A Tale of Two Slums

by James Tayler

Accra, Ghana

By Jack Makau, SDI Secretariat

In many ways the Orangi Pilot Project is probably the closest ideological kin to an SDI urban intervention. At the heart of both organizations is the philosophy that organized communities are the most vital component in any process that aims to improve living conditions for the urban poor.  Based in Karachi, Pakistan, OPP has facilitated the installation of a sanitation system for more than 1 million households living in the city’s Katchi Abadis, which are differentiated from slums mostly by state acceptance of the unofficial land tenure rights of the residents.  However, the residents of the Abadis are, in almost every other way, the same as the slum dwellers that SDI is organized around.

SDI and OPP are contemporaries and have shared the same space, and similarity of opinion, within development circles since the 1990s. Yet, while there is no active contestation, or any call for it, there is divergence in approach.   A distinctiveness which becomes apparent only when you dismantle the approach of each organization into separate pieces and juxtapose comparable pieces from each organization. So you have historical and local contexts that pit OPP’s Karachi experience against SDI’s intervention in Kampala. Or the sources and amount of development finance that has gone into 1 million individual household sanitation connections in Karachi and 2,000 communal sanitation units in Mumbai, and so on. 

orangi pilot project

Photos of Orangi Pilot Project, courtesy of www.oppinstitutions.org.

In January, architect, activist, and writer and now-retired founder of OPP, Arif Hasan engaged SDI’s national affiliates through workshops held in Nairobi and Lilongwe. In open-ended discussions,  Hasan laid out learning from three decades of OPPs experience. The attending SDI affiliates, including Uganda, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Ghana, Namibia, Kenya, and Malawi, also told their individual stories about experiences over the last decade and a half.   However, the most poignant achievement of the workshops was the disaggregation of both OPP’s and SDI’s approaches. 

Having dissected and studied the approaches, it follows that we hold a discussion on the question, “How then do we, or you, construct (using the OPP and SDI components) an urban intervention that has real impact on poverty in a city?” – any city. 

Over the next four weeks, we will feature a discussion on four components that OPP and SDI have designed differently – with varying degrees of success. This is an attempt at isolating the DNA of a successful intervention in how to reverse the impoverishing impacts of urbanization.

The first in the series will be a discussion on community organization. The two approaches under discussion are OPP’s “component sharing”, where the formation, sustenance and management of community organizations is almost entirely a community responsibility. This is looked at against the SDI tools of community organization, collectively called “federation building;” a model where organization is prescribed and the responsibility is shared between communities and development agencies. The discussion  seeks to establish the structure for a successful interventions 

The second part of the series will focus on the ways communities interact with the city. Who do communities talk to? How do they do this? And what do they say? This section discusses the strategy of interventions.

How is delivery resourced – who pays for what? This constitutes the third part of the series.  What are the appropriate proportions of community contributions; government, private sector and external development finance.

The last part of the series is a discussion on achieving scale: what is distinct about the OPP strategy for scale against the SDI strategy?

Please join us in the coming weeks as we continue this important discussion.