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Squatter Settlements in Developing Nations: A focus on Orangi Town - Karachi, Pakistan

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: International Studies
Wordcount: 2534 words Published: 8th Feb 2020

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The rapidly contagious process of urbanization is often perceived as a positive form of international development (Mahabir, et al., 2016). It has gradually begun to characterize many of the world’s major cities through swift urban planning activities and intense population growth (Mahabir, et al., 2016). Within the aid and development sector, there is a growing concern about the numerous poorer communities emerging within informal housing settlements because of such urban growth. Typically, referred to as squatter or slum settlements, they are recognized as any form of building or collection of buildings that have been established by people of poorer economic background (Bolay, et al., 2016). These slum like dwellings are often geographically located on the fringes of densely populated major cities such as Karachi in Pakistan (Bolay, et al., 2016). Home to some of the world’s poorest people, there is a severe lack of social and economic support given to these communities who generally lack adequate access to health and sanitation facilities (Bolay, et al., 2016). In response to such constructs, there have been several attempts to combat the issues of squatter settlements through aid and development initiatives. Within this essay, the issues surrounding development and aid initiatives in relation to squatter settlements will be addressed with a focus on the mega-city of Karachi, Pakistan. A summary of some of the factors that have attributed to the growth of slums around major cities will be briefly analyzed in context to Karachi. This will be followed by an analysis on the Orangi Pilot Project (OPP) which is a renowned NGO in Pakistan. The OPP emerged in the 1980s as a social innovation movement for squatter areas in Orangi Town, Karachi. The essay will reference a case study program implemented by the OPP to foreshadow the positive contribution participatory development programs can have on emerging urban issues and the importance of bottom-up approaches. Maintaining an anthropological perspective, the impression of the state and how the Pakistani Government has lacked participation in aid projects for slum settlements is also highlighted. This provides the foundation for exposing the disparities between participatory and state development theories and therefore opens a debate on each theories’ effectiveness and purpose in aid and development discourse and practice.

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In a contemporary context, squatter settlements are experiencing remarkable growth particularly within developing nations (Bolay, et al., 2016). One of the world’s most intense mega cities, Karachi Pakistan is home to just over 16 million people (Statistics 2017). Locally referred to as ‘Katchi Abadis’, meaning raw settlements in English, it is estimated that over 50 per cent of Karachi’s population live in such conditions (Hasan, 2002). The idea of location of choice is considered among academic literature to be the major factor contributing to squatter settlements, which has systematically caused rural to urban migration (Mahabir, et al., 2016). Often perceived as an ideal living environment, urban regions offer many enticing services rural areas tend to lack. For example, the readily available economic and social opportunities presented by urban cities is a significant pull factor (Bolay, et al., 2016). Provisions such as better access to health care services and educational facilities also provide an undoubted reason for people to choose urban situations over rural struggle. The appealing nature of urban environments coupled by the evident push factors rural regions encourage such as higher rates of poverty, occasionally restrictive social or cultural practices, environmental difficulties and extreme agricultural laborious tasks to name a few highlight the foundations of rural-urban migration (Mahabir, et al., 2016). Another factor for slum establishments is the overt lack of acceptable urban governance. Outdated, unyielding urban planning practices are implemented in developing nations and are often encouraging a window for informal housing (Mahabir, et al., 2016; Bolay, et al., 2016). Policies and regulations that lack creativity and sustainability in support of providing an efficient and functioning community, allow constructs such as slums to occur, as it is often easy to bypass laws that are implemented to meet the needs of safe, sanitary housing (Mahabir, et al., 2016). Poor urban governance is a broad factor, and causes a myriad of issues for slum dwellers. Governments in developing nations are often responsible for housing so many squatter settlements in their major cities or nearby. Commonly, these governments have a significant lack of resources which hinders their ability to face the issues of slums (Bolay, et al., 2016). Developing proper infrastructure and urging efficient planning conventions to cease and ultimately stop the progression of informal housing seems to not be a priority of some governments including the likes of Pakistan (Bolay, et al., 2016). Corruption combined with a flippant government are common within developing nations. Demonstrating how not enough attention is being given to the plight of slum dwellers and is enabling the upward growth of such settlements (Bolay, et al., 2016). These factors are the foundation of many issues presented in Karachi and help to provide context on the issue of squatter settlements explaining why aid and development is essential for the country’s growth.

