Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Sustainability example from Karachi

by Salman Hameed

Karachi is a sprawling mega-city with its fair share of the slums. One of these slums was Orangi. In the 1980's a project was launched by Akhtar Hameed Khan (no relation) to help the residents of Orangi solve their own sanitation problems. This large-scale program, called the Orangi Pilot Project, was creative, ambitious and has largely been quite effective. This week's Nature has an interview with urban architect, Arif Hasan, who worked with the Orangi Project and is now the chair of Pakistan's urbanization task force. Here he sets up the reasoning for the project:
What challenges did Orangi face when you arrived?In 1980, the lanes of Orangi, a katchi abadi or informal settlement housing a million people, were running with waste water and sewage, and infant mortality was 128 in 1,000. The conditions stymied development: school attendance was down and trade difficult to establish. The psychological effects, too, were severe, sapping the will for change. The lanes couldn't be used as public space and quarrels over sanitation issues were frequent. The wastewater also damaged house foundations and triggered unhealthy rising damp.  
How did you become involved?That year, the social scientist Akhtar Hameed Khan set up the Orangi Pilot Project [OPP] to understand local problems and develop models to overcome the constraints governments face in upgrading informal settlements. Khan encouraged people to build and pay for their own underground sewage system, at a cost of around US$30 a household. A year later, he needed an architect. That was me. 
How did you help?I proposed cheap, simple, local solutions: concrete-curing methods, casting cheap steel-shuttering manhole covers in situ, site-appropriate tools such as manual compactors, and surveys and maps. I also developed rules of thumb for gradients, manhole and pipe sizes, survey procedures and inexpensive one-chamber septic tanks. These designs and methods, which challenged conventional engineering standards, have stood the test of time. They also reduced costs by more than 40%.
And these steps had a broad impact:
How did sanitation transform public health?By 2000, some 85% of Orangi had self-laid, self-financed sewer lines. The lanes are clean: children play in them, women sit and talk. Health indicators have improved, and by 1993 infant mortality had fallen to 37 in 1,000. 
What are the social and economic changes?   
Literacy rates there are now among the highest in Pakistan. Socially and economically, Orangi is much more connected to the rest of Karachi in diverse ways. Many people are white-collar workers; a substantial minority are professionals; women and entrepreneurs work in and service formal-sector industry.
Orangi a model for other cities?As an outgrowth of the process of building sanitation communally, residents became community activists and got involved in OPP-supported health, education, housing and micro-credit programmes. The architects and technicians who helped to initiate the project now run it, and have expanded it to cities and settlements all over Pakistan, often in collaboration with local governments and planning agencies. The OPP's philosophy has had a major impact on the attitudes of professionals, academic institutions, government officials and international non-governmental organizations and agencies working in Pakistan.
This is fantastic! Towards the end of the interview he mentions that 92% of the architecture and planning students at the University of Karachi are women - which is incredible:
How has architecture in Karachi changed?When I began my practice in 1968, an architect designed for the state, or for the rich. Today, clients vary hugely. This new architectural world belongs to women, who make up 92% of the architecture and planning students at the University of Karachi. In many ways, the role of the architect is immense compared to before.
Full article here (but will need subscription to access it).

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