Folder Articles



pdf Popular

Which risks get managed? Addressing climate effects in the context of evolving water-governance institutions

Ken Conca
American University, Washington DC, USA;

ABSTRACT: Warnings about climate change invariably stress water-related effects. Such effects are typically framed as both unpredictable and disruptive, and are thus said to create large new risks to the water sector demanding adaptive responses. This article examines how such responses are mediated by, and also compromised by, two dominant trends in the evolution of water governance institutions: (1) the rise of an “integrated” paradigm of water resources management, which has encouraged the development of more complex and interconnected water institutions, and (2) the rapidly changing political economy of water financing and investment. Each of these trends carries its own strong presumptions about what constitutes water-related risk and how such risk is properly managed. The article uses the specific example of large dam projects to illustrate how these ongoing trends in water governance shape and complicate the prospect of managing climate-water risks.

KEYWORDS: Integrated Water Resources Management, climate change, climate adaptation, risk, uncertainty


pdf Popular

Upgrading domestic-plus systems in rural Senegal: An incremental Income-Cost (I-C) analysis

Ralph P. Hall
School of Public and International Affairs, Urban Affairs and Planning Program, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, VA, USA;

Eric A. Vance
Laboratory for Interdisciplinary Statistical Analysis (LISA), Department of Statistics, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, VA, USA;

Emily van Houweling
Josef Korbel School of International Studies, University of Denver, Denver, CO, USA;

ABSTRACT: There is growing evidence that rural and peri-urban households depend on water not only for basic domestic needs but also for a wide variety of livelihood activities. In recognition of this reality, an alternative approach to water service planning, known as multiple-use water services (MUS), has emerged to design water services around householdsʼ multiple water needs. The benefits of MUS are diverse and include improved health, food security, income generation, and women’s empowerment. A common argument put forth by WASH sector professionals in favour of upgrading existing water systems is that productive water uses allow for income generation that, in turn, enhances the ability to pay for services. However, there has been limited rigorous research to assess whether the additional income generated from productive use activities justifies water service upgrading costs. This paper describes an income-cost (I-C) analysis based on survey data and EPANET models for 47 domestic-plus water systems in rural Senegal to assess whether the theoretical financial benefits to households from additional piped-water-based productive activities would be greater than the estimated system upgrade costs. The paper provides a transparent methodology for performing an I-C analysis. We find that the potential incremental income earned by upgrading the existing domestic-plus systems to provide intermediate-level MUS would be equivalent to the funds needed to recover the system upgrade costs in just over one year. Thus, hypothetically, water could pay for water. A sensitivity analysis shows that even with a 55% reduction in household income earned per cubic meter of water, the incremental income is still greater than the upgrade costs over a ten-year period for the majority of the systems.

KEYWORDS: Domestic-plus systems, intermediate-level MUS, multiple-use water services, rural water supply, incremental I-C analysis, Senegal


pdf Popular

Groundwater as a source of conflict and cooperation: Towards creating mutual gains in a Finnish water supply project

Vuokko Kurki
Tampere University of Technology, Tampere, Finland;

Tapio S. Katko
Tampere University of Technology, Tampere, Finland;

ABSTRACT: Community planners, decision-makers and authorities frequently encounter conflicts revolving around natural resource management as well as around urban planning. Since the 1970s, the dynamics of conflict resolution have evolved from conventional expert-based rational solutions towards collaborative ones. Against this background, our research investigates one contentious groundwater project in the Tampere Region in Finland. Conflict assessment clarified the divergent interests of the multiple parties. Drawing on negotiation theory, this study illustrates how polarised positions and competitive framing, as well as the influence of historical baggage, may form an insurmountable barrier to successful negotiation. While the acknowledgement of various interests should form the heart of the integrative negotiation process, excessive energy is used for argumentation to protect predefined goals with as minor concessions as possible. Addressing the collaborative approach, we suggest multiple ways towards creating mutual gains and cooperation in future water supply projects.

