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Urban sanitation: putting people at the centre of informal settlement upgrading in Pakistan

Published on: 03/03/2009

The Orangi Pilot Project (OPP) has transformed sewage systems in low income, informal settlements ('katchi abadi'), where 60 percent of Karachi's population lives. OPP has challenged development approaches, which are very technical and overly-dependent on government and donor support. Such approaches treat poor communities as objects, rather than drivers, of development.

A report for the International Institute for Environment and Development, in the UK, explores how OPP has expanded from a focus on the ‘katchi abadi' of Orangi to become an important voice on issues related to sewerage, drainage sanitation and informal settlement upgrading across Karachi. OPP has achieved credibility over years of rigorous mapping and documentation. OPP's model of low-cost sanitation gives residents the responsibility of building household and lane-level sanitation infrastructure. Municipal authorities are responsible for building and maintaining secondary infrastructure. Infant mortality rates have declined dramatically. In order to ensure individuals are driven by ideals, not financial reward, OPP salaries are lower than those of other NGOs.  OPP does not seek large-scale funding from donors. High standards of openness and financial transparency are central to building relationships. Staff numbers are kept low by training community members as activists and mappers, and encouraging them to work themselves. OPP rejects all form of subsidy, believing it inevitably leads to dependence [and] increases costs and causes waste. When the community contributes towards a project - costs are immediately cut: designs are simplified, methods of construction are cost-efficient, and profiteering, kickbacks and professional fees for contractors, engineers and supervisors are eliminated. OPP's experience shows that:

  • It important to work on a single issue - or only a small number of issues - comprehensively before taking on related issues.
  • In order to influence government it is vital not to be confrontational: it is necessary to work patiently over a period of time with department staff and build trusting relationships with civil servants.
  • Meticulous documentation of findings, observations and processes, leading to the preparation of alternatives is critical to being taken seriously by decision-makers.

Source: id21, 01 March 2009


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