and technical support.

The most important decision taken by the OPP in its methodology was that the lane would be the unit of organization. A lane in Orangi consists of twenty to forty houses. The reason for this decision was that as the lane is a small unit and all the people in it know each other, fewer problems resulting from mistrust would occur. Also, it would not be necessary to involve the existing leadership in the lane’s activity, as that leadership functioned on the neighbourhood or sector level, and not at the lane level. In technological terms, making the lane a unit of operation, posed numerous problems for developing an underground sewerage system. How these were overcome are explained later in this article.

As a first step towards building up a lane organization, the app social organizers held meetings of lane residents. In these meetings, the organizers explained to the residents that the KNC and KDA would not construct their sewerage system free of cost, and that their charges for development were far too high for the people to afford. Then, with the help of slides, posters and pamphlets, they explained the benefits of the OPP’s Low Cost Sanitation Programme, and the relationship between sanitation and health.

They would inform the gathering that if it could form an organization in which all the lane households were represented, and then elect, select or nominate two lane managers, and then apply to the OPP for assistance, then the OPP would give them necessary technical help to build a sewerage system. If as a result of these meetings, a lane applied for help, then the OPP staff surveyed the lane, prepared a plan for lane drainage and provided the managers with an estimate of materials and labour required for the work. The lane managers then collected money from the people, and the OPP gave the necessary tools to the organization on loan. At no time did the OPP handle the peoples’ money. There was no standard structure for the organization that emerged, and it varied from lane to lane.

Case studies of sociological and technical problems, and the way in which the lane organizations have dealt with them, have been prepared by OPP organizers, and some have been published in ‘Orangi’, a magazine published by the OPP.

However, there were problems in relating the small size of the social unit developed, to sanitation technology. As the unit of organization was the lane, physical planning was done for one lane at a time. Invariably in the beginning, only those lanes accepted the programme which were near a natural ‘nullah’, or could easily discharge into it.

Again, 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.

Such an evaluation of the OPP Low Cost Sanitation Programme was carried out by OPP consultants in September 1982, and it showed up certain weak points in OPP technology. In addition, there were the criticisms and proposals of OPP’s UN experts which had to be taken into account.

The main weakness identified was in the design concept. According to the initial designs of the OPP, the sewerage, along with the excreta was discharged into the open ‘nullah’. All such ‘nullahs’ have high density housing on both sides. This meant that the problem of the lanes was simply being shifted to the ‘nullahs’, creating serious health hazards. In addition, many sewerage lines would clog up occasionally and as such, had to be cleaned out. This problem was studied and it was discovered that due to a lack of water, the proper flow of sewerage in the lines was not possible.

To overcome these two problems, it was decided to place a one chamber septic tank, or ‘haudi’ as it is known in Orangi, between every connection and the sewerage line. This prevented the solids from flowing out into the drain. The size and design of the ‘haudi’ was determined not according to any engineering standards, but by its cost to the user. It had to carry a cost that the people could afford to pay.

To popularize the ‘haudi’ and educate the people on this subject, a lot of meetings were held, posters were prepared and pasted on the walls in the lanes, and leaflets were distributed. The ‘haudi’ became a widely used element in Orangi although it added to the investment being made by the residents. It was successful because people wanted a better physical and disease free environment, and were willing to pay something extra for it. The ‘haudi’ is no longer used as there is now enough water in Orangi for the functioning of a water-borne sewerage system.

The other weakness in technology was the design of the elements which constituted the system. It was discovered that they were far too expensive because of which people were hesitant to adopt OPP technology. One of the reasons for their high cost was that artisanal skill was required for their construction. To overcome this shortcoming research was undertaken to simplify the designs, and to develop tools for making it possible for unskilled labour to construct these elements. Thus masonry manholes which required plastering as well, were replaced by small section in-situ concrete manholes of a manageable size. The shuttering for their casting was supplied by the OPP. The cost of a manhole as a result of this research and extension effort dropped from Rs. 400 to Rs.120. Similarly costs of other elements were reduced.

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