The Orangi Pilot Project – Research and Training Institute (OPP-RTI) initiated the community self-help programme that has transformed the sanitation and housing of the Orangi shanty settlement of Karachi in Pakistan over the last twenty years. Simultaneously it has helped to bring dignity, self-respect and hope to the lives of many thousands of men, women and children. Improvements in the quality of locally produced building materials, the training of local people as masons and barefoot architects and the development of simple new-build and renovation designs have enabled 2,500 homes to be built and improved annually. All improvement costs are met by the residents and it is estimated that over 1.5 million people have benefited from the replication of this approach in other cities and countries.

Aims and Objectives

Work in partnership with the communities to develop strategies where people can manage, finance and build better homes for themselves and in the process make the people/government relationship more equitable.
Orangi Township in Karachi is a massive squatter settlement with a population of 1.2 million. The infrastructure of the city dated back to 1960s when government agencies only constructing roads, basic water supply systems, electricity lines and schools and hospitals. Until 1980s, most households had no access to sanitation facilities and used bucket latrines and soakpits for the disposal of human waste and open sewers for the disposal of waste, resulting in a high rate of water-borne diseases.

The Orangi pilot project was initiated in 1980 by the renowned social scientist Dr Akhtar Hameed Khan. He established the project as a research institution whose objective was to analyse the problems of the Orangi settlement and then through action research and extension education to discover viable solutions. Its strategy has always been to help local people achieve their own development needs rather than rely on external sources of aid.

The methods used include identifying local activists, providing training in community organisation and technical support, providing on-going support and guidance for the actual improvement work and simplifying designs so that they are affordable. The emphasis is on encouraging professionals and governments to support the people’s initiatives. To date, local communities involved with the OPP-RTI programme have built indoor toilets for 99,097 dwellings and installed 1,647,000 feet of underground piped sanitation. Once the streets have been made clean and wholesome with the introduction of piped underground sanitation, local people are prepared to invest their own resources in improving their housing conditions and it is estimated that Rs 100,000 ($1,750) is spent by each family on their home once the environmental improvement works have been completed. Over the lifetime of the programme the residents of Orangi have invested $1.3 million. To date, the project has been extended to 245 settlements and 17cities covering a population of more then 1.5 million in Pakistan. Plans are currently underway to extend the project to 21 more towns and 100 new villages.

In 1986, having seen the success of the sanitation project, OPP-RTI initiated a housing project using the same research and action approach. Research was carried out in conjunction with the University of Karachi and the Dawood College and this established that almost all of the houses in the Orangi squatter settlement were substandard. This was due to a variety of factors, including:

  • The poor quality of building materials used in construction. The hand-made concrete blocks which were the traditional main components of the walls and foundations were substandard due to the use of poor quality materials and construction methods.
  • Severe cracks had therefore developed in the main structural components of the dwellings. Building skills were inadequate.
  • Faulty construction techniques were used due to ignorance, as well as the quick-fix attitude of masons and residents.
  • The inequitable relationship between contractor and mason and the house owner.
  • Poor ventilation in the houses.

Having spent two years researching the housing problems and their causes, OPP- RTI developed an action research project to develop pilot solutions, which included:

  • Upgrading the building component manufacturing yards in the Orangi settlement of Karachi to improve the quality of the concrete blocks available for construction and by introducing the manufacture of alternative roofing components.
  • Evolving standard construction designs and techniques and training masons to use them, as well as providing accurate plans and estimates.
  • Preparing standardised steel shuttering and lending these and other tools and equipment to local communities.

Preparing audio-visual aids, manuals and instruction sheets that can be easily understood by the local population.

Owners of building component yards were persuaded to participate in the research and development of improved building materials and to manufacture the improved quality bricks using a simple machine. An improved ratio of concrete mix was identified and the compaction, vibration, curing and drying process was streamlined. This has enabled the blocks to be four times stronger than previously, without any increase in price. This is due to the increased production from mechanisation (on average from 750 blocks to 2,500 blocks a day). The initial research was carried out in 1987 in four yards with OPP-RTI providing a loan and technical support. All 57 building component yards in the Orangi area have adopted these methods and Orangi has now become a centre for the production of mechanised blocks in Karachi. Overall employment in the block producing sector has increased and earnings have increased by at least 50 per cent and in some cases by 200 per cent. 30 to 40 per cent of the blocks now being made in Orangi are exported to neighbouring areas.

173 local masons have been trained in the improved design and construction techniques and the better use of tools. Accurate plans and estimates have been provided for the masons and tools and shutterings were lent to carry out the work. A new load bearing technology for construction has been developed that is only one third of the cost of the reinforced concrete construction. It includes in-situ foundations for a minimum of ground floor plus first floor, six inch load-bearing walls of machine made blocks, batten-tile or T-girder roofing and proper fixing methods, a pre-cast staircase, proper orientation and ventilation. Over 2,500 houses are built annually with these improved blocks and construction systems.

