The Water and Sanitation Challenge: The Conflict Between Reality and Planning Paradigms

  • Thank you for inviting me to talk on this very important issue. I have not yet written a proper paper but I have prepared a detailed outline from which I will read
  • Since the late 50’s all governments in Pakistan have given great importance to the drinking water and sanitation sector
  • Their importance has been emphasised in all five year plans, in MTDF and in the Pakistan Vision 2030 (the correct vision in medical terms is 2020)
  • For the implementation of water and sanitation programmes we have borrowed heavily from IFIs and in most cases technical assistance was part of the loan package. This has added substantially to our development related debt burden (in my paper I will give statistics and their sources)
  • In spite of this, evaluation of these schemes and projects tell us that over 70 per cent of them have been unsustainable or unsuccessful in meeting their objectives (statistics and sources will be given in the paper) and in spite of “capacity building” our capacity in these sectors has actually fallen in proportion to the increasing demand (statistics and sources will be given in the paper)
  • Thousands of water and sanitation schemes lie abandoned or function erratically all over the country, forcing people back to their conventional water sources and sanitation methods. Attempts at rectifying this state of affairs have been made periodically over the last 30 years but with very limited success (statistics and sources will be given in the paper)
  • The reasons for the problems faced by these programmes and schemes were (and still are) that they are conceived and developed as purely engineering solutions based on conventional standards and construction, delivery and maintenance mechanism. For this reason, they are also very expensive to construct and maintain
  • Also the institutions that designed and maintained these schemes have over long periods suffered from neglect, inadequate funding (required to fund these capital intensive schemes) and ill-intentioned political interference
  • In the design of these schemes and programmes, there has always been an inbuilt assumption that the conventional design and maintenance institutions have the capacity to carry out this work and that the communities and the state have the required financial, technical and managerial capacity. Assumptions that have been proved wrong again and again
  • Over the last decade the importance of anthropological and sociological considerations in the design and O&M for the sectors has been recognised but has not been successfully applied in the public sector programmes except for a few schemes. NGO networks dealing with these larger realities have expanded in the last decade. However, their work has been on too small a scale to make a nationwide difference except for the Orangi Pilot Project’s initiatives in Karachi
  • In many seminars and papers it has been mentioned that the reason for the difficulties in the drinking and sanitation sector was because we did not have national drinking and sanitation policies. Today we have both
  • Policies, however, mean very little by themselves. They lay down some principles and directions (sometimes also some grand concepts and wish lists) based on an analysis of the national situation
  • The implementation of policy requires rules, regulations and procedures and institutions and persons trained to deliver them
  • In 2005, I was asked by the federal government to prepare the background paper for the sanitation policy and then draft the policy itself. The drafts were prepared after feedback from a series of workshops and consultations and modified through a long process of seminars and further consultations with various stakeholders
  • In the policy we tried to lay down some broad principles which hold good for the drinking water policy as well. These principles were successfully applied (but on a small scale)by the ATDO under the guidance of Ghulam Kibria in the 1970’s and have formed the basis for much of the work Akhtar Hameed Khan initiated in Orangi through the OPP. In recent years this work has expanded all over Pakistan
  • Broadly speaking these principles are:
    1. Build on what exists. Most communities have water sources. Some of them also have sanitation systems. If we understand these systems and the sociology behind them, they can be upgraded. Similarly, damaged schemes (or parts of them) can be rectified rather than replaced.
    2. Technology has to been subservient to sociology. The social unit in most of the rural areas and small towns of Pakistan is around the clan and/or extended family neighbourhoods. This has to be accepted rather than developing large schemes which bring together a cluster of villages. By building around the social unit we reduce capital costs, make maintenance easier and cost effective, the communities own the scheme and there is no need for compound walls round the scheme or for chowkidars.
    3. But to do this technology as to be miniaturised and maintenance systems decentralised. This calls for the questioning of engineering standards and procedures. It calls for research.
