The Sanitation Programme of the Orangi Pilot Project – Research and Training Institute, Karachi, Pakistan


1.1 Pakistan

Pakistan requires 350,000 new housing units per year for its urban areas. The formal sector is able to supply only 120,000 housing units per year. The demand-supply gap is accommodated in katchi abadis (squatter settlements on government land) or through the informal subdivision of agricultural land (ISAL) on the periphery of cities and towns. It is estimated that nine million people live in katchi abadis in the urban areas of Pakistan and another 15 million in ISALs. Both type of settlements are unserviced to begin with but over a 15 to 20 year period they manage to acquire water, electricity, gas and some sort of social infrastructure. However, sewage invariably flows into cesspools or into the natural drainage system. The physical and social infrastructure that is acquired is through ad-hoc arrangements made by the residents themselves or through small unconnected projects implemented by local government councillors for their constituencies as “gifts” and political patronage.

1.2 Karachi

Karachi, the country’s largest city (population 13 million) has an annual housing demand of 80,000 units. In the last five years the formal sector has been able to provide 26,700 units annually. The demand-supply gap has been accommodated in katchi abadis whose population is now over six million. Between 1992 and 2003, 25,438 housing units have been demolished as a result of mega projects and to satisfy the land hunger needs of a strong politician-bureaucrat-developer nexus.

Since 1973, the government has been operating a Katchi Abadi Improvement and Regularisation Programme funded with loans from the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank. Through this programme people pay for land and development and acquire a 99-year lease. The programme has improved and regularised only 1.5 per cent of katchi abadis per year. Thus it has not been a success. The reason for the poor performance of the programme is that there has been no proper community participation in it and as such cost recovery through lease charges has been poor; there is a lack of capacity in government institutions to involve communities and develop innovative engineering and community participation procedures; the process of acquiring a lease is complicated; and since people have a de-facto tenure security, they are not pushed about transforming this into a de-jure one. The programme has increased Pakistan’s foreign debt which is difficult to repay.

There is no programme for the improvement of ISALs although their conditions (except for security of tenure) are no different from that of the katchi abadis.

1.3 Orangi Town

After the local body Devolution Plan of 2001, Karachi was declared a city district and divided into 18 towns. Each town was divided into Union Councils (UC). There are 178 UCs in Karachi. The district, towns and UCs all have elected nazims (mayors) who have decision-making powers over and above the bureaucracy.

Orangi is one of the towns of Karachi and consists of an agglomeration of katchi abadis and has a population of 1.2 million living in over 100,000 houses built informally.


Developing infrastructure in low income settlements in a conventional manner is far too expensive. The Pakistan government has been taking loans from IFIs for this purpose. However, the scale of the problem is so enormous that not even a fraction of the requirement can be tackled through the loan process. In addition, loans come with conditionalities, foreign consultants and often with international bidding for implementation. All this increases costs by more than 200 per cent. The other problem is the subsequent O&M of the systems. Local governments do not have the financial and/or the technical means to do this effectively.

The OPP-RTI was very clear from the very beginning that foreign loans could not solve the problem. It was necessary to raise local resources and develop local expertise. Part of this could come from the community provided the cost of construction could be reduced by eliminating contractors, modifying engineering standards and mobilising communities to finance and manage the construction of an underground sanitation system.

To do this four barriers have to be removed. I) The physiological barrier: communities have to be convinced that not only the house but also the street and neighbourhood belonged to them; ii) the social barrier: communities had to come together and organise to build their sanitation systems; iii) the economic barrier: costs had to be reduced to make the proposed systems affordable to communities and iv) the technical barrier: communities had to be provided with tools, maps, estimates and technical supervision.

It was assumed that organised communities supported by professionals and the OPP-RTI would be able to develop partnerships with government and as such be able to direct available government resources to supporting the sanitation programme.


The OPP was established in 1980 with the purpose of overcoming the constraints faced by the government in regularising and improving katchi abadis. The objective of the project was to: i) understand the problems of Orangi and their causes; ii) through action research develop solutions that people can manage, finance and build; iii) provide people with technical guidance and managerial support to implement the solutions; iv) in the process overcome constraints that governments face in the upgrading of katchi abadis.

Participatory research identified four major problems: i) Sanitation; ii) Employment; iii) Health; and iv) Education. Sanitation was considered the most important. Programmes have been developed around these four issues.

In 1998, the OPP was upgraded into three autonomous institutions. These are: i) OPP-RTI dealing with sanitation, housing, education, research and training; ii) the Orangi Charitable Trust (OCT) dealing with micro credit; and iii) Karachi Health and Social Development Association (KHASDA) dealing with health and gender issues.

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