KEYWORDS: Conflict assessment, case-study, groundwater, integrative negotiation, mutual gains approach, Finland


pdf Popular

Vernacular knowledge and water management – Towards the integration of expert science and local knowledge in Ontario, Canada

Hugh Simpson
Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, Guelph, Ontario, Canada; School of Environmental Design and Rural Development, University of Guelph, Ontario, Canada; Water Policy and Governance Group;

Rob de Loë
Department of Environment and Resource Studies, University of Waterloo, Waterloo, Ontario, Canada; Water Policy and Governance Group;

Jean Andrey
Professor, Department of Geography and Environmental Management, University of Waterloo, Waterloo, Ontario, Canada;

ABSTRACT: Complex environmental problems cannot be solved using expert science alone. Rather, these kinds of problems benefit from problem-solving processes that draw on 'vernacular' knowledge. Vernacular knowledge integrates expert science and local knowledge with community beliefs and values. Collaborative approaches to water problem-solving can provide forums for bringing together diverse, and often competing, interests to produce vernacular knowledge through deliberation and negotiation of solutions. Organised stakeholder groups are participating increasingly in such forums, often through involvement of networks, but it is unclear what roles these networks play in the creation and sharing of vernacular knowledge. A case-study approach was used to evaluate the involvement of a key stakeholder group, the agricultural community in Ontario, Canada, in creating vernacular knowledge during a prescribed multi-stakeholder problem-solving process for source water protection for municipal supplies. Data sources – including survey questionnaire responses, participant observation, and publicly available documents – illustrate how respondents supported and participated in the creation of vernacular knowledge. The results of the evaluation indicate that the respondents recognised and valued agricultural knowledge as an information source for resolving complex problems. The research also provided insight concerning the complementary roles and effectiveness of the agricultural community in sharing knowledge within a prescribed problem-solving process.

KEYWORDS: Vernacular knowledge, water governance, stakeholder networks, collaborative decision making, agriculture, Ontario, Canada


pdf Popular

Brazil’s São Luiz do Tapajós Dam: The art of cosmetic environmental impact assessments

Philip M. Fearnside
National Institute for Research in Amazonia (INPA), Manaus, Amazonas, Brazil;

ABSTRACT: Brazil’s planned São Luiz do Tapajós dam is a key part of a massive plan for hydropower and navigable waterways in the Tapajós basin and on other Amazon River tributaries. The dam’s Environmental Impact Study (EIA) illustrates the fragility of protections. EIAs are supposed to provide input to decisions on development projects, but in practice these studies tend to become formalities in legalizing prior decisions made in the absence of information on or consideration of project impacts. The EIA has a tendency to minimize or ignore significant impacts. Loss of fisheries resources is likely to be critical for Munduruku indigenous people and for traditional riverside dwellers (ribeirinhos), but the EIA claims that there is "low expectation that natural conditions of aquatic environments will be significantly altered". The destruction of Munduruku sacred sites is simply ignored. The Brazilian government’s priority for the dam has resulted in blocking creation of the Munduruku’s Sawré Muybu indigenous land and other indigenous lands throughout Brazilian Amazonia. With the exception of one legally recognized community (Montanha e Mangabal), non-indigenous ribeirinhos are considered as not 'traditional people'. Even the one recognized community is not considered to require free, prior and informed consent. The São Luiz do Tapajós case illustrates problems in decision making in Brazil and in many other countries.

KEYWORDS: Hydropower, Indigenous people, EIA, Hydroelectric dams, Amazon, Brazil


pdf Popular

Virtual water and water footprints: Overreaching into the discourse on sustainability, efficiency, and equity

Dennis Wichelns
Bloomington, Indiana, USA;

ABSTRACT: The notions of virtual water and water footprints were introduced originally to bring attention to the large amounts of water required to produce crops and livestock. Recently, several authors have begun applying those notions in efforts to describe efficiency, equity, and the sustainability of resources and production activities. In this paper, I describe why the notions of virtual water and water footprints are not appropriate for analysing issues pertaining to those topics. Both notions lack a supporting conceptual framework and they contain too little information to enhance understanding of important policy issues. Neither notion accounts for the opportunity cost or scarcity value of water in any setting, or the impacts of water availability and use on livelihoods. In addition, countries trade in goods and services – not in crop and livestock water requirements. Thus, the notions of virtual water and water footprints cannot provide helpful insight regarding the sustainability of water use, economic efficiency, or social equity. Gaining such insight requires the application of legitimate conceptual frameworks, representing a broad range of perspectives from the physical and social sciences, with due consideration of dynamics, uncertainty, and the impacts of policy choices on livelihoods and natural resources.

