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Sociotechnical alternatives and controversies in extending water and sanitation networks in Lima, Peru

Laure Criqui
Independent researcher and consultant, Paris, France; criqui.laure@gmail.com

ABSTRACT: Basic service utilities in developing countries have long been criticised for their inefficiencies. Lima’s public utility firm, even so, has experimented with technical, social and institutional alternatives in order to adapt and extend water and sanitation networks to informal settlements. Though efficient, these innovative solutions have challenged conventional work practices and have not prompted a paradigm shift in the water and sanitation sector. The political economy of the utility’s neoliberal reform and its limitations has already been extensively studied. Much less studied, however, are the everyday practices and discourses that underpin what can be considered to be innovation niches and which have actually permitted service extension to the poor. Focusing on these practices, this paper examines the cognitive, social and political controversies around adjusting the ‘modern infrastructure ideal’ to informal urbanisation patterns. It shows how urban policies in the Global South are both highly influenced by conventional international models and required to adapt to ‘unconventional’ conditions. It argues that the sociotechnical dimension of urban water supply has been neglected in conducting service delivery reforms, hindering sustainable implementation of innovations. Changing professional mindsets and practices therefore appears as a key driver in the support of pro-poor alternatives in urban water and sanitation provision.

KEYWORDS: Lima, water and sanitation, innovation, sociotechnical regimes, informal urbanisation