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World Resources 1996-97
(A joint publication by The World Resource Institute, The United
 Nations Environment Programme, The United Nations Development
 Programme, and the World Bank)
(Data edited by Dr. Róbinson Rojas)

6. City and Community: Toward Environmental Sustainability

Box 6.2 The Orangi Pilot Project, Karachi, Pakistan

For well over a decade, a nongovernmental organization (NGO)called the Orangi Pilot Project (OPP)has demonstrated that, when community interest and resources are mobilized, low- income settlements can greatly improve their own access to environmental services, health care, and employment.

Located on the northwest periphery of Karachi, Orangi is the largest of the city's approximately 650 low-income settlements, known as katchi abadi (1). Orangi was first developed in 1963 as a government township of 500 hectares, but migrants flooded into the settlement after the 1971 war that led to the creation of Bangladesh, swelling the settlement to more than 3,200 hectares. The ethnically diverse population of laborers, skilled workers, shopkeepers, clerks, and white-collar workers now numbers about 800,000, living in 94,000 houses (2). The average family income is estimated to be 1,500 rupees per month (about US$59), but spans a range from under 500 rupees per month (US$18) to more than 25,000 rupees per month (US$980) (3)(4).

OPP's approach is based on the conviction that people organized in small groups can help themselves, and that if social and economic organizations within a community are strengthened, services and material conditions--such as sanitation, schools, clinics, and job training--will begin to improve, as will employment opportunities (5).

In Orangi, OPP organized residents into groups of 20 to 40 families living along the same lane, with the thought that these families will generally know and trust each other. This principle of small-scale organization, along with careful research on the needs and capabilities of the community and the use of appropriate technology, has governed OPP's community development strategy.

OPP started its work in Orangi in 1980 with a low-cost sanitation program and spent the next 4 years working with all segments of the community to build trust and confidence that OPP was going to be a permanent part of the community.

Once the sanitation program had gained momentum, OPP gradually developed other community efforts, including a basic health and family planning program, a credit program for small family enterprises, a low-cost housing upgrade program, a program to assist in upgrading physical and academic conditions at schools, a women's work center program, and a rural development program.

Each program was introduced only after a thorough analysis of community needs and identification of the most important community actors. Each program has periodically been reevaluated and modified to respond to changes within the community. Three of these programs are profiled here.


Until 1981, Orangi had only primitive forms of sewage disposal and drainage. Convinced that it was possible for low-income people to install their own sanitation systems at an affordable cost, OPP began to use the organizational capabilities of the local leadership in each lane to adapt and implement simple sanitation technologies.

The greatest initial obstacle was the Orangi residents' expectation that the government would supply a sewer system without charge. Only when all efforts to petition the government for services had been exhausted was OPP able to work with the community to develop alternative solutions.

Although poor, Orangi residents were motivated to pay for improvements to sewage systems because their houses represented a significant investment. Health concerns were another major motivator; mothers in particular saw a clear connection between unsanitary conditions and disease. Homeowners were willing to assume responsibility for constructing and maintaining in-house latrines, sewer lines in the lanes, and secondary or collector drains, performing between 80 and 90 percent of the work needed to build the system. The Karachi government would then be responsible for the provision of the main drains and treatment plants (6).

OPP personnel prepared models and other visual aids to demonstrate how the sewer system would be laid out. They drew up instruction sheets and posters for each lane to ensure that decentralized construction planning nonetheless resulted in a coherent and workable system. Each lane selected its own lane manager, who formally applied to OPP for assistance, collected money, received tools, and organized the work (7).

OPP was able to drastically reduce the cost of construction by simplifying designs and standardizing parts. The cost of a sanitary latrine inside the house and the underground sewerage line in the lane was 1,000 rupees (US$90) per household--about one fifth the cost of similar improvements built by the city government (8)(9).

Each lane depended on its own small septic tank until the system reached the critical mass required to install secondary drains. Although this represented a gamble on the future expansion of the system and was discouraged by international development experts, OPP believed that only such a decentralized approach would empower residents to build their own sewage infrastructure. When the system successfully reached the scale required to integrate the lane systems into an overall community system, the lane septic tanks were covered over and did not become the sanitation "time bombs" predicted by outside experts.

Waste from the Orangi sewers runs into open waterways that flow to the sea. These waterways are overburdened by waste from Orangi and from Karachi in general and still tend to overflow during heavy rains. The main sewers required to prevent this flooding are the responsibility of the Karachi authorities. OPP has developed designs for main sewers and is lobbying the Karachi Municipal Corporation to build them.

Under OPP guidance, between 1981 and 1993 Orangi residents installed sewers serving 72,070 of 94,122 houses (10). To achieve this, community members spent more than US$2 million of their own money, and OPP invested about US$150,000 in research and extension of new technologies (11).


Research conducted by OPP showed that Orangi residents suffered high incidences of typhoid, malaria, dysentery, diarrhea, and scabies, as well as high rates of infant and maternal mortality. Surveys revealed that Orangi residents spent a substantial portion of their income on curative health care, but paid little attention to preventive measures. Therefore, in 1984, OPP began a pilot program to provide health education and family planning information to poor women.