KEYWORDS: Agriculture, efficiency, food security, livelihoods, risk, trade, uncertainty


pdf Popular

On the sidelines: Social sciences and interdisciplinarity in an international research centre

Jean-Philippe Venot
IRD, UMR G-EAU, Montpellier, France; Water Resources Management Group, Wageningen University;

Mark Giordano
Georgetown’s University School of Foreign Service, Washington, DC, USA;

Douglas J. Merrey
Independent Consultant, Pittsboro, North Carolina, USA;

ABSTRACT: This paper reflects on the notion of interdisciplinarity in the research for development sector from a specific vantage point, that of social science researchers at the International Water Management Institute (IWMI). Drawing from first-hand experiences of doing research at IWMI, a member of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research, and a series of interviews with former and current staff, we highlight the disputed nature of social science research within the institute and link it to major challenges to interdisciplinary research practice. For research managers and non-social science researchers, social science research has always been, and still is, central to IWMI’s mission and current activities. Social science researchers, on the other hand, tend to think their work has progressively been sidelined from a core to a peripheral concern; they feel they are underrepresented in management and hence have little influence on strategic orientation. This reinforces a tendency to work in isolation and not engage in the unavoidable negotiations that characterise the workings of an organisation. The uneasiness felt by IWMI social science researchers is largely grounded in the fact that many do not share the view that IWMI’s objectives and research practices are value-neutral and that the purpose of social science research is to add human dimensions to natural science projects rather than lead to knowledge creation.

KEYWORDS: Social sciences, interdisciplinary research, international agriculture research organization, IWMI-International Water Management Institute, coupled human-natural systems, water resources management


pdf Popular

Viewpoint - Paradigm shift of water services in Finland: From production mentality to service mindset

Ossi Heino
Tampere University of Technology, Department of Chemistry and Bio-engineering, Tampere, Finland;

Annina Takala
Tampere University of Technology, Department of Chemistry and Bio-engineering, Tampere, Finland;

ABSTRACT: In this article, the current management paradigm of water services in Finland is conceptualised. For this purpose, the managers of water utility in ten Finnish municipalities were interviewed. Consequently, the ways in which water services are perceived and managed are also described in this article. In addition, it is argued that the current paradigm produces systemic behaviour that can be considered to give rise to unsustainable ways of developing water services. Based on the problems of the current paradigm, an alternative paradigm is drafted that rethinks the value-creation logic. This alternative paradigm implies that one should be aware of the interactions between systems in which water services play a crucial role, and act accordingly.

KEYWORDS: Paradigm, value creation, water services, Finland


pdf Popular

A compact to revitalise large-scale irrigation systems using a leadership-partnership-ownership 'theory of change'

Bruce Lankford
University of East Anglia, UEA, Norwich, UK;

Ian Makin
International Water Management Institute, Colombo, Sri Lanka;

Nathanial Matthews
Water Land and Ecosystems (WLE) Programme, Colombo, Sri Lanka;

Peter G. McCornick
International Water Management Institute, Colombo, Sri Lanka;

Andrew Noble
International Centre for Agriculture in the Dry Areas (ICARDA), Amman, Jordan;

Tushaar Shah
International Water Management Institute, Anand, India;

ABSTRACT: In countries with transitional economies such as those found in South Asia, large-scale irrigation systems (LSIS) with a history of public ownership account for about 115 million ha (Mha) or approximately 45% of their total area under irrigation. In terms of the global area of irrigation (320 Mha) for all countries, LSIS are estimated at 130 Mha or 40% of irrigated land. These systems can potentially deliver significant local, regional and global benefits in terms of food, water and energy security, employment, economic growth and ecosystem services. For example, primary crop production is conservatively valued at about US$355 billion. However, efforts to enhance these benefits and reform the sector have been costly and outcomes have been underwhelming and short-lived. We propose the application of a 'theory of change' (ToC) as a foundation for promoting transformational change in large-scale irrigation centred upon a 'global irrigation compact' that promotes new forms of leadership, partnership and ownership (LPO). The compact argues that LSIS can change by switching away from the current channelling of aid finances controlled by government irrigation agencies. Instead it is for irrigators, closely partnered by private, public and NGO advisory and regulatory services, to develop strong leadership models and to find new compensatory partnerships with cities and other river basin neighbours. The paper summarises key assumptions for change in the LSIS sector including the need to initially test this change via a handful of volunteer systems. Our other key purpose is to demonstrate a ToC template by which large-scale irrigation policy can be better elaborated and discussed.