Karachi demands around 80,000 housing units per annum however, only receives around 26,700 building permits per year (Hasan, 2002). Orangi is a township notorious for informal housing and is situated in the district west of Karachi city. The geographic contents of Orangi is approximately 1,300 acres of planned area and around 8,200 acres of informal subdivision of state land (Hasan, 2002). With this information in mind, Akhtar Hameed Khan established the OPP, Orangi Pilot Project, to better understand the problems of informal settlements and work towards combatting them (Hasan, 2002). The project engendered the core idea that institutions, such as the OPP, should assist in developing models to overcome the macro factors that cause such housing issues to begin with (Hasan, 2002). For example, the financial and institutional constraints the governments of developing nations experience when trying to accommodate for low income settlements, is a high-risk factor for the spread of slum dwellings (Hasan, 2008). The OPP, as an institution, saw many situations in Orangi town that threatened the rights of countless citizens daily (Hasan, 2002). This consequently lead the organisation to divide into four bodies that would work separately on certain issues (Hasan, 2002). The Orangi Pilot Project – Research and Training Institute (OPP-RTI) dealing with sanitation, housing, education, research and training is the focus of many grassroots initiatives implemented by the OPP (Hasan, 2002). The OPP-RTI established a ‘Sanitation Programme’ to combat one of the major problems identified by residents of Orangi town informal settlements (Hasan, 2002). Inhabitants of the region explained to the OPP-RTI technical staff that sewage flowing in their lanes were posing a risk to the foundations of their houses, as many were built with little consideration to construction stability (Hasan, 2002). The OPP-RTI listened and responded to citizen concerns and focused on involving those living within problematic areas, such as those near the disposal channels (Hasan, 2002). Collector drains and other forms of drainage were formed in key locations identified by the technical staff of the OPP-RTI and consequently allowed for better flow of sewage, bypassing nearby settlements (Hasan, 2002). The OPP-RTI reached out to the state government however, funding for the project was refused (Hasan, 2008). This then meant that the people of Orangi town had to collectively raise money to construct the collector drains, highlighting another systematic issue with squatter settlement concerns. Orangi town has around 7,256 lanes with 104,917 housing settlements (Hasan, 2002). This one example implemented by the OPP-RTI Sanitation Programme saw 6082 of the 7256 lanes and 91,531 of the 104,917 houses build their own sewage systems (Hasan, 2002). This tremendous effort is considered a colossal success accomplished by the OPP. Many have attributed such achievements to the four barriers the OPP-RTI was able to identify through research and careful consideration (Hasan, 2002). The four barriers are known as the; psychological barrier, social barrier, economic barrier and technical barrier (Hasan, 2002). Each with their own individual complications, the OPP-RTI could overcome the sanitation problem by constantly considering all four factors and including them in every decision or activity planned and implemented (Hasan, 2008). The Sanitation Programme is a primary example of a positive implementation of participatory, alternative development. The OPP-RTI researched thoroughly before acting and encouraged the involvement of citizens to better their community by gently guiding them with technical advice. The behavior displayed by the OPP as an institution is exemplary and foreshadows the scale of success that can occur if one is inclined to simply listen and learn. The OPP strongly engenders the notion of positive participatory development and advocates intensely for bottom up approaches when tackling matters concerning aid and development.

Government interventions in Pakistan have struggled to provide crucial service provisions for their populations that live in squatter settlements. However, many of those living within the slums present a strong argument against this (Cabannes, et al., 2010). Many suggest that they are either being evicted, having their homes demolished or experiencing serious neglect from initiatives that are employed by the government for its citizens (Bolay, et al., 2016). The Sanitation Programme implemented by the OPP-RTI is an evident example of how a lack of interest demonstrated by the Pakistani government, has placed a significant level of responsibility on NGO initiatives to save their citizens from suffering a poorer quality of life due to their informal housing situation (Hasan, 2002). The OPP-RTI team reached out to the local government, which was touched on earlier. With a strong refusal to provide any sort of financial aid or support to the developments, the OPP had to collect money from the people who are already in low socio-economic conditions (Hasan, 2002). Although this seems unfair, it was estimated that if the government had completed the work that the Programme did, it would’ve cost almost seven times more than what the OPP-RTI had accomplished it with (Hasan, 2002). However, this still demonstrates a lack of trust many governments of developing nations embody, with issues of corruption and inadequate methods of implementing infrastructure expenditure being the main concerns. This presents a strong argument against the importance of state development. Governments who face serious urban issues in developing nations often represent top-down responses. Time and time again, it is concluded that state power is often misused and misrepresents the actual needs of its people hindering the reputation of aid and development practice (Bolay, et al., 2016). The OPP-RTI Sanitation Programme is just one example of why developing nations constantly require participatory NGO help. It is beyond just helping the people and their problems. The work that NGOs achieve, help to recognize broader, complicated flaws within the state. They can cast an undesirable light over state governments within the global political arena and ignite stronger action for change (Bolay, et al., 2016). Evidently, the Government of Pakistan is reacting poorly to the situation of squatter settlements in Karachi. It is strongly supported throughout the international community that Pakistan should be focusing on addressing such concerns to overcome the larger misgivings the country is also facing, such as high levels of poverty and exploitation (Cabannes, et al., 2010).

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Squatter settlements are extremely complex when addressing. The land typically does not belong to its inhabitants but is providing basic infrastructure for survival. Within this essay, some of the factors that have had a heavy impact on the establishment of slums are discussed and foreshadow the process of rural to urban migration as the most powerful factor. The essay then proceeds to utilize the case study of Orangi Town, Karachi, Pakistan to depict the hardships and convolutions associated with squatter settlements and the positive contributions the OPP-RTI institution has bestowed on the region. This case study presents a strong case in support of participatory development which is followed by an analysis of state development and its lack thereof. With a negative light, often casted over the purpose and activities of contemporary development, this essay argues the relevance of certain development initiatives and the outdated nature of others. The positive work conducted by the OPP demonstrates how important it is to listen to the concerns of the people experiencing tribulations and who will be directly affected by development activities. Thus, promoting the good work demonstrated by effective participatory development lead NGOs such as the Orangi Pilot Project institution.


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  • Cabannes, Y., Guimarães Yafai, S. & Johnson, C., 2010. How People Face Evictions. London: University College London.
  • Hasan, A., 2002. A model for government-community partnership in building sewage systems for urban areas: The experiences of the Orangi Pilot Project – Research and Training Institute (OPP-RTI), Karachi. Water Science and Technology, 45(8), pp. 199-216.
  • Hasan, A., 2008. Financing the sanitation programme of the Orangi Pilot Project—Research and Training Institute in Pakistan. Environment and Urbanization , 20(1), pp. 109-119.
  • Mahabir, R., Crooks, A., Croitoru, A. & Agouris, P., 2016. The study of slums as social and physical constructs; challneges and emerging research opportunities. Regional Studies, Regional Science , 3(1), pp. 399-419.
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  • Statistics, P. B. o., 2017. Provisional Summary Results of 6TH Population and Housing census , s.l.: Government of Pakistan.


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