Local young people have been trained as para-architects to provide technical support and advice to local households, community builders and small building contractors, since existing architectural practices were unwilling to undertake this work. The first team of two para-architects has established an office in Orangi and have developed a substantial clientele. Young people from the community are also being trained in surveying and mapping at OPP-RTI and will be able to help neighbourhoods in the mapping of their settlements when the time comes for regularisation of their area by the local government. A Technical Training Resource Centre (TTRC) has been set up by the young people of the housing and survey mapping unit where to date, a total of 33 courses have been conducted for 94 participants.

The project also supports the position of women in the communities by encouraging their participation in the community development process and has established an education project and supported the health and micro-credit projects. Loans are made available through the Orangi Charitable Trust and approximately 18 per cent of these have been made to women entrepreneurs to expand training and income generating activities such as stitching centres, provisions shops, informal schools, embroidery workshops, dairy cattle operations, clinics and beauty parlours. A health programme was initiated to promote the issues of modern hygiene and prevention of diseases to the illiterate and semi-illiterate women. As a result, there has been a marked improvement in the health of the residents, a substantial reduction in infant mortality rates and an increase in disposable income.

OPP-RTI has also supported the setting up of 340 small schools, of which, 322 are currently operating and have become formal institutions. The schools are attended by over 26,000 (male and female) students, in almost equal numbers.

The OPP-RTI community-based approach to sanitation, environmental and housing improvement developed in Orangi has been used in many other slum settlements of Karachi and in seven other cities of Pakistan. Training is provided to NGO staff, CBO activists and their government counterparts at the OPP-RTI office in Karachi and OPP-RTI staff carry out site visits and monitor the work. These CBOs are now taking the initiative in additional activities dealing with solid waste management and education.

Work in Karachi is expanding rapidly and OPP-RTI is supporting the City government wih all technical mapping, design work, costing and on-site supervision. The government agency responsible for sewerage infrastructure development in Karachi, the Karachi Water and Sewerage Board (KWSB) is now in agreement with the OPP-RTI proposals for sewage disposal. KWSB agree that developing the existing drainage channels provides a realistic and cost effective plan of action towards developing sanitation facilities in Karachi.
The KWSB has also requested OPP-RTI support for the provision of water supply and sewage disposal for Karachi’s Katchi Abadis. OPP-RTI is involved in preparing the National Sanitation Policy (NSP). This is an opportunity to influence the policy at the national level.

Funding for core administration costs of the organisation is met by a Pakistani Foundation, with additional funds provided for additional training and education projects provided by international donors. All costs are kept to a minimum. The costs of carrying out the sanitation improvements are met by the communities, with local community leaders organising all the financing for the collective works. Approximately Rs 92 million ($1.55 million) has been invested by the local communities in the sanitation improvements with the government investing Rs. 77 million ($1.3 million). Individual households meet the cost of improving their own dwellings.

Why is it innovative?

  • Adopting a holistic approach to sanitation;
  • Technological innovation in the method by which the drains and sewers are constructed.
  • Making ‘community participation’ a key aspect of the project;
  • Creating income generating activities for women and young people;
  • Encouraging and supporting the replication of the OPP-RTI techniques in Pakistan as well as the other parts of the world.

What is the environmental impact?

The improved sanitation, housing conditions and better waste management techniques have resulted in saving of vital local resources and improved environmental standards. Tree planting programmes have resulted in large scale planting in the Orangi lanes and streets.

Is it financially sustainable?

Whilst the OPP-RTI is financed by various national and international agencies, the costs for improving the sanitation systems are met by the local communities. Any cost for improving the dwelling is also met by the individual households. The income generating activities add to individual household income that helps to pay for better education, health and housing.

What is the social impact?

The holistic approach adopted by the project has created many additional benefits for the communities involved, especially women and young people. Through community involvement, the project creates a sense of ownership and gives control of maintaining the established systems back to its users. This ensures the continuity of the project in a cost-effective manner whilst improving general health and social standards of the people.


Over 1.5 million people have benefited from the replication of the process. The national government has agreed to support the OPP-RTI model and is increasingly supportive of the approach, which is also being widely used by international agencies and donor organisations.

There are increasing requests from CBOs/NGO’s for support for replication of the OPP-RTI sanitation program. For expansion of work in the villages and towns of interior Sindh, a program of training of youths on mapping and documentation has been initiated. This can also evolve into a process leading to the youths setting up technical support units.

The OPP-RTI mapping and documentation methodology has been further transferred to partner CBOs and NGOs across Pakistan, and to local government agencies. The training received from OPP-RTI is transferred as neighbouring settlements, villages and towns contact the CBO/NGO about replicating the program.

In Faisalabad, satellite mapping expertise was acquired and passed on to Jaranwala Town and Chiniot Town. The plane-table survey techniques learnt by CBOs in Lodhran Town were extended to 5 nearby towns and 12 villages. The OPP-RTI mapping methodology has been transferred to a Punjab government agency, and on to the CBOs and NGOs working with it. Further plans to digitize the increasing number of maps acquired by OPP-RTI are underway, and this will provide easy access to a valuable resource.

The OPP-RTI approach has also been widely used elsewhere in the world with training provided to persons from Nepal, Cambodia, Vietnam, Central Asia, South Africa and Sri Lanka.


NGO, local community, local government