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A Sanitation Project that Worked

Blog Post2 min read

Sometimes we here at rice get a little depressed about the lack of answers. Today's post is meant to lift our spirits with a success story.

The Orangi Pilot Project (OPP), which was started way back in 1981 by Akhtar Hameed Khan, is one of the standout examples of participatory slum upgrading and has been internationally recognized for its success in improving the sewage infrastructure in the Orangi slum in Karachi, Pakistan. Since inception, it has engaged residents to contribute more than $2 million of their own resources to the project.

Orangi became an informal settlement in 1965 when the municipality demolished an inner-city slum and the residents were forced to relocate further from the central business district. By 2010, the population of Orangi had reached 1.5 million in an area of 22 square miles. The government only provided minimal services to the settlement: tankers brought water, a link road to the city was constructed, and a few hospitals and schools were built. The settlement lacked any formal sewage infrastructure and residents mostly used bucket latrines, which a scavenger would empty every four or five days for $0.25 a month onto the unpaved lane. More affluent residents constructed soak pits, which filled up every few years.

OPP is designed so that residents can work in small groups to build sewage infrastructure. Each lane in Orangi consists of twenty to thirty houses. For OPP, a lane forms an organization. OPP organizers hold information sessions where they discuss the specific needs of the community and link health problems to sanitation. The residents of the lane then nominate a lane manager who represents the lane and works with the OPP. Coordinating with the lane manager, OPP technical staff survey the lane, establish benchmarks, and prepare plans and estimates for the construction. Lane managers then collect money from the residents, purchase supplies, and construction begins. Lanes normally select two managers: one who oversees construction and one who manages collections.

The OPP has proved to be very successful: 89 percent of lanes in Orangi constructed sewer lines through the pilot project. OPP has lowered costs to about 1,000 rupees per household, roughly one-third the cost of programs managed by the government or international organizations, by avoiding administrative, overhead, and labor expenses. OPP staff attribute the successes to a well-navigated relationship with local government, ample time for the program to develop, and competent local NGO staff who have been trained by OPP.

It's amazing what can be accomplished through community-owned and managed projects. However, attempts at replication have been somewhat hit or miss. There have been 13 attempts at replicating the OPP outside of Karachi. Five failed, two succeeded, and the remaining are yet to be fully evaluated. It's not a particularly easy intervention to pull off, and lots can go wrong. Nevertheless, OPPs incredible success warrants a more in-depth look.

If you want to read more about this, I would recommend checking out the following book:

Arif Hasan, Participatory Development, Karachi: Oxford University Press, 2010.


r.i.c.e. is a non-profit research organization focused on health and well-being in India. Our core focus is on children in rural north India. Our research studies health care at the start of life, sanitation, air pollution, maternal health, social inequality, and other dimensions of population-level social wellbeing.

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