    4. Schemes have to be cost effective. And for this there are three principles: i) They have to be gravity flow so as to be free of energy requirements (this can be done through decentralisation); ii) they should be designed on the basis of the finances that are available rather than designing grand mega projects and then looking for loans for them. This is possible if we accept the process of incremental development which has been followed in much of OPP work. To do this an optimum relationship between demand, standards and resources has to be arrived at while accepting that all three can change over time; and iii) where energy is required solar technology should be used. Thardeep’s rube wells in he Tharparkar district are successful examples of this.
    5. The component-sharing principle. Under this principle, different stakeholders share development components. For example, communities can finance, manage, construct and maintain their lane and neighbourhood water and sanitation systems whereas the government can develop the source, transmission and/or disposal systems. The OPP partners and more recently the NRSP have been following this principle. Similar arrangements can be developed between developers and development authorities/WASAs, cooperatives and local government, neighbourhood organisations and TMAs. This simplifies the development process and brings the technical and financial resources of a number of actors together. Responsibility is shared
  • The above principles are stated in the policies and work on the development of pilot projects has already been undertaken. However, the policies have yet to be mainstreamed and turned into effective action plans otherwise they cannot meet the MDG or the MTD targets and nor can they keep pace with the demand
  • To implement the policies effectively, a number of steps need to be taken.
    1. The policies need to be disseminated. The public needs to know about them so that it can make informed demands around them. A media policy is required (FM radio, TV, print media). They have to be projected in a manner that people can relate to them
    2. For departments, agencies and other actors such as developers and housing societies, dissemination is not enough. For them there has to be a process of orientation and visits to projects where policy principles are being applied. Given the number of such institutions and enterprises, this will have to be a massive programme. Right now the policy is not being followed in a number of high profile projects. Open drains and soak-pits are still being built in government financed projects in violation of policy directives.
    3. Both the policies spell out some social and technology related guidelines. For these to be implemented, as said earlier, rules, regulations and procedures are required along with design options. Who is to develop these and how? Toilets for schools and public spaces come to mind; disposal of hospital waste (different criteria under different conditions); principles for the creation of landfill sites (they will be different for different locations); and turning natural drains into box trunks (different design principles for different ecological regions). One can go on. This is lot of work. It requires innovation, a questioning of conventional ways of doing things.
    4. The principles I have discussed earlier require skills in relating to and mobilising communities. They require mapping skills and on that basis decentralisation of design components and maintenance systems. Satellite imagery makes this easier. All Tehsil Municipal Administrations (TMAs) need it. It does not exist within TMAs. Introducing the system is not enough. It has to be sustainable. This requires training and continuous upgrading
    5. For long term success, the involvement of technical and professional academic institutions and bodies is required – institutions where policy makers and bureaucrats are trained. In most of the technical and professional institutions the policies are not known.
    6. To do what I have mentioned above, what is required is a provincial government institution that takes the responsibility of initiating, coordinating and monitoring what I have suggested. This is how the PHED, its rules, regulations, procedures and designs were developed in the 60’s. A similar exercise but in a very changed context and with community and stakeholder involvement is required. If proper linkages are created between different potential actors and beneficiaries, a culture of continuous learning can develop and this will prevent fossilisation, something that has happened in the past. For the creation of such an institution provincial legislation may also be required.
  • A massive research, training and orientation programme is perhaps the most important ingredient of what I have suggested above. Much of the knowledge required for it exists in NGO and government projects. It needs to be turned into effective training material. Projects also exist, so both the problem and the solution are visible.
  • Bemoaning the present state of affairs with distressing statistics, carrying out irrelevant donor driven research, trying to replace government responsibilities by NGOs, and seeking fancy solutions far removed from the socio-economic reality of the country, will not deliver.

One Comment

  1. Fayyaz Baqir

    Arif Sahib, Have you written anything on how donor assisted projects are over-designed, highly costly( due to international tendering and bidding requirements) and lack of knowledge of local conditions. Can you indicate the name of any paper on this website dealing with this issue?

    Posted August 2, 2020 at 8:30 pm | PermalinkReply

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