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Understanding and removing the barriers: Story of Nazir Ahmad Wattoo (part 1) 

06 November 2010 11:30:06

Understanding and removing the barriers: Story of Nazir Ahmad Wattoo (part 1)

We are passing through the worst economic and moral crisis in the history of Pakistan. There is a leadership vacuum and people don’t how to bring about a change in their lives. It is time to narrate the story of a community activist who started from scratch to improve the livelihoods of people in his community. This activist is Nazir Ahmad wattoo. He succeeded where others failed. It is important to know why?

 Nazir Ahmad Wattoo started his work for community development in Dhuddi Wala neighborhood of industrial City of Faisalabad in early 1990. Faisalabad is the largest textile manufacturing center of Punjab. Urban expansion in Faisalabad during late sixties and seventies gave birth to many low-income and poorly serviced urban settlements. Nazir Ahmad Wattoo lived in one of these settlements. He actively tried to bring about changes in this area as a young political worker. However two decades of political activism did not bring about any significant changes in the lives of people in his neighborhood. Nazir Wattoo’s passion and drive to change did not die out and he kept looking for ways to fulfill his dream.

In addition to organizing numerous receptions for higher ups in his area he kept attending conferences, seminars and workshops outside Faisalabad in search of the magic formula that could bring an end to the miseries of  people he lived with. During one of these ventures be came across Mr. Arif Hasan who invited him to visit Karachi to see Orangi Pilot Project’s (OPP) remarkable work in provision of sanitation to the poor in a settlement of 1 million people.

Nazir Wattoo went to Karachi with the hope that there he will be handed bags full of money to go back and distribute in his neighborhood. He was very disappointed when he was given a tour of Orangi Town instead. There he was shown lane after lane fitted with sewerage lines. All these lane dwellers had built there sewerage system with their own contribution. The people who lived there were extremely poor and had purchased their  plots from land grabbers on very low prices. This clearly showed that they had very limited purchasing power. Wattoo was not ready to believe that this could happen. If it happened in Orangi there was no way that it could happen in any other part of Pakistan. This was the first barrier. How could poor people pay for the basic services without government funds?

The second and most important issue was the common and “politically correct” belief that provision of sewerage and other basic services was responsibility of the government. Why should one absolve the government of its responsibility? Why should the people pay for these services out of their pocket. This was the second barrier. Even if people agreed to lay sewerage lines in their neighborhood on self help basis, they did not have the technical know- how to undertake this task. They did not know how to drawn an accurate could map, conduct level survey, dig and build man holes, supervise the work of masons and connect sewerage line with the toilet and trunk line carrying sewerage to the disposal station. This lack of technical knowledge was the third barrier.

Last and most important point was lack of consensus among community members to hand over their contribution to some one who would use their money judiciously. They were not ready to trust any outsider to keep and spend this money. In the presence of these barriers it seemed almost impossible to mobilize people to initiate development work in their area with their own resources. First and foremost challenge for Wattoo was to understand these barriers and determine how these barriers could be removed. Wattoo raised these issues with the architect of Orangi Pilot Project Dr. Akhter Hamid Khan to clarify his own understanding.  (Part 1)


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