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Pop-up infrastructure: Water ATMs and new delivery networks in India

Jeremy J. Schmidt
Department of Geography, Durham University, Durham, UK; jeremy.schmidt@durham.ac.uk

ABSTRACT: Over the last decade, thousands of water ATMs have been installed across the Global South. In India, these vending machines increasingly augment both formal and informal networks of water supply and delivery. This article examines media reports on water ATMs in India in order to survey some of the variance across different water ATM technologies with respect to cost, capacity, and fit with infrastructure networks. It then examines how water ATMs are socially and politically positioned with respect to existing, promised, and incomplete infrastructure projects where they are installed: slums, hospitals, commuting routes, railway stations, rural villages, religious sites, and in 'smart city' initiatives. The analysis considers how water ATMs frustrate the distinctions between formal and informal infrastructure that are often used to describe differences in water networks. The article develops a novel approach to water ATMs as 'pop-up infrastructure' in which the movement of matter is operationally independent from, and only contingently reliant on, existing water delivery networks. Despite their unique aspects, water ATMs produce new common borders among social, material, and political relations to water. These relations are often contested and suggest important areas for future research on water ATMs.

KEYWORDS: Water ATMs, infrastructure, smart cities, urban, rural, peri-urban, India