Water Crisis: Emphasis on self help

Christine Aziz reports on how local schemes are improving water supplies
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The Independent Online
Driving into Karachi from the airport it's the smell of open drains and sewage that hits you. It worsens as you reach the city centre. After a while you hardly notice it, but it is a powerful reminder that this city has been neglected for years. Strangely, in one of the poorest areas, Orangi, the smell fades and there's hardly an open drain, thanks to the Orangi Pilot Project (OPP) and the residents of Orangi.

The Orangi Pilot Project was founded 17 years ago by Akhter Hameed Khan, a former civil servant. It was a unique experiment in urban development with communities organising themselves and investing in their local sewers and then challenging the government to do its part.

Excited by their own potential, Orangi residents with OPP support have since moved on to providing basic health services and health promotion, credit for small family enterprises and education. Impressed by OPP's example of how much poor urban communities can contribute to the development of complex, large-scale infrastructure projects, WaterAid began working with the agency two years ago, initially providing a small amount of funding, particularly for OPP's Research and Training Institute. It is now assisting OPP to replicate its model approach through other non-governmental agencies in cities throughout Pakistan.

The Anjuman-e-Samaji Behbood (ASB) in Faisalabad is one of them. Its manager and co-founder, Altaf Wattoo, has been a community activist since l964. Wattoo says: "This work is my life. I have no sons and daughters - the community is my family."

His organisation covers six communities, including Dhudiwalla, which for decades have suffered from lack of a piped water supply and an efficient sanitation system. In l995 with the help of WaterAid, ASB launched its sanitation programme which, on a self-help basis, will eventually benefit over 14,000 homes.

Mr Wattoo adds: "For the past decade the Faisalabad water situation has been getting worse. We can't drink the water - it is too salty. Women and children have to buy 10 litre cans of drinking water at six rupees each. A family needs at least 20 per day but the people here can't afford it.

"The water authority said we had to wait until 2008 for water to be piped into our neighbourhoods but we weren't prepared to wait.

"Our campaign was getting nowhere until OPP came to help us. I and some others went on an OPP sanitation and water training programme in Karachi and they came to us to help us change our methods of working with the community, which weren't very successful. After careful planning and research we decided to take matters into our own hands.

"After a long struggle, the water authority agreed that we could make a connection to the water main, and one night in November 1995 the residents of Hasanpura Colony began to dig a trench for their own water pipe," Mr Wattoo recalls. "By 5am we had finished 110 ft from the water authority main line. On 17 January we connected our waterpipe to the main line."

The first sanitation programme started in National Colony where 95 per cent of the drains were broken and most open drains were blocked, and there was sewage seepage into the ground water. Thirty households contributed 800 rupees each for the cost of laying a new sewage line and connecting to the local authority main sewage drain.

Haji Mohammed Yousuf, a retired civil servant, is manager of the Hasanpura Colony sanitation programme. It's an ambitious project; a 4,000 ft secondary sewage drain is to be connected to the main government drain and follows a creek into which all the sewage runs. Three men are digging into the layers of mud made up of rubbish and effluent. The smell is sickening. Haji Yousuf says: "It is difficult to get people motivated. They are suspicious and say the government should do it. I start talking to groups of two or three people and steadily increase them until we have three or four streets together. This way works, because people can help themselves. I want it to expand."