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Linking water services and human well-being through the fundamental human needs framework: The case of India

Francesco M. Gimelli
School of Social Sciences, Monash University, Australia; francesco.gimelli@gmail.com

Briony C. Rogers
School of Social Sciences, Monash University, Australia; briony.rogers@monash.edu

Joannette J. Bos
Monash Sustainable Development Institute, Monash University, Australia; annette.bos@monash.edu

ABSTRACT: Although the focus of water development in urban informal settlements has traditionally been on improving public health, development scholarship increasingly emphasises the relationship between water services and multiple dimensions of human well-being. Nevertheless, how well-being is defined in the literature remains unclear, leaving questions about what dimensions of it are to be fostered through water service development. In this paper, we argue that prominent interpretations of well-being in the water sector do not adequately represent the range of impacts of water services on the ability of informal settlers to meet their needs beyond survival. To address this gap, we make the case for the adoption of Max-Neef’s (1992) Fundamental Human Needs (FHN) framework in the water sector, which we show to present a clear, holistic and dynamic understanding of well-being. Through a case study of water service arrangements across six informal settlements in the Indian cities of Faridabad, Delhi and Mumbai, we illustrate how using the FHN framework uncovers potential pathways by which water service development can satisfy a broad range of fundamental human needs. Applying the FHN framework to these settings leads us to argue that: 1) water services should be linked to people’s aspirations as well as to their basic physical needs; 2) cultivating well-being has both intrinsic and instrumental benefits that enable individuals to become more resilient; 3) water services should be better linked with other development sectors; and 4) non-traditional water service arrangements should be re-evaluated according to their capacity to contribute to people’s well-being.

KEYWORDS: Urban informal settlements, water services, well-being, fundamental human needs, India