Saturday, 26 April 2008


I’ve just been reading (on a train journey to London) a hard copy of the January 2008 issue of the ‘new look’ Waterlines (summaries on-line here, index here), now described as “an international journal of water, sanitation and waste”. First reaction? Well, it’s more like an academic journal, rather than a WatSan magazine. Being an academic, I’m not best placed to judge, but I wonder what the wider non-academic readership makes of this revamp − do they like the new look?

The title of the January 2008 issue is Where are we with sanitation? Clearly a very good question for the first month of IYS2008. There are a couple of papers on sanitation coverage − are the JMP figures reliable? [Probably not, but there’s not much else!]. There’s also an excellent paper by Maggie Black (author of The Last Taboo − see blog of 4 April) on the ‘first sanitary revolution’ in the 19th century, and she asks if there are lessons for “today’s global sanitation crisis”. She notes a similarity between the Great Stink from the River Thames in London in 1858 and today’s Great Stink in Delhi from the Yamuna river (Sewage Canal: How to Treat the Yamuna, CSE, 2007). [Unfortunately the Indian Parliament Buildings are not located near the Yamuna, whereas the UK Houses of Parliament are right on the River Thames.]

Then there’s the very interesting paper by Kevin Tayler: “Urban sanitation: Lessons from experience” in Asia, especially Pakistan and India. As Kevin is highly experienced in urban sanitation in Asia, this is well worth reading. The first heading in the paper is “Sewerage: An appropriate sanitation choice?” and he gives three case studies, The Orangi Pilot Project (OPP) in Karachi and two others.

The OPP is very well known and much has been written about it (one example, from WaterAid, here; others here). On its website OPP says its approach is:

to encourage and strengthen community initiatives (with social, technical guidance and credit for micro enterprise) and evolve partnerships with the government for development based on local resources.

OPP describes its low-cost sanitation programme as follows:

Low Cost Sanitation Program enables low income families to finance, manage and maintain sanitary latrines in their homes, underground sewerage lines in the lanes and secondary sewers (this constitutes internal development). Government is responsible to provide main sewers and treatment plants (i.e. external development). OPP-RTI provides social and technical guidance to both community and government facilitating partnerships. The model that has evolved from the program is the component-sharing concept of development with people and government as partners. The program has extended to all of Orangi and to 338 settlements of Karachi and 18 cities, also in 47 villages (spread over the Sindh and Punjab Province), covering a population of more than 2 million.

Interestingly in both these excerpts there’s mention of “technical guidance”. So it wouldn’t be too unfair to assume that this guidance would include guidance on sewer design, but apparently not. I only know this because, when some years ago I gave a talk on simplified sewerage at a WaterAid conference in London, a young member of the OPP staff came up to me after the talk and tried to persuade me to visit OPP to teach them the hydraulic design of sewers as they didn’t know anything about it! Just as well then that the ground slopes in Orangi are greater than the necessary minimum sewer gradients! [There may be some info. on sewer design in an OPP publication, but it’s difficult to know as none of the many OPP publications listed on its website is hyperlinked to an electronic version.]

Actually I know a little more about Orangi as I went there in about 1982, at the request of UN-Habitat, to advise the BCCI Foundation on sanitation solutions for Orangi (BCCI, the now defunct Bank of Credit and Commerce International). I recommended simplified sewerage and suggested that one of my research students, Gehan Sinnatamby, who was just about to finish his PhD on the topic (he had done all his fieldwork in northeast Brazil with CAERN − see blog of 16 January), be engaged to do this. Gehan worked with a very poor minority (Christian) community in Orangi and successfully installed strict Brazilian-style simplified sewerage. Water consumption was only 27 litres per person per day, all obtained from public standpipes. I remember Gehan telling me that some people from the then quite new OPP came to see what he was doing but, other than that, they kept their distance. More detail on Gehan’s work is given in his 1986 UN-Habitat publication The Design of Shallow Sewer Systems and in our 1986 paper in World Water Sewerage: Shallow systems offer hope to slums [simplified sewerage was originally called shallow sewerage].