KEYWORDS: Irrigation, food security, water security, ecosystem services, theory of change


pdf Popular

A political economy of environmental impact assessment in the Mekong Region

Andrew Wells-Dang
Independent researcher, 57 Tran Phu, Hoi An, Vietnam;

Kyaw Nyi Soe
Pact/Mekong Partnership for the Environment, Yangon, Myanmar;

Lamphay Inthakoun
Independent researcher, Nonghai village, Hatxaifong district, Vientiane, Lao PDR;

Prom Tola
Independent researcher, House No. 85E1, Street 107, Sangkat O Reussey 4, Khan Chamcarmon, Phnom Penh, Cambodia;

Penh Socheat
Pact/Mekong Partnership for the Environment, Phnom Penh, Cambodia;

Thi Thanh Van Nguyen
Pact/Mekong Partnership for the Environment, Hanoi, Vietnam;

Areerat Chabada
Pact/Mekong Partnership for the Environment; Pathumwan, Bangkok, Thailand;

Worachanok Youttananukorn
Pact/Mekong Partnership for the Environment; Pathumwan, Bangkok, Thailand;

ABSTRACT: Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) is an issue of concern to governments, organized civil society groups, as well as business actors in the Mekong region. EIA and related forms of environmental assessments are being carried out throughout the region with varying levels of quality, legal frameworks, monitoring and compliance. Through a political economy approach, we seek to understand the interests and incentives among key stakeholders in each of the five Mekong region countries and propose ways that EIA processes can potentially be improved, with reference to hydropower and other infrastructure and development projects. The analysis is based on a collaborative research process carried out under the auspices of the Mekong Partnership for the Environment, a USAID-funded program implemented by Pact that aims to advance regional cooperation on environmental governance. We find that at present, EIA implementation is limited by numerous political economy constraints, some general across the Mekong region, others specific to one or more country contexts. Certain of these constraints can be addressed through a regional cooperative approach, while others will require longer-term changes in social and political dynamics to encourage uptake and impact and avoid possible blockage from entrenched interest groups.

KEYWORDS: Environmental Impact Assessment, political economy, infrastructure, hydropower, governance, economic development, Mekong region


pdf Popular

Water, infrastructure and political rule: Introduction to the Special Issue

Julia Obertreis
Department of History, Friedrich-Alexander Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg, Germany;

Timothy Moss
Integrative Research Institute on Transformations of Human-Environment Relations (IRI THESys), Humboldt University of Berlin, Berlin, Germany;

Peter P. Mollinga
Department of Development Studies, SOAS University of London, London, UK;

Christine Bichsel
Geography Unit, Department of Geosciences, University of Fribourg, Fribourg, Switzerland;

ABSTRACT: This introductory article sets the scene for this special issue on water, infrastructure and political rule. It makes the case for revisiting the complex relationships between these three dimensions which have fascinated scholars since Wittfogel’s pioneering – if much criticised – work on causal links between large-scale irrigation systems and autocratic leadership. Scholarship on water, on infrastructure, as well as on political rule has made huge advances since Wittfogel’s days, requiring a wholesome reappraisal of their triangular relationship. In this article, we review the relevant advances in scientific knowledge and epistemological approaches on each dimension. We subsequently summarise the different ways in which each of the following papers takes up and interrogates the relationship between water, infrastructure and political rule prior to the final paper which synthesises the principal findings emerging from the special issue.