Realizing that conventional clinics were ineffective because traditional gender segregation made it difficult to reach women through such a public facility, OPP introduced mobile health training teams, consisting of female doctors, health educators, and social organizers. These teams contacted groups of women through selected activist families in their neighborhoods, providing a more discreet and effective source of health education.

OPP also developed a system in which the neighborhood health activist delivered medical and birth control supplies. An intimate neighbor, the health activist was a permanent and confidential source of supply for the members of her group. The health activist also arranged for women to receive intrauterine devices or tubal ligations from the mobile health team.

Originally, these health and family planning services were targeted to 3,000 low-income families in Orangi. A survey of the targeted families demonstrates the effectiveness of the program: more than 95 percent of the children are immunized, 44 percent of the families practice birth control, epidemic diseases are controlled, and hygiene and nutrition have improved (12). Infant mortality fell from 130 per 1,000 live births in 1982 to 37 in 1991 (13). In 1991, OPP revised its model to reach out to a larger number of families. OPP introduced a 3-month health curriculum that covered the prevention of diseases common in Orangi, methods of family planning, and improved nutrition and hygiene.


OPP initiated its program to develop Women's Work Centers (WWCs)in 1984, beginning with a survey of employment patterns in Orangi. The survey revealed that the rising costs of living forced wives and daughters in Orangi to work to supplement family income (14).

In its program, OPP chose to address the largest category of women's employment, which is stitching clothing for contractors in Karachi. Women stitchers in Orangi complete piecework bound for export to international markets. The system of contracting for this piecework was exploitative both financially and socially. Male contractors paid women substandard wages, often mistreating and sexually harassing them.

Eliminating the contractor, OPP set up WWCs that deal directly with suppliers and customers. The WWCs, located in family homes in the neighborhood, were lent machinery and supplies by OPP and were assisted in contacting clients. The families running WWCs were allowed to charge only minimal overhead and were required to earn most of their income through their own piecework. Reduced costs enabled the WWCs to pay a fair wage to the workers. The WWC daily wage was 20 rupees (US$0.80), compared with the standard daily wage of 15 rupees (US$0.60). WWC managers tended to be women and to treat the women workers fairly, since they were also neighbors and friends.

Initially, the WWCs required substantial financial and managerial support from OPP. Over time, however, WWC managers learned to weed out untrustworthy suppliers and customers, to motivate their workers, and to increase quality control. WWCs, operating as supportive community organizations rather than exploitative contractors, have proven more efficient and reliable than traditional contractors. Clients in Karachi actually prefer to use WWCs because of their greater productivity, and individual workers prefer to work for WWCs because of their higher wages.

By the sixth year of the program, the WWCs had become self-sustaining. OPP continues to provide loans for the creation of new WWCs, but these are paid back with interest (15).


OPP's approach to community development offers a model of how communities can assume responsibility for services formerly considered the responsibility of government. In none of these programs did OPP see its role as the provider of a particular service. Rather, the community provided the service to itself, with appropriate assistance from OPP.

This approach to community development demonstrates the flexibility required for successful NGO intervention in low-income urban settlements. OPP worked methodically and sequentially, developing its organizational and technical capabilities in each particular problem area before moving on to address another. As a result, each OPP project can stand on its own. Taken together, however, these projects demonstrate the effective long-term role that an NGO can play by working in a single community on an ongoing basis.

--Akhtar Badshah

Akhtar Badshah is Director of Programs for the Mega-Cities Project in New York.

References and Notes

1. Arif Hasan, Sealing-Up of the OPP's Low-Cost Sanitation Program (Orangi Pilot Project--Research Training Institute, Karachi, Pakistan, 1993), p. 1.

2. Arif Hasan, "Replicating the Low-Cost Sanitation Programme Administered by the Orangi Pilot Project in Karachi, Pakistan," in The Human Face of the Urban Environment, Proceedings of the Second Annual World Bank Conference on Environmentally Sustainable Development, Ismail Serageldin, Michael A. Cohen, and K.C. Sivaramakrishnan, eds. (The World Bank, Washington, D.C., September 19-21, 1994), p. 152.

3. The exchange rate in 1995 was US$1 = Rs. 25.45.

4. Akhter Hameed Khan, Orangi Pilot Project Programs (Orangi Pilot ProjectţResearch Training Institute, Karachi, Pakistan, 1994), p. 3.

5. Op. cit. 2, p. 150.

6. Op. cit. 4, p. 7.

7. "Orangi Pilot Project," Environment and Urbanization, Vol. 7, No. 2 (October 1995), p. 229.

8. Ibid. , p. 228.

9. Op. cit. 2, p. 151.

10. Op. cit. 2, p. 151.

11. Op. cit. 2, p. 151.

12. Op. cit. 4, p. 24.

13. Op. cit. 2, p. 151.

14. Op. cit. 7, p. 233.

15. Op. cit. 7, p. 233.

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