KEYWORDS: Water, infrastructure, rule, Oriental despotism, Wittfogel


pdf Popular

Water and the (infra-)structure of political rule: A synthesis

Christine Bichsel
Geography Unit, Department of Geosciences, University of Fribourg, Fribourg, Switzerland;

ABSTRACT: This synthesis paper engages with the key messages which emerge from across the eight papers in this special issue. It situates them in the context of Wittfogel’s hydraulic hypothesis and its legacy. The paper seeks to synthesise the insights of the papers with the aim to reinterpret the relationship between water, infrastructure and political rule and to provide a stimulus for further research.

KEYWORDS: Water, infrastructure, political rule, hydraulic society


pdf Popular

Fostering Tajik hydraulic development: Examining the role of soft power in the case of the Rogun Dam

Filippo Menga
University of Manchester, School of Environment, Education and Development, Manchester, UK;

Naho Mirumachi
Department of Geography, King’s College London, London, UK;

ABSTRACT: Basin riparians are not equally endowed in their resources and capacity to control water within a shared international river basin. Beyond hydrological constraints and geographical positions, other less tangible factors such as discourses and narratives influence interactions among basin riparians for water resources control and river basin development, requiring further analytical refinement of the role of power. The analysis of discursive and ideological dimensions of power, or 'soft' power, in particular, enables insights to strategies and tactics of water control under conditions of power asymmetries between basin states. This paper examines the debate around the controversial large-scale Rogun Dam project on the Vakhsh River in Tajikistan, exploring how the exercise of 'soft' power can, and sometimes cannot, shape transboundary water outcomes over water allocation. By focusing on international diplomacy and narratives, the paper provides insights into the non-coercive ways in which hydraulic development is justified. In particular, it is shown how 'soft' power was utilised by the Tajik decision-makers to legitimise dam development both at the international and domestic levels. The paper illustrates how, in the case of the Rogun Dam, 'soft' power falls short of determining a hydraulic development that changes the status quo of water allocation for Tajikistan.

KEYWORDS: Transboundary water relations, power, dams, Central Asia, Aral Sea Basin


pdf Popular

Re-engineering the state, awakening the nation: Dams, Islamist modernity and nationalist politics in Sudan

Maimuna Mohamud
Heritage Institute for Policy Studies, Mogadishu, Somalia;

Harry Verhoeven
School of Foreign Service in Qatar, Georgetown University;

ABSTRACT: This article investigates how and why dam building has fulfilled a crucial role in hegemonic projects of elite consolidation and nation-building. By drawing on the case of Sudan’s Dam Programme and the associated propaganda the Khartoum government has produced, we show how the dams have not just served to materially restructure the Sudanese political economy but have also been essential in the attempted rekindling of the identity of both the regime and the country. Massive investment in hydro-infrastructure dovetailed with the political rebalancing of an authoritarian system in crisis, turning dam-builders into nation-builders: the message of the dams as midwife to a pious, prosperous and revitalised Sudan allowed it to reconcile the nationalism of its military and security wing with the enduring ambitions for transformation of its Islamist base. Dam building in Sudan, as elsewhere, has thus meant a physical redrawing of the landscape and intensified rent creation and seeking but also embodies a high modernist narrative that matches the interests and worldviews of very different constituencies. This, we argue, helps explain its salience in earlier periods of state-building and nation-building, as well as contemporarily.

KEYWORDS: Hydropolitics, dams, nationalism, Islamism, nation-building, Sudan


pdf Popular

A matter of relationships – Actor-networks of colonial rule in the Gezira Irrigation System, Sudan

Maurits Ertsen
Water Resources Management, Delft University of Technology, Delft, The Netherlands;

ABSTRACT: In the first half of the 20th century, colonial rulers, a British firm and Sudanese farmers changed the Gezira Plain in Sudan into a large-scale irrigated cotton scheme. Gezira continues to be in use up to date. Its story shows how the abstract concept 'development' is shaped through the agency of humans and non-humans alike in government offices and muddy fields. Gezira provides a well-suited starting point for moving into the networks of development without any pre-suggested division in terms of levels, contexts or relations. Hierarchies, arenas and institutions do exist. Such power relations are associations between humans and non-humans: relatively stable relations are typically produced when non-human agency is involved, for example through books, roads, and money. The Gezira case shows the potential of actor-network theory in building and understanding of conceptual and empirical links between water, infrastructure and political rule.

KEYWORDS: Actor-network theory, material agency, power, infrastructure, social relations, Gezira scheme, Sudan


pdf Popular

Ruling by canal: Governance and system-level design characteristics of large-scale irrigation infrastructure in India and Uzbekistan

Peter P. Mollinga
Department of Development Studies, SOAS University of London, London, UK;

Gert Jan Veldwisch
Water Resources Management Group of Wageningen University, Wageningen, The Netherlands;

ABSTRACT: This paper explores the relationship between governance regime and large-scale irrigation system design by investigating three cases: 1) protective irrigation design in post-independent South India; 2) canal irrigation system design in Khorezm Province, Uzbekistan, as implemented in the USSR period, and 3) canal design by the Madras Irrigation and Canal Company, as part of an experiment to do canal irrigation development in colonial India on commercial terms in the 1850s-1860s. The mutual shaping of irrigation infrastructure design characteristics on the one hand and management requirements and conditions on the other has been documented primarily at lower, within-system levels of the irrigation systems, notably at the level of division structures. Taking a 'social construction of technology' perspective, the paper analyses the relationship between technological structures and management and governance arrangements at irrigation system level. The paper finds qualitative differences in the infrastructural configuration of the three irrigation systems expressing and facilitating particular forms of governance and rule, differences that matter for management and use, and their effects and impacts.

KEYWORDS: Canal irrigation, design, governance, management, India, Uzbekistan


pdf Popular

Conserving water and preserving infrastructures between dictatorship and democracy in Berlin

Timothy Moss
Integrative Research Institute on Transformations of Human-Environment Relations (IRI THESys), Humboldt University of Berlin, Berlin, Germany;

ABSTRACT: This paper sheds a long-term perspective on the politics of water infrastructure in 20th century Berlin, focusing on how water conservation became enrolled in the political agendas of very diverse regimes, from the Weimar Republic to the present day. The paper poses the following three questions: firstly, in what socio-technical and political contexts have strategies of water conservation emerged (and disappeared) in Berlin? Secondly, what meanings have been attributed to these strategies and how were they politically appropriated? Thirdly, what continuities and changes to water-saving strategies can be traced across Berlin’s turbulent 20th century history? These questions are addressed with an empirical analysis of four periods of Berlin’s water infrastructure history: a) an era of expansion (1920-1935) about harnessing (regional) water for (urban) prosperity, b) an era of national autarky (1936-1945) about enrolling urban water in the Nazi cause, c) an era of division (1948-1989) about reordering truncated water flows in divided West and East Berlin, and d) an era of reunification (1990-present) in which expansionism has confronted environmentalism, giving rise to contestation over the desirability of water conservation. This empirical analysis is framed conceptually in terms of a dialogue between notions of obdurate socio-technical systems and dynamic socio-material assemblages.

KEYWORDS: Water politics, water conservation, infrastructure history, path dependence, assemblage, Berlin


pdf Popular

Transnational system building across geopolitical shifts: The Danube-Oder-Elbe Canal, 1901-2015

Jiří Janáč
Institute of Contemporary History, Czech Academy of Sciences, Prague, Czech Republic;

Erik van der Vleuten
School of Innovation Sciences, Eindhoven University of Technology, Eindhoven, Netherlands;

ABSTRACT: We study the politics of water infrastructure through the Large Technical Systems (LTS) literature, which examines human agency in the dynamics of complex sociotechnical systems. We take into account the transnational turn in LTS-studies in the past decade. Transnational analysis is about the mutual shaping of the international, national, and local. Accordingly, we look at how key system builders – historical agents envisioning and working on the entire sociotechnical system – identified and negotiated international, national, regional, and local politics through the design process. We do this for the intriguing case of the Danube-Oder-Elbe Canal, the so-called 'missing link' between the North, Baltic, and Black Seas, with a design history spanning wildly diverging paradigms of political rule – from imperialism to fascism, communism, and 'EU-ropeanism'.

KEYWORDS: Large Technical Systems, water politics, transnational infrastructure, Central European history, transnational history, environmental history


pdf Popular

Infrastructural relations: Water, political power and the rise of a new 'despotic regime'

Veronica Strang
Institute of Advanced Study, Durham University, Durham, UK;

ABSTRACT: It is 60 years since Karl Wittfogel highlighted a key relationship between political power and the ownership and control of water. Subsequent studies have suggested, commensurately, that exclusion from the ownership of essential resources represents a fundamental form of disenfranchisement – a loss of democratic involvement in societal direction. Several areas of theoretical development have illuminated these issues. Anthropologists have explored the recursive relationship between political arrangements and cosmological belief systems. Narrow legal definitions of property have been challenged through the consideration of more diverse ways of owning and controlling resources. Analyses of material culture have shown how it extends human agency, as well as having agentive capacities itself; and explorations of infrastructures have highlighted their role in composing socio-technical and political relations. Such approaches are readily applied to water and the material culture through which it is controlled and used. Drawing on historical and ethnographic research on water in Australia and the UK, this paper traces changing relationships between cosmological beliefs, infrastructure and political arrangements over time. It suggests that a current trend towards privatised, transnational water ownership potentially opens the door to the emergence of new 'despotic regimes'.

KEYWORDS: Water ownership, water governance, human-nonhuman relations, UK, Australia


pdf Popular

Water infrastructure and the making of financial subjects in the south east of England

Alex Loftus
Department of Geography, King’s College, London, UK;

Hug March
Internet Interdisciplinary Institute (IN3), Universitat Oberta de Catalunya, Castelldefels, Spain;

Fiona Nash

ABSTRACT: Over the last four decades the locus of economic power has shifted from industry to finance. As part of this trend, the 'financialisation' of the water sector has added a new layer of complexity to the hydrosocial cycle, witnessed in the emergence of new financial actors, logics and financing instruments. Such a shift has profoundly reshaped the relationship between water utilities and consumers in the South East of England, where the household has become, in the words of Allen and Pryke (2013), a human revenue stream for financialised utilities. In this paper, we make an argument that the water meter is one of the crucial mediators through which finance will touch the lives of individual subjects. In the South East of England, after initial opposition to universal metering – in part shaped by fears over fluctuating revenues – water companies are now embedding a metering programme within a billing and tariff structure that aims to ensure governable and predictable subjects. Drawing on Urban Political Ecology, we argue that the financialisation of the water sector in England shapes the emergence of new financial subjectivities while enabling new forms of political rule that operate at a range of spatial scales.

KEYWORDS: Water meters, financialisation, hydrosocial cycle, households, South East England


pdf Popular

Water services, lived citizenship, and notions of the state in marginalised urban spaces: The case of Khayelitsha, South Africa

Lucy Rodina
Institute for Resources Environment and Sustainability, The University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC, Canada;

Leila M. Harris
Institute for Resources Environment and Sustainability, and Institute for Gender, Race, Sexuality and Social Justice, The University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC, Canada;

ABSTRACT: In this paper we argue that in South Africa the state is understood and narrated in multiple ways, notably differentiated by interactions with service provision infrastructure and the ongoing housing formalisation process. We trace various contested narratives of the state and of citizenship that emerge from interactions with urban water service infrastructures. In effect, the housing formalisation process rolls out through specific physical infrastructures, including, but not limited to, water services (pipes, taps, water meters). These infrastructures bring with them particular logics and expectations that contribute to a sense of enfranchisement and associated benefits to some residents, while others continue to experience inadequate services, and linked exclusions. More specifically, we learn that residents who have received newly built homes replacing shack dwellings in the process of formalisation more often narrate the state as legitimate, stemming from the government role as service provider. Somewhat surprisingly, these residents at times also suggest compliance with obligations and expectations for payment for water and responsible water consumption. In contrast, shack dwellers more often characterise the state as uncooperative and neglectful, accenting state failure to incorporate alternative views of what constitutes appropriate services. With an interest in political ecologies of the state and water services infrastructures, this paper traces the dynamic processes through which states and citizenship are mutually and relationally understood, and dynamically evolving. As such, the analysis offers insights for ongoing state-society negotiations in relation to changing infrastructure access in a transitioning democracy.

KEYWORDS: Informal settlements, water services, citizenship, access to water, South Africa